This strikes me as the most important chapter in the entire book. It also tells us two really important things about Sir Walter Scott. I
The first is that it tells us just how quickly he wrote this stuff. It is only in this chapter that we begin to find out what the novel is really about. The big themes—the ones that Jane Austen would outline right at the beginning—are laid out here. And if someone were to set out to write a similar story, I think this is Chapter is where they would start.
The other thing that we learn is just how much Sir Walter was influenced by Ann Radcliffe. That is, the book is at heart a critique of Catholicism but it is a critique that means to dismiss first a lot of the shallow and superstitious attacks on Catholicism. Don't get swept up in the romance and magic of Catholicism, Radcliffe tells us, she wants to let us show us the psychological truths that underlie all the smells and spells.
We might think of it this way, unlike Jane Austen who writes about people and treats the historical and wider cultural issues as context, Sir Walter and Ann Radcliffe are writers very much concerned to tell us a story about the larger historical and cultural contexts. They both want us to leave the book thinking, "And that is why it is better that England and protestantism won and why they should continue to win." Jane Austen has no such ambitions.
So when Die Vernon corrects Frank in this chapter she wants to dissuade him of his romantic notions about her and her situation. Like an anthropologist, Sir Walter wants his heroine to describe not just a gripping conflict but also to spell out what he takes to be the root problems with Catholicism. The story has to work as a tale and as if it were a chapter in a history book wherein the historian has picked this particular tale as illustrative of something running through all history.
To focus on just the tale as a tale for a while—because if it doesn't work as a story it can't serve Sir Walter's larger purpose either—I think we should be very impressed and the convincing picture we get of Diana here. She doesn't reveal all (and I'll get back to just how much she might be concealing in a moment) but she reveals enough to make us believe in her and love her. She does the same to Frank and also does enough to shake him a little ways off the path he was headed.
I couldn't go through it all here but some of it is work touching on. My favourite bit comes fairly early in the chapter when Frank tries to get off by using drunkenness as an excuse and quoting Shakespeare to back him up.
People do this all the time. They quote "Shakespeare" as having said that "all the world's a stage' or that our fates are but a tale told by babbling idiot forgetting that it was not Shakespeare but two less-than-admirable characters named Jacques and Macbeth who said these things. And here Diana reminds Frank that it was Iago who uttered the defense he claims as his own.
In any case, the lesson is not just that she wishes to impart to Frank is that he not pick up the habits of the people who surround him. She wants him to see that Rashleigh has played him well.
And here we might begin to wonder at Frank. He is astounded at the frank and manly way that Diana demands that he tell her what Rashleigh has said of her but he doesn't seem to wonder why she is so confident in her assumption that Rashleigh did say something and that this something is the real reason for Frank's bad behaviour.
When he confesses what he has been told, Diana does two things. The first is to make him see that it is not the seemingly romantic fate pushed on her by the choice between marriage to one of the boys or the convent that has made her life so painful but rather the way Rashleigh has treated her. The second is to tell him that far from treating her case in the condescending way he described to Frank, that Rashleigh has set about seducing her and had used his position as her tutor to reach this end.
That should have us hearing echoes of all sorts of stories from Abelard and Heloise to Bartholo and Rosine in the Barber of Seville.
What really happened?
And it should have us asking a question, How successful was Rashleigh? At the time, people didn't say. Even songs wherein a wronged woman sang about her seducer were sung by men at that time because women couldn't even assume the role of a woman who'd been seduced for length of a song without it reflecting on them. Sir Walter is going to be extremely circumspect about how he puts things here.
My question is, has he left some of it between the lines for us to figure out for ourselves?
After leaving Die Vernon, Frank contemplates the situation. Here is how he puts it to Tresham:
In Dubourg's family (as he was of the reformed persuasion) I had heard many a tale of Romish priests who gratified, at the expense of friendship, hospitality, and the most sacred ties of social life, those passions, the blameless indulgence of which is denied by the rules of their order. But the deliberate system of undertaking the education of a deserted orphan of noble birth, and so intimately allied to his own family, with the perfidious purpose of ultimately seducing her, detailed as it was by the intended victim with all the glow of virtuous resentment, seemed more atrocious to me than the worst of the tales I had heard at Bourdeaux ...By nineteenth century standards that is very heavy stuff indeed and would have had set the minds, and perhaps other parts, of the men who read this a stirring. Note the language here. The "blameless indulgence" here means sex. He means married sex and the kind of sex he has in mind means men using their wives as a source of pleasure for themselves. He would have been shocked at the suggestion that any woman other than the basest whore might enjoy sex rather than merely being the source of sexual release for her husband, as even the most progressive men of the time also would have also felt. Even Flaubert—a man who devoted his life to flouting bourgeois values and a generation after Scott—was scandalized at George Sand's suggestion that women were entitled to enjoy sex and refused for a while to meet her as a consequence.
The other great turn of phrase in this bit I have quoted is this:
... with the perfidious purpose of ultimately seducing her ...It's the "ultimately" I wonder about. The attempt would be enough to explain Diana's "resentment" as Frank puts it but it seems obvious to me that Diana feels far more than resentment. She has other secrets as she hints to Frank here but even when we learn what those secrets are, I don't think they explain the depth of her shame and hurt here. To put it in my characteristically blunt way, I think Rashleigh got her and I think Sir Walter expects us to sense that maybe something of that nature happened even if both he and and his readers (unlike me) are too polite so say so many words.
I love, by the way, the fact that Frank takes it that Dubourg being a Calvinist makes his tales about the purported evil of Catholicism absolutely trustworthy.
Finally, I think that explains another rather troubling thing—troubling to me anyway—about Frank. I'd put it this way, everything we have seen tells us that Diana is morally superior to Frank. Granted he is vain and stupid but he should not miss this and yet he seems to.
Even after being rightfully chastised by her Frank treats Diana as lacking in some fundamental female modesty even though he has no reason that we have seen to do so. Read this passage, for example,
Neither can I conceive with what view he should have engaged Diana in the gloomy maze of casuistry which schoolmen called philosophy, or in the equally abstruse though more certain sciences of mathematics and astronomy; unless it were to break down and confound in her mind the difference and distinction between the sexes, and to habituate her to trains of subtle reasoning, by which he might at his own time invest that which is wrong with the colour of that which is right. It was in the same spirit, though in the latter case the evil purpose was more obvious, that the lessons of Rashleigh had encouraged Miss Vernon in setting at nought and despising the forms and ceremonial limits which are drawn round females in modern society.What differences did Rashleigh discourage her from believing in and what were the real consequences of this? We're back in Samuel Richardson land here and female virtue consist not in what women can do but in their ability to resist allowing men doing things to them.
This is a sexism that we might forgive in Sir Walter given the time he lived in but can we forgive it in Rob Roy? Jane Austen is just as evasive about actual sexual content but she does not make the mistakes that Sir Walter at least appears to make or has Frank make.
If my good friend Eliot Girl were to chime in, she might say the real question is, "Does Frank deserve Diana?" That is the test I think we should put Rob Roy to as read it the rest of the way through.
I think that is a much harder question than might first appear.
Let's cut Frank a little slack and allow that he knows that there is more to Diana's story than she is telling. Let's assume that he is such a perfect gentleman that not only does he see this as no barrier to his marrying her but that even if upon marriage he learns she is not a virgin he will pretend not to have noticed and will love her faithfully until death do them part. Even if he does all that, it would not be enough for him to deserve her. He must do even more and I think the ultimate test of this novel will be in how well it shows him succeeding in really deserving her or it, if it doesn't do that, it show us his failing to get her.