Free Trade and Disloyal Smugglers in Scott's Guy Mannering and Redgauntlet

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Author: Ayse Çelikkol
Editor: Kathy D. Darrow
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 10,184 words

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[(essay date winter 2007) In the following essay, Çelikkol explores the tensions between nationalism and global commerce in the two novels. In Çelikkol's view, Scott "locates the roots of modern psychological alienation" in the figure of the uprooted, unpatriotic smuggler.]

In the aftermath of the Union Act of 1707 that abolished the Scottish parliament, anti-union sentiment fueled the practice of smuggling in Scotland. As the narrator of The Heart of Midlothian (1818) explains, the Scots rebelled against English laws that restricted their freedom to trade: "Smuggling was almost universal in Scotland in the reigns of George I. and II., for the [Scottish] people, unaccustomed to imposts, and regarding them as an unjust aggression upon their ancient liberties, made no scruple to elude them whenever it was possible to do so."1 In the course of the eighteenth century, smuggling declined along with resentment for the Union Act, so the prominence of smuggling in Walter Scott's fiction underlines the historicity of his settings.2 However, smuggling in Scott's novels is not just a historical referent that signifies eighteenth-century anti-union sentiment; metaphorically, it represents a preference for the distant over the local. Consider a telling scene in Redgauntlet (1828), in which a blind fiddler named Willie curses upon hearing a faint sound of music on his way to a country dance: "The whoreson fisher rabble--they have brought another violer upon my walk--they are such smuggling blackguards, that they must run in their very music."3 Condemning smuggling as an act of betrayal, Blind Willie's metaphor constructs a topography of loyalty that evokes a wide range of political and economic issues such as feudal kinship and cosmopolitan exchange.

Smuggling as metaphor, which indicates the dissolution of local attachments, evokes early-nineteenth-century economic debates in which opponents of free trade declared the sale and consumption of foreign goods unpatriotic. Following early-nineteenth-century convention, I indicate by free trade an economic system in which merchants have the right to transport commodities across international borders, so as to create a global free market. Free trade was deeply controversial in early-nineteenth-century Britain, because the availability of duty-free imports appeared to undermine commercial activity within Britain and its imperial network.4 Since commodities shipped from the colonies were paradoxically considered domestic, economic discussions involved a process of cognitive mapping in which foreignness and distance did not always correspond to one another. From the perspective of free market opponents who deemed importation detrimental to domestic and colonial commerce, smugglers not only broke financial laws, they violated patriotic codes. The existence of commodity circulation across international borders upset the topography of loyalty delineated by nationalism and imperialism. The global free market appeared to undercut the prowess of Britain as both kingdom and empire, even though free trade ultimately secured Britain's economic hegemony in the world.

By focusing on the tension between global capitalism and patriotism, I argue in this essay that the figure of the disloyal smuggler in Guy Mannering and Redgauntlet addresses the impact of global commodity exchange on individual subjectivity. Guy...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420090159