The Heart of Mid-Lothian by Walter Scott

The Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels, Edinburgh University Press, 2011, 470 p plus 59 p Essay on the Text, 50 p Emendation list, 2 p list of end-of-line “hard” hyphens, 40 p Historical Note, 120 p Explanatory Notes, 50 p Glossary, 2p maps of Edinburgh, iv p General Introduction to the Edinburgh Edition, and iii p Acknowledgements. One of the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books.

The Edinburgh Edition has sought to produce the nearest approximation to what Scott intended by using as base texts the first publications and Scott’s manuscripts of the relevant novels. The Heart of Mid-Lothian – the novel which, by way of a dance hall, provided the name for a Scottish Football Club – was seemingly the work which suffered most in the hands of such intermediaries as copyists, typesetters and editors. The length of the emendation list here attests to this. In this edition the explanatory notes work out at an average of four for every page of text! To consult them with this frequency would have interrupted the flow of reading so for the most part I left them till I had finished the novel, only consulting them during its course when absolutely necessary.

The Heart of Mid-Lothian cover

The story is supposedly set down by one Jedidiah Cleishbotham as one of his Tales of My Landlord, Peter Pattieson, only he had it from conversations in an inn with three gentlemen he had helped rescue from deposition in a river by an upturned coach, two of whom were lawyers and the other once jailed through indebtness. This is of course merely a framing device to introduce a story whose beginnings lie in the Edinburgh tolbooth (the gaol situated at the Heart of Mid-Lothian) and the Porteous riots of 1736 where a commander of the city guard was lynched after being pardoned for killing innocent civilians during a disturbance at an earlier public hanging. The story places in the tolbooth at the time Effie Deans, awaiting trial for concealment of her pregnancy, a crime taken to be evidence of intent to murder the child when it was born. Her lover, it turns out, was involved with instigating the riots and had immediately before the birth placed Effie and hence their son into the hands of old acquaintances of his who were less than reliable. Effie’s post-partum indisposition due to puerperal fever renders her incapable of accounting for her son’s whereabouts.

Effie is the daughter of David Deans, a staunch Presbyterian of the old school, a former Covenanter still unreconciled to the modern practices of the Church of Scotland and its accommodation with the State. Effie’s half-sister, Jeanie, has it in her power to prevent Effie’s conviction but due to her conscience and strict upbringing will not swear falsely that Effie informed her of her condition. As a result, Effie is found guilty and sentenced to death. Jeanie resolves to walk to London to enlist the help of the Duke of Argyle to petition the King for a pardon. While her encounters en route make for a novel whose parts are an interconnected artistic whole they do seem a little implausible. However, if you like loose ends to be successfully tied up you won’t be disappointed.

As with Rob Roy Scott’s wordiness can be wearing at first, but I soon accommodated myself to it.

While Jeanie is the undoubted heroine of the book the whole may also be seen as an exploration of the ramifications of an unjust law. From the perspective of two hundred years on Effie’s predicament exemplifies a pronounced tendency among religions to make women the gatekeepers to male sexuality and to punish them rather than their equally (in many cases more) culpable partner for any transgressions. I suppose women were and are easier to identify as culprits since the evidence of “sin” becomes all too readily apparent. It nevertheless reflects the not yet eradicated widespread misogyny (itself an expression of fear of women’s capabilities and of rejection; a manifestation of deep seated insecurity) prevalent throughout history.

There is, though, a reading in which The Heart of Mid-Lothian is actually a chronicle of the life of David Deans, his stedfastness and surety, and also a marking of the beginnings of the long, slow fading of the Covenanting mindset, still not quite extinguished.

Pedant’s corner:- As in Rob Roy; stupified, plus sunk, shrunk, sprung, sung, rung, run for sank, shrank, sprang, sang, rang, ran. These are Scottish usages at the time Scott was writing and still survive in some everyday speech. We also had wrang for wrung (once, but elsewhere wrung appeared) and flang for flung. The editors do say that Scott would add flourishes to certain instances of the letter “u” which may have led to some of these. Despite the care which the editors have taken we also had whichshould (which should,) ofhabitual (of habitual,) the hangman is designated the Doomster on page 217 (twice) but on page 218 is referred to as the Dempster, whisht (as I noted on Keith Roberts’s The Lordly Ones this is nowadays usually spelled wheesht but obviously Scott did not,) the text has Dumbartonshire – or shires – but the emendation list mentions one instance where Scott’s manuscript has Dunbarton Shires. I believe the spelling has altered through time, reverting to Dunbartonshire for the county by 1914. In the historical note: Presbbytery (Presbytery.) In the explanatory notes: “is a now an obsolete usage” (has one too many indefinite articles,) Galations (Galatians.)

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