Places: The Fair Maid of Perth

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1828

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1396

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Perth

*Perth. Fair Maid of Perth, TheCounty in the center of Scotland that embraces both highland and lowland regions. It is described by Scott’s notional narrator, Chrystal Croftangry, as the most varied, picturesque, and beautiful of all Scottish counties; in the novel it becomes a microcosm of medieval Scotland. The early chapters of the novel are set within the town of Perth, which is two miles south of the ancient Scottish capital of Scone, and was itself regarded as the capital at the time in which the novel is set.

The most important settings within the town of Perth are Simon Glover’s house in Couvrefew, or Curfew Street, and the Dominican monastery–which had been founded in 1231–at the junction of Blackfriars Wynd and Couvrefew. The architecture of the monastery is Gothic, including secret passages and a council-room, where the political conspiracies underlying the plot are hatched. Glover’s daughter Catherine, the novel’s claimant to the eponymous title, becomes caught up in these convoluted machinations after attending the monastery’s church on Saint Valentine’s Eve, where the rivalry between her two lovers–the armorer Henry Gow, whose smithy is in Mill Wynd on the western side of the town, and Conachar, heir to the chieftainship of Clan Quhele–first flares up. A sharp contrast is drawn between the gloomy monastery and the hill of Kinnoul outside the town, where Catherine takes instruction from a Carthusian white friar. There she observes an oak tree whose precarious situation–in the cleft of a rock split by lightning–symbolizes her own perilous situation.

Other featured locations within the town include the council house on the High Street, where Sir Patrick Charteris of Kinfauns presides–which is as gloomy as its equivalent in the monastery–and the High Church of Saint John’s. The latter location is a natural selection as the meeting place for the trial by ordeal, by virtue of the fact that Saint John is the town’s patron saint. The arena for the fight in which Henry defeats the assassin Bonthron is marked out in the nearby Skinners’ Yards.

*River Tay

*River Tay. Scottish river on which the town of Perth stands. It follows a winding course eastward, then southward, from Loch Tay and then proceeds eastward from the town to the Firth of Tay. The novel’s major settings outside the town are all distributed along the river. The river’s eastward reach features in a significant expedition from Sir John Ramorny’s bankside house in the town, which proceeds under the town’s old bridge–whose Gothic arches were washed away in 1621–to the gibbet where Bonthron is hung and then to the fishing village of Newburgh on the edge of the firth, from which the party subsequently strikes south through the forest to Falkland Tower, a hunting lodge in Fifeshire (the present-day Falkland Palace is a much later construction). The northern reach is featured in Simon Glover’s expedition to the mansion of the Booshaloch, below Tom-an-Lonach (which Scott translates as Knoll of the Yew Trees, although it actually means “meadowy hill”), from which Loch Tay can be seen; the hut where Simon confers with the recently elevated Conachar is nearby.

The Inch, where the crucial conflict takes place–in Scott’s version between the branch of Clan Chattan occupying Perthshire and South Invernesshire and the ill-fated Clan Quhele–is on the bank of the Tay, not far from Falkland. The Abbey of Scone and the Castle of Kinfauns play host to the representatives of the two rival clans before the contest.


*Canongate. District of Edinburgh described in the novel as the “Court end of town.” The series to which The Fair Maid of Perth belongs is titled “Chronicles of the Canongate” after it.

BibliographyHart, Francis. Scott’s Novels: The Plotting of Historic Survival. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966. Good introduction analyzes characterization, presenting Henry as a nontraditional hero and noting mythical qualities in both major and minor characters. Discusses theme and symbol.Johnson, Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1970. Extensively researched biography explores Scott as a man and a writer. Argues that the struggle between courage and cowardice becomes a philosophical discussion of the difficulty of being nonviolent in a violent world; evaluates character and style, paying particular attention to Scott’s imagery. An excellent introductory source.McMaster, Graham. Scott and Society. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Discusses the novel’s disillusion with many aspects of society, revealed in ironic portrayals of characters. Analyzes character, style, and theme.Sutherland, John. The Life of Walter Scott: A Critical Biography. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1995. Analyzes Scott’s use of the fourteenth century story to mirror the political situation in his own time, providing detailed chronology. Asserts that theme centers around weak sons who betray their strong father figures.Wagenknecht, Edward. Sir Walter Scott. New York: Continuum, 1991. Describes this as Scott’s darkest and most violent novel, savagely contrasting the differences between the Highlands and the Lowlands, war and peace, the burghers and the ruling class. Argues that Henry Gow is a wild, at times licentious, hero, often out of control, while Catharine is the most saintly of Scott’s heroines.
Categories: Places