Set on the eve of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, The Monastery is full of supernatural events, theological conflict, and humour. Located in the lawless Scottish Borders, the novel depicts the monastery of Kennaquhair (a thinly disguised Melrose Abbey, whose ruins are still to be seen near Scott's own home at Abbotsford) on the verge of dissolution, and the fortunes of two brothers as they respond to a new social and religious order. Highlights of the narrative include a moving encounter between two representatives of opposing sides in the Reformation controversy who had been students together in less troubled times, and the final formal procession of the Kennaquhair monks as the Reformed forces arrive. A talking-point when the work was first published, the mysterious spectral White Lady, guardian of the magical Black Book, still intrigues readers. A strong comic element is provided by Sir Piercie Shafton with his absurd linguistic mannerisms fashionable at the English court. The narrative is preceded by one of Scott's most charming and playful introductory exchanges between the fictional local antiquary Cuthbert Clutterbuck and the Author of Waverley.
Penny Fielding is Senior Lecturer in English and Scottish Literature at the University of Edinburgh and one of the General Editors of the New Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Her books include Scotland and the Fictions of Geography: North Britain 1760-1830 (CUP, 2008) and Writing and Orality: Nationality, Culture and Nineteenth-Century Scottish Fiction (OUP, 1996) as well as an edition of Scott's The Monastery for the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels (Edinburgh EUP, 2000).