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Great British Literature - Part 5: From Highlands to Lowlands with Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert Burns, or Rabbie Burns as the Scottish people call him, is Scotland's most famous poet. Every year on Burns' Night, Scottish people all over the world celebrate his birthday by reading his poems, eating haggis and drinking whisky. Many of his poems are in the Scots language and you will hear some in the video.

1) When was Robert Burns born?

2) What was Rabbie about to do when his first book was published?

3) What did his friends help him to do?

4) What began to influence Rabbie’s writing?

5) When do people all over the world sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’?

Put the sentences in the correct order, as mentioned in the video.

Complete the story of Robert Burns’ life putting the missing linking words in the correct place.

unfortunately - when x3 - and x3 - but - so x2 - because

Robert Burns was born in Alloway ___________ grew up on a farm there. His father was a poor farmer _____________ he had a good education. He started to write songs ________________ he was 15 years old. His father died when Robert was 25, ____________ he and his brother took over the farm. But, ________________________, Rabbie wasn't a successful farmer. He was thinking of leaving Scotland ______________ his first book of poems was published. It was a massive hit with the people of Edinburgh _________ he went to live there. He returned home to get married ___________ his friends helped him get a job. At this time, he began to write about how all men are equal _________________________ of his interest in the French Revolution. Thousands of people came to his funeral ___________________ he died at the early age of 37. He is Scotland's best loved poet ___________ Scottish people all over the world celebrate Burns' Night on his birthday - 25 January.

How much do you know about Scotland and Burns Night? Take the quiz, then  watch the video.

1. Nessie is a nickname for...

 a dance, the Highland Fling.

 a Highland Games sport

 the Loch Ness legendary monster

2. What do men wear on Burns Night?

 a pair of jeans

 a kilt

 a suit

3. On Burns Night people eat Haggis. What is Haggis?

 a pie made of salmon and eggs

 a pudding made of dried fruit

 a sausage made of lamb meat

4. Haggis is served hot with:

 chips and ketchup

 mashed potatoes and turnips

 peas and carrots

5. Which musical instrument do people play on Burns Night?

 the bagpipes

 the flute

 the harp

 the accordion

6. What do people do on Burns Night?

 sing songs

 drink whisky

 read Burns' poems

7. Burns Night concludes with a song, traditionally sung on New Year's Eve, and called:

 "To a Haggis"

 "Auld Lang Syne"

 "My Love is like a Red, Red Rose"

Read and listen to a poem written by Robert Burns in Scottish dialect. Match each picture with the corresponding verse.

O my Luve is like a red, red rose

   That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melody

   That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

   So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;

I will love thee still, my dear,

   While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!

   And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

   Though it were ten thousand mile.

Match the words in Scots with the corresponding English words.

aye / loch / bonnie / auld / gang / lad / lass / nae / neeps / tatties


Sir Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh in 1771 and was educated there. Since he suffered from poliomyelitis as a child, he was sent to his grandfather’s farm on the Scottish border. This experience proved extremely important in his life Scott had a passion for political and religious intrigues and described the whole of a community at a given moment, showing heroic characters battling against great odds. It is this characteristic, together with his interest in mingling historical events with mystery and the marvellous, which makes him a Romantic writer. However, his Romanticism is not that of the great Romantic poets: he does not have their sensibility or their cult of wild nature. Nor does he illustrate the horror or the grotesque of the Gothic novels, but he mixes the elements of mystery with a little humour and a touch of the picturesque.

Scott and Manzoni

Scott’s works have been compared to those of Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873). However, Manzoni portrayed the characters of ordinary people with greater precision and psychological insight; his aim was to create a national consciousness and his works had a higher degree of historical accuracy. On the other hand, Scott wanted to celebrate the glorious past of his country and to express regret for the values of heroism and loyalty, which seemed to be lost in a world dominated by economic laws.


Scott did not only create fictional characters: in fact, his minor characters are real kings and princes. Moreover, he altered great historical events setting them in poetical environments and because of this he was accused of historical anachronism. However, the historical method he introduced allowed him to paint unforgettable portraits of remote times and people.


