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Literature / Rob Roy

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Rob Roy is an historical novel written by Walter Scott in 1817, set in the backdrop of the Jacobite rising of 1715. Although the novel is named after a historical character, its depiction of Robert Roy MacGregor bears little relation to the real Scottish outlaw/folk hero.

The main character is Francis "Frank" Osbaldistone, son of a rich London trader. When Francis refuses to work in the family business, his father threatens to swap him with one son of his brother Sir Hildebrand, a landlord who lives next to the Scottish Border. Frank sticks to his guns, so he packs his saddlebags and rides north. On the way, he encounters Morris, a faint-hearted man who is deadly afraid of getting robbed, and Campbell, a Scottish cattle raiser who is more than what meets the eye.

Frank finally arrives at Osbaldistone Hall and meets his uncle and cousins, as well as the lovely Miss Diana Vernon, who is engaged to one of the Osbaldistone heirs per an arrangement between both families. As getting acclimated to his new home, Frank soon learns that his relatives are good-natured but dumb, except for his younger cousin Rashleigh who is clever but conniving and spiteful. However, Diana is both good-natured and intelligent, as well as a courageous woman, but she seems to be hiding some secret.

Some few weeks after moving to Osbaldistone Hall, Frank is charged with highway robbery by Morris, who turned out to be a royal courier tasked with delivering Government bills. Dismissing Diana's plea to flee across the border, Frank turns to the local justice of the peace and is cleared of the crime thanks to Campbell abruptly showing up to defend Frank's innocence. Nonetheless, Franks cannot help but think the whole episode was extremely strange.

Eventually, Rashleigh leaves for London to take Frank's intended place as his father's business associate. Frank, who had learned Diana despised Rashleigh to the bone because the man subtly tried to groom her when she was younger, is not particularly sorry to see him leave. Some months later, though, Frank receives terrible news: while his father is away on a business trip, Rashleigh has disappeared after leaving for Scotland with £5,000 of bills he was supposed to use to pay his father's creditors.

Frank departs towards Glasgow, determined to look for his cousin and save his father's firm. Upon arriving in Glasgow, Frank discovers Rashleigh's actions -which include robbing Morris- are part of a ploy schemed by Jacobite partisans to set off a rebellion, and maybe the only who can help him retrieve his father's bills is Campbell, or as he is known among the Highlanders, Rob Roy.

Rob Roy is available in the public domain. You can find the text online at Project Gutenberg.

Tropes found in this book:

