Places: The Heart of Midlothian

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1818

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: Early eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Scotland

*Scotland. Heart of Midlothian, TheScott’s novelistic portrait of Scotland as a country, The Heart of Midlothian deals with the east and the west of Scotland, with Highlands and Lowlands. The novel presents the people of Scotland from many regions and classes, and the Scottish landscape in all its variety is described with great force and vividness. Scott sees Scotland as a country of beauty, independence, religious passion, courage, and, sometimes, violence and disruption. The finest qualities of Scotland are embodied in Jeanie Deans, who is virtually a national symbol in the novel.


*England. Scotland’s rich and powerful neighbor to the south. The novel is set early in the eighteenth century, shortly after Scotland and England have been united under one crown; however, it is still an uneasy union. Scott shows an England that is more civilized than Scotland but also more corrupt. The Scottish heroine Jeanie Deans’s simple honesty forms a striking contrast to the social facades and political intrigues of England. Also, England’s attitude toward Scotland tends to be impatient and dismissive. Its intrusion into Scottish matters of law produces at least in part the legal injustice and cruelty that are at the novel’s center. Jeanie Deans’s most memorable encounter with England comes at Richmond, where she sees the luxuriant beauty of southern England but expresses a preference for Scotland. There, she also encounters and finally wins over Queen Caroline of England.


*Midlothian. Old name for the region of Scotland around the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh.

*Tolbooth of Edinburgh

*Tolbooth of Edinburgh (edh-en-behr-OH). Edinburgh prison in which Effie Deans is confined. Known as the “Heart of Midlothian,” the prison in the novel represents a justice that has been corrupted by politics, bad laws, English prejudice and power, and legal technicalities. The dark walls and grated windows of the Tolbooth form a symbolic and actual menace that hangs over Effie Deans and Scotland in general. The indignant Porteous rioters in the novel storm the Tolbooth, but Scott shows that the only effective answer to the inhumanity represented by the Tolbooth is provided by the love and truth of Jeanie Deans.

*Edinburgh-London road

*Edinburgh-London road. Long road that Jeanie Deans travels in search of a pardon for her condemned sister Effie. As Jeanie, barefoot and alone, makes her often difficult way along this road she rises in her grand simplicity to heroic stature, and Scott compares her journey to those in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 1684). The great distance she travels and the difficulties she overcomes on this road form the central episode of the novel and the novel’s greatest symbol of Jeanie’s superb courage and determination.

Deans house

Deans house. Home of Jeanie Deans and her father at St. Leonard’s Crags through much of the novel. Jeanie’s competent, careful, thoughtful, and wise management of the house is the school in which she learns the fundamental wisdom and integrity that make her one of Scott’s great characters. Her simple life in the house, concerned with thrift, cleaning, making good cheeses, and tending livestock, may seem unromantic, but it is in the house of St. Leonard’s Crags that Jeanie’s character is formed.


*Dumbartonshire. Beautiful and well-administered realm of the duke of Argyle. After the duke becomes Jeanie’s patron, Jeanie, her husband, and her father all move to this idyllic region where the duke’s wisdom and generosity create a world which is happy and harmonious. The duke of Argyle’s Dumbartonshire provides a fitting reward for Jeanie’s goodness and a dramatic contrast to the tragedies of Edinburgh, the corruptions of London, and the neglect of Dumbiedikes.

*Muschat’s Cairn

*Muschat’s Cairn. Mysterious and frightening place near Edinburgh where Jeanie first meets the guilty George Staunton. Associated with ghosts, Gothic ruins, a horrible murder, and the madness of Madge Wildfire, Muschat’s Cairn forms an eerie and appropriate setting for Jeanie’s introduction to the Byronic and brooding Staunton.

*Haribee Brow

*Haribee Brow. Bleak area near the northern English town of Carlisle where, in passing, Jeanie sees the horrific hanging of Meg Murdockson and the violent events that lead to Madge Wildfire’s death. Scott’s painting of this place and the violence associated with it form an unforgettable vision of cruelty which contrasts with the love which leads to Effie’s salvation.


Dumbiedikes. Estate of the two squalid, incompetent, but occasionally generous Dumbies. Dumbiedikes reveals the Scottish provincial laird at his bumbling and unintelligent worst, but it is on this estate that the young and innocent Jeanie and Reuben Butler come to love each other.

BibliographyCriscuola, Margaret M. “The Porteous Mob: Fact and Truth in The Heart of Midlothian.” English Language Notes 22, no. 1 (September, 1984): 43-50. Concludes that the reality underlying this historical episode illuminates Scott’s use of history and the ways in which he transformed fact into fiction.Davis, Jana. “Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian and Scottish Common-Sense Morality.” Mosaic 21 (Fall, 1988): 55-63. Common sense, morality, and Calvinism interact in the novel, as characters must choose between the law, their religion, and what their moral sense tells them is right.Kerr, James. “Scott’s Fable of Regeneration: The Heart of Midlothian.” English Literary History 53, no. 4 (Winter, 1986): 801-820. Sees the novel as a political admonition, and Jeanie Deans as a model of virtue. Deals more fully with the last quarter of the novel than many other commentaries do.Millgate, Jane. “Scott and the Law: The Heart of Midlothian.” In Rough Justice: Essays on Crime in Literature, edited by M. L. Friedland. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. Investigates legal aspects of the plot. Scott was a lawyer, a sheriff, and sometimes a judge. Millgate asserts that no other novelist deals more often with the effects of law on human destiny than does Scott.Thompson, Jon. “Sir Walter Scott and Madge Wildfire: Strategies of Containment in The Heart of Midlothian.” Literature and History 13 (Autumn, 1987): 188-199. Calls attention to the importance of a less obvious character and Scott’s treatment of her. Madge is insane throughout but still affects the other characters.
Categories: Places