Scott adopted the third-person omniscient narrator exploiting the techniques of flashbacks and time shifts to follow the adventures connected with different sets of characters. He used a great deal of descriptions of settings and characters, introducing his personal comments about them. He also pretended to possess documents proving the truthfulness of his narrative and giving authority to his words. Scott’s interest in the past is confirmed by his stylistic devices: references to the Scottish language and his simple and immediate prose, similar to that used in old legends and romances. He died in Abbosfort in 1832.


Waverley is set in the period of Jacobite uprisings: it starts in the late summer of 1744 and ends several months after the battle of Culloden (1746), where the Jacobites were defeated and their cause was virtually destroyed. By 1814 in both the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland patterns of life had been changed, both by measures of Government and by the gradual infiltration of ideas and wealth from the South. In his novel Scott aimed at recreating the past ways of life, both of Highland chief and Lowland landowner, showing them as they put up a final struggle against the forces of Hanoverian Britain. Waverley starts with the account of the education of a young man from an English Jacobite aristocratic family, Edward Waverley. He is an avid reader and dreams of romantic love and war. In the house of Sir Everard Waverley, Edward’s uncle, politics are a matter of longstanding conviction, but are rarely examined. Waverley’s father has decided to move with the times in favour of advancement in the Hanoverian Government and he obtains for his son a commission in the Hanoverian army of King George II (1727-1760); so Waverley is sent to Scotland to join his regiment. In Scotland he visits a Jacobite family friend, whose daughter, Rose, falls in love with him. However, Edward’s attention is attracted by the charming Flora. Flora’s brother is the Jacobite chieftain Fergus Mac-Ivor, but Edward’s visits to Fergus are wholly unwise and it is not long before Edward is arrested. Fortunately he is rescued by Flora and joins the Jacobite side. During a battle he saves an English officer from certain death and for this act of bravery he is pardoned for his involvement in the Jacobite cause. His friends are not so lucky: Fergus is executed and Flora takes refuge in a convent. Edward goes back to Rose and the two are happily married.

Waverley and the wounded man

In this extract Waverley on his way to battle hears the dying groans of a man who turns out to be his former sergeant, Houghton. He goes to his aid, but he is called impatiently by Fergus Mac-Ivor, the Jacobite chieftain who is fighting on the side of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, who intends to defeat the Hanoverian King George II and reclaim the English throne for the Stuart.

Match the highlighted words and phrases with their Italian meaning.

Focus on the narrator

1 - Is he first-person or third-person?

2 - From whose point of view are the events narrated? Tick as appropriate.

Edward’s - Fergus’s  - The wounded man’s - Other: _______________

Scott is regarded as the founder of the historical novel.

3 -  Look for those elements which convey a sense of historical verisimilitude. Collect your data in the table below.

Complete the summary of the text with the words and phrases from the box.

brave news



provincial English

drop of water


wounded man


young squire


Waverley saw five or six (1) _______________ who announced that the enemy was marching westwards towards the coast. All of a sudden a groan from a hut (2) _______________ Waverley. He soon entered since he heard a voice in the (3)  _______________ of his native country. He could see a (4) _______________ enveloped in a dragoon-cloak in the dark. He was lying on the earth asking for a single (5) _______________ .

Waverley showed his (6) _______________ by raising the man in his arms, bearing him to the door of the hut and giving him some water from his flask. The wounded man was surprised since he recognised Edward as his (7) _______________  dressed in the Jacobite armour and Waverley understood the wounded man was his sergeant Houghton, who had been left there since he could no longer help his (8) _______________ . He soon

complained about Edward’s (9) _______________ since he had left his country and fellows long ago.

In the end Fergus Mac-Ivor shouted “(10) _______________ “ because he had heard that Prince Charles Edward Stuart had put himself at the head of the advance.


