The defects of The Antiquary, Scott’s third novel, are on the surface, and easy to see. David Daiches’s judgment is final: ‘The external plot … is … not to be taken seriously.’ 1 Lovel is as slight a hero, his love-affair as slight a romantic interest, and the missing heir business as slight a plot-line as Scott could possibly have manufactured without his production ceasing altogether to be a novel. His admission in the Introduction is telling: 2
I have been more solicitous to describe manners minutely than to arrange in any case an artificial and combined narrative, and have but to regret that I felt myself unable to unite these two requisites of a good Novel.It is ironic that with the change in meaning of critical jargon (which itself reflects the change in critical expectations) the modern reader might well describe the plot of The Antiquary, fabricated without any real relevance to the novel as a whole, and basically a mish-mash of all the ‘illegitimacy’ plots prevalent in the novel from Tom Jones to Guy Mannering, as both ‘artificial’ and ‘combined’. However, mulling over the deficiencies of the plot to the point where they eclipse the real artistic merits of the novel is a pointless activity. 3 The unity of The Antiquary is not on the level of plot. In fact, unlike Guy Mannering, The Antiquary can survive its insidious elements of ‘Romance’ precisely because the romantic plot is only an 48external shell, not intended to bear any weight of seriousness or moment.