  • Alliterative Name: Rob Roy and Joseph Jobson.
  • Amoral Attorney: Attorney Joseph Jobson is an obnoxious, self-serving bigot who is more interested in suing and jailing people than in delivering justice. When Frank turns to Judge Inglewood to defend himself against Morris' charges, Jobson looks for excuses to issue a warrant ordering his preventative detention without bail. Later, while harassing Diana, Jobson proves he has memorized every law passed in England since the Norman Conquest so he can dump them on innocent folks' heads. Still later, he finally crosses the line between obnoxious pettifogger and corrupt lawyer when he submits an affidavit charging Frank with high treason to help Rashleigh seize Osbaldistone Hall, a gambit which ultimately fails and costs him his job and position.
  • Arranged Marriage: Diana was betrothed to one of the sons of Sir Hildebrand because of an agreement between him and Sir Frederick Vernon to solve a matter of expropriated lands. When Frank hears about it, he sadly notes such arrangements treat both parties as livestock.
  • Authority Equals Ass Kicking: Rob Roy is the chieftain of the Clan MacGregor, and he would have not survived long if he had not been a formidable warrior.
  • Bad Liar: After Frank has been strangely cold and rude to her during dinner, Diana asks for an explanation. Unwilling to confess he has been listening to Rashleigh, Frank claims he was feeling indisposed after reading some upsetting letters from home. After listening patiently to his story, Diana asks if he is already done with spouting ridiculous excuses and is ready to reveal what Rashleigh has been telling about her.
  • BFS: When Frank is attacked by a Highlander wielding a huge broadsword, he is certain that his smaller but quicker and lighter rapier is the superior weapon.
  • Blackmail: Diana put up with Rashleigh because he discovered her father, whose head the Government had put a bounty on, was living hidden in Osbaldistone Hall.
  • Blatant Lies: Frank goes to see a physician after his arm gets slashed during a duel. As he is getting patched up, Frank claims the button blunting the tip of his opponent's foil broke off while he was practicing fencing. The doctor just shakes his head and states that kind of wound cannot have been inflicted by a broken button.
  • Cain and Abel: Rashleigh sets out to destroy Frank's life because Diana fell for him... and because Frank slapped him once after drinking a lot. As for Frank, he did not hate his cousin until he found out about Rasleigh's attempt to groom a younger Diana. Rashleigh later stealing a huge amount of money from Frank's father ensured Frank would see him as nothing more than his enemy.
  • Category Traitor: When ordered to look for two new servants, Andrew Fairservice hires Ambrose and Lancie Wingfield, whom he considers to be automatically and utterly trustworthy only because they are Presbyterians like himself. Everyone else knows Ambrose would sell his own mother for one coin and Lancie is on Attorney Jobson's payroll. When they sell Frank out, Andrew is the only who is shocked and unwilling to believe he has been betrayed by another Presbyterian.
  • The Cavalier Years: Set in 1715, in the backdrop of one Jacobite rising.
  • Child Marriage Veto: Diana is arranged to marry one of the sons of Sir Hildebrand, but she opts for entering a convent because she dislikes all of them, except Rashleigh whom she deeply hates. On his deathbed, her father leaves her free to follow her own wishes, and she ends up marrying Hildebrand's nephew Frank, the one who she really loved.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Rob Roy was an honest cattle-raiser until he got into debt, and his creditors and neighbors stole his property and land and abused his wife. Then Rob and his Clan sought shelter in the ancestral McGregor lands and become outlaws, and as Nicol Jarvie puts it, the same people who ousted him would prefer to see him shepherding fifty cows again rather than leading fifty brigands.
  • Dark Action Girl: Helen Campbell is a fierce, tough and merciless warrior who everybody is frightened of.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Francis has his moments. When Diana is trying to talk him into crossing the Scottish Border:
    Diana: "You may have my mare, if you think her less blown— I say, that in two hours you may be in Scotland."
    Francis: "And I say, that I have so little desire to be there, that if my horse's head were over the Border, I would not give his tail the trouble of following."
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Rashleigh schemes to get his cousin charged with high treason and hanged because Frank slapped him during a drinking binge.
  • The Dutiful Daughter: Downplayed. Diana is loyal to her beloved father, but she admits privately she is tired of keeping lies and secrets to protect him, and she is not happy with the arranged marriage which has been set up for her.
  • Dying Curse: When Francis points out that he never did anything to earn his dying cousin's undying hatred, Rashleigh wastes his last breath cursing Francis.
    "You have given me cause," he rejoined. "In love, in ambition, in the paths of interest, you have crossed and blighted me at every turn. I was born to be the honour of my father's house—I have been its disgrace—and all owing to you. My very patrimony has become yours—Take it," he said, "and may the curse of a dying man cleave to it!"
  • Dying Declaration of Hate: As he lies dying, Rashleigh Osbaldistone reiterates how much he hates his cousin Francis.
    "Cousin Francis," he said, "draw near to me." I approached him as he requested.—"I wish you only to know that the pangs of death do not alter I one iota of my feelings towards you. I hate you!" he said, the expression of rage throwing a hideous glare into the eyes which were soon to be closed for ever—"I hate you with a hatred as intense, now while I lie bleeding and dying before you, as if my foot trode on your neck."
  • Enemy Mine: Mr. Nicol Jarvie warns Captain Thornton he is kidding himself if he thinks he can depend on Highlanders to capture Rob Roy: they may insult, fight and even kill each other, but they will always be willing to join forces against Lowlanders and Englishmen. Later, he is proven right when the Scottish clans put aside their bloody feuds to rebel against the English Government.
