Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was born in Edinburgh. Educated for the law, he obtained the office of sheriff-depute of Selkirkshire in 1799 and in 1806 the office of clerk of session, a post whose duties he fulfilled for some twenty-five years. His lifelong interest in Scottish antiquity and the ballads which recorded Scottish history led him to try his hand at narrative poems of adventure and action. The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), and The Lady of the Lake (1810) made his reputation as one of the leading poets of his time. A novel, Waverley, which he had begun in 1805, was published anonymously in 1814. Subsequent novels appeared with the note “by the author of Waverley”; hence his novels often are called collectively “the Waverley novels.” Some of the most famous of these are Old Mortality (1816), Rob Roy (1817), Ivanhoe (1819), Kenilworth (1821), and Quentin Durward (1823). In recognition of his literary work Scott was made a baronet in 1819. During his last years he held various official positions and published biographies, editions of Swift and Dryden, tales, lyric poetry, and various studies of history and antiquity.
The Heart of Midlothianby Walter Scott
This novel, which has always been regarded as one of Scott's finest, opens with the Edinburgh riots of 1736. The people of the city have been infuriated by the actions of John Porteous, Captain of the Guard, and when they hear that his death has been reprieved by the distant monarch they ignore the Queen and resolve to take their own revenge. At the center of the… See more details below
This novel, which has always been regarded as one of Scott's finest, opens with the Edinburgh riots of 1736. The people of the city have been infuriated by the actions of John Porteous, Captain of the Guard, and when they hear that his death has been reprieved by the distant monarch they ignore the Queen and resolve to take their own revenge. At the center of the story is Edinburgh's forbidding Tolbooth prison, known by all as the Heart of Midlothian.
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Give me, you say, five reasons why you should or should not read Sir Walter Scott's 1818 novel THE HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN. *** First, this novel is not for people who reject any role for religion in public or private life. Scotland in the 18th Century was wrapped in its established religion, the Kirk, i.e., Presbyterian Christianity, fearing schisms 'to the right and to the left.' But if you have Covenanting Scottish ancestors and want to know more of their milieu and Scotland's version of Calvinism, then read this novel.*** Second, if you are uninterested in Scotland even during its period of greatest genius (1745 - 1795), a time seriously compared with Periclean Athens and Medici Florence, skip the HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN. Indeed, don't read Walter Scott, period. For his lifetime mission was to make distant, fearful, wild Scotland better known to the English and, conversely, Scotia's ancestral foe the Sassenach better known to the Scots. *** Third, you don't care about lower class women, their religion and their consciences? Then you won't care about fictional Jeanie Deans, rooted in a real biography. This simple farm woman would not lie to save her younger sister Effie from an undeserved execution but then walked from Edinburgh to London and prevailed on the great John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll, and next on Queen Caroline, wife of George II, to win a pardon for wild-living Effie. Jeanie is seriously Presbyterian, daughter of a not entirely unattractive Covenanter fanatic. She can read and write but is not a great brain. Yet with all her limitations of religion, conscience and sex, Jeanie plods and succeeds when her flashier betters turn out rotters or simply float on the tides of their social prominence. *** Fourth, you don't want a story told in 52 chapters? I concede that Reader's Digest could reduce this novel to 80 pages and your book club could tell the bare tale in 15 minutes. But if you want to make time to see how character and personalities drive action, how history is and is not about personal freedom, or how close Scotland came to breaking away from its 1707 Union with England, then Walter Scott's masterpiece is for you. Find religious and political history through reading a great novel. *** Fifth, if you search for characters who come alive and take root in your imagination, you will not soon forget the wealthy Laird of Dumbiedikes, who woos by simple gawking at poor Jeanie Deans, the stern Highland Captain of Knockdunder, man of the Duke of Argyll, and Bartoline Saddletree, a wannabe lawyer worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan, to name a very few worthies. *** Yes, there is intellectual work cut out for you. There is much broad Scots language and Latin, too, both classical and Scots law variety. But excellent notes and glossary do the necessary. You want more reasons to read THE HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN? Look for romance, cross - dressing, court scenes preparing for Perry Mason, hair shirts, convents, the spectacular Highlands, ditzy upwardly mobile women, a tormented villain and his wild boy son. It's all there. -OOO-