Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Waverley’ and the St Andrew’s Society of Shanghai

imageOn this day in 1814, the novel Waverley was published by Sir Walter Scott. Here’s for a short story from the Scottish Diaspora in Asia that connects to the novel.

When Shanghai’s St Andrew’s Society and its guests gathered at the Shanghai Club to celebrate St Andrew’s Day in 1879, it was not the customary ball that was held, but a ‘Waverley Ball’, organised ‘in honour of the Patron Saint and the Poet Novelist of Scotland.’ As had already been reported in a local paper in the summer of 1879, guests were meant to be dressed as characters from Scott’s Waverley novels: ‘We hear with pleasure that the members of St. Andrew’s Society have decided to give a fancy dress ball, about the 30th November next. It can most appropriately be styled a “Waverley Ball,” as the dresses are to be copies of those of the characters in the Waverley-Novels. It is desired that the tout ensemble shall be as complete as possible, hence the notification so long in advance.’ While the press levied some criticism after the event, noting that ‘there was a tendency to substitute the payment of dollars at a store for the intelligent effort to represent a particular character; and secondly, there was too much reliance placed on picture books issued in the time of Sir Walter Scott’, the ball was a great success. This was the case not least because of the great decorations. In the ballroom ‘evergreens and flowers were entwined round the doors, windows, pictures, mirrors and pillars, while in a prominent position on the south wall was the venerated, veritable, and much revered portrait of St. Andrew’. Dinner was provided, including potted pheasant, venison, haggis and a selection of patisseries. Books were provided at the entrance for guests to sign, providing details as to the Waverley characters used. This remarkable event displaying Scottishness in Asia came to its end only in the wee hours of the morning.

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