    Captain Thorton: "Make yourself easy, sir. I am in the execution of my orders. And as you say you are a friend to King George, you will be glad to learn that it is impossible that this gang of ruffians, whose license has disturbed the country so long, can escape the measures now taken to suppress them. The horse squadron of militia, commanded by Major Galbraith, is already joined by two or more troops of cavalry, which will occupy all the lower passes of this wild country; three hundred Highlanders, under the two gentlemen you saw at the inn, are in possession of the upper part, and various strong parties from the garrison are securing the hills and glens in different directions. Our last accounts of Rob Roy correspond with what this fellow has confessed, that, finding himself surrounded on all sides, he had dismissed the greater part of his followers, with the purpose either of lying concealed, or of making his escape through his superior knowledge of the passes.
    Nicole Jarvie: "I dinna ken; there's mair brandy than brains in Garschattachin's head this morning—- And I wadna, an I were you, Captain, rest my main dependence on the Hielandmen—- hawks winna pike out hawks' een. They may quarrel among themsells, and gie ilk ither ill names, and maybe a slash wi' a claymore; but they are sure to join in the lang run, against a' civilised folk, that wear breeks on their hinder ends, and hae purses in their pouches."
  • Fair-Weather Friend: Francis Osbaldistone's father and his business partner Owen used to make deals with a Glaswegian trade firm called House MacVittie & Co., who were obliging to sycophantic extremes. However, when Owen reveals his firm could suffer economic losses in order to request MacVittie's counsel and help, they drop the mask right away and start making outrageous demands. When Owen refuses to, they get him jailed on a flimsy excuse. In contrast, bailie (magistrate) Nicol Jarvie, who was regarded by Osbaldistone and Owen as an unreasonable peddler, goes out of his way to help Owen.
  • Flanderization: In-Universe. Francis describes his parent as a harsh and exacting but fair person who tolerates other ideologies for the sake of being a good businessman, and then Rashleigh talks about him as an opportunist who plays both sides of the political and religious divide to profit at the expense of both. Then Francis grumbles that Rashleigh has turned his portrayal into a caricature.
  • Funetik Aksent: Most of Scottish characters have a very thick, noticeable accent.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Neither the English Government nor the Jacobite rebels are treated as heroes or villains. Frank himself, although he supports the Government out of principle, does not begrudge the Jacobites for feeling their duty and loyalty lies with the House of Stuart.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Invoked with Diana, when she bitterly states Shakespeare's plays have vilified both the House of York and their loyalists.
    "But there stands the sword of my ancestor Sir Richard Vernon, slain at Shrewsbury, and sorely slandered by a sad fellow called Will Shakespeare, whose Lancastrian partialities, and a certain knack at embodying them, has turned history upside down, or rather inside out".
  • Honor Before Reason: Rashleigh does not forget or forgive any offense, no matter how minor. He attempts to destroy Frank's life because his cousin once slapped him, and he does not give a damn that Frank was hammered, or that his cousin publicly apologized to him in front of their whole family the day after.
  • I Have Many Names: Rob Roy is alternatively named Robert Campbell and MacGregor.
  • I Have No Son!: Before going to war, Sir Hildebrand cuts Rashleigh out of his will, on account of his youngest son convincing him to join the rebels and then switching sides and abandoning his family as soon as the rebellion broke out.
  • Immediate Self-Contradiction: Andrew Fairservice expects to get away with stealing a horse because the Scottish judiciary is fair, unlike its English counterpart, and "[his] mother's mother's third cousin is cousin to the Provost of Dumfries" and will not suffer his kin to be put on trial.
  • Improvised Weapon: When three Highlanders pick a fight with Frank, his butler and Mr. Jarvie in an inn, the latter is unable to unsheathe his rusted sword, so he picks a coulter of a plough lying next to a fireplace, where it had been used as a poker, and sets the Highlander's plaid on fire.
  • Innocently Insensitive: When he hears Diana complaining about being discriminated because of her gender and religious beliefs, Frank suggests the second evil can be fixed if she listens to her "common sense" and converts to his religion. Diana angrily cuts him off.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: As described by Nicol Jarvie, in the eighteenth-century Scottish Highlands, taking the law into one's own hands is commonplace. And the chieftain's whims are the only law.
    Bailie Nicol Jarvie: "Ah, but ye judge Rob hardly," said the Bailie, "ye judge him hardly, puir chield; and the truth is, that ye ken naething about our hill country, or Hielands, as we ca' them. They are clean anither set frae the like o' huz;— there's nae bailie-courts amang them— nae magistrates that dinna bear the sword in vain, like the worthy deacon that's awa', and, I may say't, like mysell and other present magistrates in this city— But it's just the laird's command, and the loon maun loup; and the never another law hae they but the length o' their dirks— the broadsword's pursuer, or plaintiff, as you Englishers ca' it, and the target is defender; the stoutest head bears langest out;— and there's a Hieland plea for ye."
  • Kangaroo Court: Played with. Judge Inglewood and Attorney Jobson seem to believe Frank is guilty of highway robbery before even beginning court proceedings; and Jobson is blatantly chomping at the bit for locking Frank up. Nonetheless, Inglewood is primarily concerned with resolving the dispute as quick as possible, so he is happy to accept testimony from an out-of-nowhere eyewitness and acquit Frank of all charges on the spot.