Robert Louis Stevenson was a Scottish poet, travel writer and novelist, born in Edinburgh in 1850. Though he started training as an engineer and then as a lawyer, he was always interested in writing and at the age of twenty-five, began to devote his life to literature. He was a sickly child who had to spend most of the winters in bed and his longing for adventure and travel may be partly accounted for by his search for a cure for his illness. At various times in his life, he lived in France, the United States and in the South Seas, where he became known as ‘The Teller of Stories’. This was a fitting title for the person who gave the world the children’s classic Treasure Island (1883) and the horror story, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). Stevenson died, aged only 44, in 1894 in Samoa.


Warm-Up Activity. Read the statements below. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

1. Keeping secrets is necessary.

2. Tampering with nature can have dangerous results.

3. Everyone has two sides: the outside s/he shows the world, and the inside s/he keeps hidden.

4. Everyone has a wild or dark side; some people give in to it, others do not.

5. Science can help solve all of the world’s problems.

6. The best way to test if a drug is effective is to use living people.

7. If someone asks you to keep a secret, you should not tell anyone.

8.Real friends will support you, even if you are doing something they don’t agree with.

Listen to the chapter-by-chapter summary of the novel and write down some nots to retell the story to the class at the end of the video.













9. How many of your responses have changed after having watched the video?

10. Which statements do you see differently?

Let’s now visit two of the many souls of Scotland:

Duality in Jekyll, Hyde and Gray.

While talking about Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, we can immediately recall Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Both novels follow the lives of initially well-meaning men who ultimately devolve into these soulless individuals overrun by their own deviance as a result of an experiment gone wildly awry.  While Jekyll splits his character into two by transforming into Mr. Hyde, Gray transfers his evilness to his portrait.  Each man revels in their dual selves, but ultimately, the reader sees that these split individuals cannot peacefully exist. The main theme here is the duality of good vs. evil. While Wilde and Stevenson don’t explicitly write about the behaviors of their characters, one critic suggests that the mysterious qualities of these activities could have to do with sex.  Sexuality needed to be scientifically explained in the nineteenth century and during the Victorian period in the UK.  Sexuality remained in a type of underworld and people talked about it in secret, and a law made punishable “gross indecency” between two men in both the public and private spheres. This late-Victorian law described homosexuality as “an unhealthy form of malady”. It stated that homosexuality was unacceptable by contemporary society and threatened to punish its practitioners, commanding them not to indulge in any form of physical contact. It was thus considered incredibly shameful by all respectable members of society. Both authors never mention homosexuality in their books, but we may assume that the topic is still symbolic of all issues that were considered subversive or not widely accepted by society, and we can eventually better understand the actions of Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll. To possess the opportunity to remove one’s self from something considered “bad” or “indecent” by society and channel it into another object (or person) is a way to eliminate guilt and worry.  Dorian and Jekyll both fail, but in their failures, they attempt to separate and isolate their deep-seeded and darkest sides from their better selves or what society would consider to be appropriate and acceptable.






Both the characters of Dorian Gray and his Picture symbolize evil

Dr Jekyl symbolizes ___________

Mr. Hyde symbolizes ___________


The stab at the picture and the resulting death of Dorian Gray

Dr. Jekyll ____________ and the resulting death of mr. Hyde


Dorian Gray suffers a physical and moral deadence

Dr. Jekyll suffers a physical and moral decadence


Dorian Gray kills his painter friend

Mr Hyde kills an innocent man



The story is told by third person narrator

The story is told by 4 narrators: Utters, Enfield, Dr. Lanyon and ____________


Good and evil are in a single character (Dorian Gray)

Good and evil are in a single character ( _______________ )



Victorian novel


Dorian Gray



In Dorian Gray there’s the rejection of science

The role of science is important


Wild’s theory is “Art survive people. It’s eternal”.

The role of art is quite __________


There is participation of women

The presence of women is secondary

Could you think of a “third column” dedicated to Mary Shelley’s masterpiece “Frankenstein”?

Riccardo Zambon, 3 March 2024

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