The Heart of Midlothian

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The Heart of Midlothian is the name of the famous novel by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)[1], as well as a number of adaptations of it, or works based on the plot.

The title is also found in an earlier form as The Heart of Mid-Lothian

The novel

It was originally published in four volumes by Archibald Constable in Edinburgh on 25 July 1818 and is seen by many as Scott's finest work. It tells of Jeanie Deans, a young woman from a family of highly devout Presbyterians, who goes to London, partly by foot, hoping to achieve an audience with the Queen through the influence of the Duke of Argyll, to receive a royal pardon for her sister, who was unjustly charged with infanticide.

A history of stage adaptations

The history of the many and intertwined stage versions of the popular novel is a most complicated story, that includes many unlicensed adaptations of Scott's work produced for the stage after its initial publication. For example , according to Allardyce Nicoll (1930: p.93, footnote 5), 1818 saw versions by Dibdin Terry, Dimond, Montague and Jervis, plus one by an anonymous author. In 1824 a version by W. Murray was performed in Edinburgh.

An interesting publication in this regard is The Heart of Mid-Lothian, or The Sisters of St Leonard's, the text of a drama in three acts ascribed to and published by Thomas Hailes Lacy, London in 1850 and said by the author himself rather facetiously to be "(a)dapted from Sir Walter Scott's novel, with introductions from T. Dibdin's play, W. Murray's alteration of the same, Eugene Scribe's opera, and Dion Boucicault's amalgamation of the above, Colin Hazlewood's adjustment and re-adjustment, J.B. Johnstone's appropriation, and other equally original versions, together with a very small amount of new matter, by T.H. Lacy".

In addition, a number of authors, using alternative titles, also borrowed (sections of) the plot for plays such as Filial Duty (McClaren, 1819), The Whistler (G.D. Pitt, 1833), La Vendéenne, an Italian adaptation by Paul Duport (first performed 24 July 1837) etc. .

However, probably the best known versions are usually ascribed to Dion Boucault's play - originally entitled Jeanie Deans, after the heroine of the novel, it was widely performed, under several different names, afterwards)

Another obviously widely used text would have been the "collated" version by Lacy referred to above.

The novel has been turned into an opera on three occasions at least:

  1. La Prison d' Edimbourg ("The prison in Edinburgh", 1833)[2] an ope̲ra-comique in three acts by composer Michele Carafa (1787-1872)[3] and librettists Eugène Scribe (1791-1861) and Eugène de Planard (1783-1855), adapted for the English stage as The Heart of Midlothian by Captain Rafter[4].
  2. La Prigione di Edimburgo ("The prison in Edinburgh", 1838) by composer Federico Ricci (1809–1877), the text by Gaetano Rossi (derived from a French libretto by Scribe and Planard).
  3. Jeanie Deans[5] (1894) by composer Hamish MacCunn (1868–1916)[6] and librettist Joseph Bennett (1831–1911)[7].

The novel was twice filmed in 1914, the one as The Heart of Midlothian, and the other as A Woman's Triumph, again as The Heart of Midlothian as a made-for-television piece, released in 1966.

Stage versions performed in South Africa

Jeanie Deans by Dion Boucicault (1860)

The original text

Probably the best known version of Scott's play was a drama in three acts done by Dion Boucault (1820-1890)[8] in 1860. Originally entitled Jeanie Deans after the heroine of the novel, it was first produced on 9 January 1860 at Laura Keene's Theatre, New York City. Widely performed afterwards, under several different names.

Produced in London at the Westminster Theatre on 26 January 1863 under the title of The Trial of Effie Deans and in Edinburgh at the Theatre Royal in 1910.

The play was apparently also published under a variety of longer titles over the years, including The Trial of Effie Deans, or The Heart of Mid-Lothian, The Heart of Mid-Lothian; or, the Sisters of St. Leonard's. In South Africa it was at one time billed as Jeanie Deans, or The Heart of Midlothian. However it is pretty certain that these were all versions of Boucicault's play.

Translations and adaptations

Boucicault's version was quite possibly the real source for Joseph Bennett's libretto for the opera Jeanie Deans (MacCunn and Bennett)[9], and one of the sources named for Lacy's compendium version of 1863. .

Performance history in South Africa

1878: Performed as Jeanie Deans, or The Heart of Midlothian in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, by Disney Roebuck and company on 5 June, along with "other attractions". The evening a benefit for Mr W. Robertson, the acting manager of the theatre.

1878: Performed again in the Theatre Royal, Cape Town, by Disney Roebuck and company on 8 and 14 June, both times with Trial by Jury (Gilbert and Sullivan) and "Limelight Exhibitions outside the Theatre" on each evening.


Facsimile version of by Thomas Dibdin, Google E-book[10]

Facsimile version of the opera by Carafa, Hathi Trust Digital Library[11]

Allardyce Nicholls. 1930 A History of Early Nineteenth Century Drama 1800-1850 (Volume I), Cambridge University Press[12]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: p. 369

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