  • Mistaken for Romance: Frank suspects Diana is keeping a lover hidden in Osbaldistone Hall. Later he learns that person is not Diana's lover but her own father.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Frank has a breakdown when he realizes that his cousin Rashleigh exploited his dispute with his father to rob the older Osbaldistone.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Doble Subversion. Scotts never argue their chieftains' orders. However, Dougal refuses to obey Helena Campell's orders and throw Frank and Mr. Jarvie into a lake… but that is because Rob Roy, who outranks his wife, gave him different orders.
  • Never My Fault:
    • Andrew blames the English and Catholics for everything. So it does not come as a shock when he blames the Union with England for being forced to give a stolen horse back.
    • Rashleigh blames his cousin Frank for Diana hating him and his father disinheriting him. The former came to hate Rashleigh long before Frank came along, and the latter rewrote his will because Rashleigh talked the family into joining into a revolt only to abandon them. As Frank points out after hearing his cousin's pre-mortem rants, he did nothing to Rashleigh to merit his hatred.
  • Papa Wolf: Inverted. Sir Hildebrand Osbaldistone is aware that the English Government would love any excuse to seize upon his property and blacklist him as a suspected person for being a Catholic Jacobite; hence, he is not willing to protect his nephew when Frank is charged with highway robbery, and Diana warns he would not stand up for his own offspring either.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: In the same argument where Francis' father expresses anger at his son refusing to fulfill his wishes, he also mentions he walked out of his home after a disagreement with his own father.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Subverted. Frank's father is not happy with his son loving a Catholic woman, but since Frank agreed to help run his firm, ignoring his own wishes, he gives Frank permission to get married to Diana.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Wanting to give his cousin some credit, Frank reckons Rashleigh's betrayal was at least partially motivated because he realized the Jacobite rebels were too weak to topple the government.
  • Properly Paranoid: Frank's father resisted his whims to make House MacVittie & Co. his sole agents in Scotland because he had the feeling that he could not trust bootlicking toadies. McVittie and his business partner prove his mistrust justified when they turn against him as soon as they believe him broke.
  • Relative Error: Frank sees Diana riding with a strange man, and he assumes that person must be her lover. Later, Frank learns he was Diana's father, Sir Frederick Vernon.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Helena Campbell was brutally abused when her family was ousted. Since then, she feels a deep, burning hatred towards Englishmen and Lowlanders whom she considers enemies to be killed, no matter who. Her obsession with revenge reaches such a degree that she outright orders to dump Frank and Nicole Jarvie into a lake despite they never did anything to her, and the latter is her kinsman.
  • Right Behind Me: Variant. An innkeeper is telling Frank that there are no Scotch highwaymen because there is nothing to steal up there. Then he hears a Scottish-accented voice saying there are no Scotch bandits because they have been replaced with English tax collectors and custom officers. The innkeeper turns around, greets Mr. Campbell, and admits he talks too much by way of apology.
  • Secondary Character Title: The narrator is Frank Osbaldistone.
  • Schmuck Bait: Captain Thornton intimidates a captured Dougal into leading him and his men to find the MacGregors. However, Dougal proceeds to guide them through thick forests and deep gorges, and everyone can say he is leading them into a blatantly obvious ambush. Even so, Captain Thornton refuses to go back.
  • Standing Between the Enemies: Rob abruptly stops Frank and Rashleigh's duel to the death by stepping between them and forcing them apart.
  • Swashbuckler: The literary genre which the story belongs to.
  • Thicker Than Water:
    • Family ties are incredibly important to the Scottish characters. Nicol Jarvie is a law-abiding bailie (magistrate), but he reluctantly lets an outlaw go because said outlaw is a distant cousin.
    • Averted with Francis Osbaldistone and his cousin Rashleigh. They hate each other, and Frank gets quite annoyed when Rob Roy's wife Helen Campbell assumes that Frank and Rashleigh must be friends only because they bear the same surname.
  • Too Clever by Half: Sir Hildebrand cautions his son Rashleigh that being too cunning and manipulative can come back to bite him. Rashleigh fails to heed his warnings, and during the rebellion he switches sides so many times he ends up pissing everyone off and gets killed by one of his ex-allies.
    "Rashleigh," said his father, looking fixedly at him, "thou art a sly loon—thou hast ever been too cunning for me, and too cunning for most folks. Have a care thou provena too cunning for thysell—two faces under one hood is no true heraldry."
  • Violent Glaswegian: Most of Scottish characters are quick-tempered, irascible and prone to draw their swords out when someone gets them annoyed.
  • Wife Husbandry: Deconstructed. Rashleigh tried to groom Diana when she was a teenager, earning her undying hatred when she realized the reason that he was such to nice mentor to her.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Sir Hildebrand becomes convinced that Frank robbed money from the English government, much to his nephew's annoyance. When Rashleigh tries to calm him down by pointing out that Sir Hildebrand is holding him in a higher regard, Frank replies he does not wish to be well-regarded by committing highway robbery.
    Rashleigh: My father's foolish opinion, if one may give that epithet to any opinion of a father's, does not affect your real innocence; and as to the disgrace of the fact, depend on it, that, considered in all its bearings, political as well as moral, Sir Hildebrand regards it as a meritorious action—a weakening of the enemy—a spoiling of the Amalekites; and you will stand the higher in his regard for your supposed accession to it."
    Frank: "I desire no man's regard, Mr. Rashleigh, on such terms as must sink me in my own."