This article examines the historical fiction of Sir Walter Scott, in its dual function not only as a reflection of history, but likewise as an active influence on the shaping of 19th century historical consciousness. This dual role is analysed with particular regard to the special position of Scotland in Great Britain and in the wider world before, during, and after Scott’s lifetime. The main focus of analysis is on the dialectic of attraction and revulsion that permits readers to indulge in the author’s imaginative recreation of a colourful and adventurous past, while at the same time retaining or reinforcing a belief in the superiority of the present. Walter Scott is thus defended against accusations of mere literary escapism or of promoting sentimental nostalgia for an idealised lost world of romance, and rather portrayed as a literary advocate for the overcoming of divisions within Scotland and within Britain, through a healing process based on an ultimate recognition of the pastness of the past, and of the inevitability of progress. Finally, a parallel is drawn between divergent uses and perceptions of the historical imagination in western literature and in the Arab world.