Walter Scott and the Whistler: Tragedy and the Enlightenment Imagination
The Heart of Midlothian is generally considered Scott’s most approachable novel. David Daiches tells us that ‘most critics consider [it to be] the best of Scott’s works’.1 In his short but influential 1965 study, it is the only novel to which Thomas Crawford devotes an entire chapter, and in his 1982 revision of the same book, Crawford preserves the emphasis, citing the ‘extended critical debate’ to which the novel has been subjected by Robin Mayhead, Dorothy van Ghent, Joan Pittock and David Craig.2 In Scottish Literature since 1707, Marshall Walker tellingly chooses The Heart of Midlothian above any other of Scott’s works for extended consideration before addressing the question of Scott’s fluctuating appeal as a novelist ‘then and now’.3 When Ludovic Kennedy enquired in 1969, he found that the Edinburgh City Library’s nine copies of the work were all out. The librarian estimated that there were between 180 and 200 borrowings of the book each year.4 So in terms of critical acclaim and popular appeal, The Heart of Midlothian is central. One reason for this is its crucial position in Scott’s career, not only chronologically and nor because its principle character, the ‘common cow-feeder’s daughter’, Jeanie Deans, embodies an ideal of Romantic individualism as a heroine from ‘the common people’, but also because of its balance of thematic, personal and social concerns and compulsions. (It is worth noting that Jeanie is only one ‘Romantic’ ideal: she is a long way from Childe Harold or other, more aristocratic forms of the Byronic hero.
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