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20th Oct 2011: Deacon Brodie; The Wretch of Today May Be Happy Tomorrow by Jen McGregor

Name of speaker

Jen McGregor

Title of talk

Deacon Brodie: The Wretch of Today May Be Happy Tomorrow

Jen McGregor
Jen McGregor

Talk Overview

  • Brodie’s Edinburgh – a bit of background on the city and the Brodie family; Jacobite supporters, upstanding and influential citizens.
  • The Respectable Years – Brodie’s early life. Possible early solo robbery or inspiration for Brodie’s later activities. The arrival of professional theatre in Edinburgh, Brodie’s fascination with The Beggar’s Opera.
  • Thrill-seeking Begins – Brodie’s life of crime gets underway and quickly escalates. Analysis of his priorities based on the type of crime he chose to commit, concluding that he was more concerned with games and outwitting people than with financial gain.
  • Downfall Botched robbery at Chessel’s Court, Brodie’s flight and Ainslie’s betrayal. An early example of an international man hunt, Brodie’s arrest in Holland and eventual trial.
  • Final Performance – Brodie’s execution. Stylish to the last, playing to a crowd of thousands.
  • Epilogue..? Survival theories and whether they could possibly have worked.

A few words from the speaker:

Pirates – irresistible !  The prefect antidote to all the turgid academic stuff I have to read

A few words about the subject:

I’ve been interested in him for years, having grown up with his story and then developed more of an interest a few years ago when I began studying 18th century Edinburgh. I used Brodie as the subject for a short radio play I wrote in 2007 and am planning to develop a full-length play about him in the future.

Brodie’s story has, inevitably, grown in the telling and I would like to use the talk to address some of the misapprehensions that have sneaked in and show that the truth of his story is far more interesting and dramatic than any fiction. He’s a fascinating character; affluent, charming, one of only 33 people in Edinburgh entitled to vote, brought down by his own thrill-seeking, need for an audience and some spectacularly back luck.

He’s also a more influential figure in Edinburgh’s cultural history than many people realise. His fascination with theatre and The Beggar’s Opera was used as an argument against popular entertainment. His deciding vote brought Henry Dundas to power, which shaped the New Town. Robert Louis Stevenson was fascinated by him and used him as the basis for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Although we don’t realise it, those of us who live in Edinburgh have all been influenced in some way by Deacon William Brodie.

For more information:

National Library of Scotland
The Trial of Deacon Brodie
Deacon Brodies Secret Life

On 20 Oct 2011 at 7.00pm in the The Meadow Bar two talks were given, one by Jen and another by Eric.

Thanks to Mike and Frank and all the staff of the Meadow Bar
42-44 Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh, Midlothian EH8 9LP

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