Old Mortality, a novel published in 1816 by Sir Walter Scott follows the protagonist Henry Morton as he is caught in-between the battle between the Presbyterians and the Episcopal. With his loyalties divided between both sides, Morton must also deal with the added pressure of his love for Edith. This creates tension throughout the novel, as the two lovers find themselves on separate sides of the war. The romance between Morton and Edith does not fit the same expectations as other novels of the era, as the hero is passive and uncertain in nature. This is revealed at several points in the story, when Morton is in disguise around Edith. Due to the political circumstances, he is unable to truly be himself and exist in the middle ground. Instead, he chooses to join forces with the rebels and must deal with the increased difficulty of seeing his love interest and potential consequences of aligning himself with her enemies. By choosing to hide himself, Morton opts for a position of disguise. It shows that is not strongly tied to either side and the effect is that his indecisive nature carries over into his love life. Ultimately, there is a sense of uncertainty around his character which contrasts against other heroic figures of the era.
The first instance of Morton disguising himself starts on page 113. He has been captured by Sergeant Bothwell, who wishes to stop by the Bellendon household. Afraid that his identity will be revealed, Morton begs Bothwell to hide him under a soldier’s cloak and to refer to him as a prisoner. Later on, his identity is revealed which enable Edith and Morton to share an honest conversation about recent events and their feelings for one another. Without the disguise, he is able to fully express himself as seen when she visits him. Here, Morton is not hiding himself or his feelings for Edith.
“It was needless to say more; he was at her side, almost at her feet, pressing her unresisting hands, and loading her with a profusion of thanks and gratitude which would be hardly intelligible from the mere broken words, unless we could describe the tone, the gesture, the impassioned and hurried indications of deep and tumultuous feeling, with which they were accompanied.” (Scott. 128)
This changes as the novel progresses. On page 304, Morton is disguised as a cavalier, “[the uniform] conceal[ing] at once his figure and his features.” (Scott 304) In order to get closer to Lady Edith once more, he must hide his true identity as her opinion of Morton has changed. Initially, she is under the impression that Morton is a stranger and reveals her belief that he has changed. Without the use of a disguise, he would not have learned of her negative feelings for “his fallen character.” (Scott 306) Her impression of Morton leads to uncertainty around his character, as Edith questions where his morals and loyalties lie.
Ultimately, Henry Morton and Lady Edith rekindle their relationship in the conclusion of the novel. This is achieved despite the difficulties of Morton’s indecisive and passive nature, combined with being on two opposing sides. He has to take on different disguises throughout the story in order to gain as much information as possible. The effect of Morton hiding his true identity and not acting on his feelings for Edith is he almost loses her to Lord Evandale. By looking at his actions in the two scenes above, it is clear that Morton loves Edith and wants to remain present in her life; but he is also unable to be himself for the majority of the story.
By hiding himself around Edith, Morton shows that he cannot exist without the sense of protection that a disguise offers him. His unassertive nature does not allow for Morton to reveal his true self, as he cares about both the Rebels and the Loyalists. The novel is described as a historical romance, with a higher emphasis being placed on the former over the latter. While in disguise, he can do his best to forget the divide between himself and Edith. He takes on different personas in order to maintain his connection with her. Although he tries to reach a balance, there still remains that same sense of uncertainty until the conclusion. Even though he manages to redeem himself by the end of the novel, Morton lacks the necessary conviction to shape himself into the ideal image of a Romantic hero and differs from other heroic figures in that sense.