Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns

Dirt and Deity: A Life of Robert Burns

by Ian McIntyre
     
 

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Ian McIntyre's biography, published to mark the bicentenary of Burns's death, strips away myth and legend and explores what lies beneath. It is based meticulously on documentary and archival sources, and uses only the first-hand testimony of those who knew the man. It sets Burns in his historical context, and paints both his emotional life and his political views in…  See more details below

Overview

Ian McIntyre's biography, published to mark the bicentenary of Burns's death, strips away myth and legend and explores what lies beneath. It is based meticulously on documentary and archival sources, and uses only the first-hand testimony of those who knew the man. It sets Burns in his historical context, and paints both his emotional life and his political views in vivid colours. On public matters he had no difficulty in holding simultaneously two views that were contradictory. In his private life he could be effortlessly in love with several women at the same time, appallingly cruel one moment, wonderfully tender the next. McIntyre offers a more extensive evaluation of Burns's songs and poetry than most previous biographers. He stresses the importance and quality of the satirical verse, as well as the haunting love poems for which Scotland's 'bard' is best known. In an illuminating final chapter, he examines the extraordinary ramifications assumed after the death of the poet by the Burns legend, a fantastical 'afterlife' bearing little resemblance to biographical reality.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A marginally educated seducer and drunk who died at 37 in 1796 remains Scotland's premier poet and songsmith. McIntyre's bicentenary biography (his last was a life of BBC founder John Reith, The Expense of Glory) is unsparing about Burns and his uneven output, from haunting lyrics to bawdy songs. Carlyle, so McIntyre writes, saw Burns's career as "a tragedy of potential unfulfilled and opportunity squandered." Rather, McIntyre contends, there was scant opportunity in hardscrabble Ayrshire in Burns's time, and the flavor of that bleak life as it was actually lived is vividly evoked, as are the poet's self-defeating imprudences of every sort. Having little schooling, Burns pragmatically described his working methods as "Untill I am compleat master of a tune, in my own singing... I can never compose for it." His practice was not that of the university, but it produced "Flow gently, sweet Afton" and "The Cotter's Saturday Night." He also produced more children, illegitimate and legal, than he could afford, and left his plough for a meager salary as excise tax inspector that kept him on horseback and away from home, from the contemplative time for writing and from exploiting usefully his flair for friendship with admiring men and adoring women in circles above his class. His lyrical gift had pushed him out of the milieu that moved him to verse. As McIntyre observes, Burns's local literary reputation, once spread, "had both made and undone him." He had "an extraordinary blindness to where his own interest lay." Although he was "never the slave of time," that became another of his many failings. McIntyre's careful scrutiny of Burns is exemplified by his quoting an exculpatory letter ostensibly done in haste. "Pardon this confused scrawl," Burns explains. "-Indeed I know not well what I have written." But, McIntyre notes, "That was not strictly true-he had taken time to try his hand at a draft." Illustrated. (June)
A.C. Grayling
Ian McIntyre transports you absolutely into the world of his subject� A shrewd, clear, comprehensive and wonderfully readable portrait of Burns as fallible man and gifted poet.
Financial Times
Alan Massie
Ian McIntyre has done Burns justice, all the more so because he is never blind to his weakness. The man lives in his pages, and what more can you ask of a biography?
Daily Telegraph
John McEwen
McIntyre's rigorously detailed, compellingly told life will surely emerge as the best history to date of this charming and contradictory genius.
Spectator

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780006387596
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
11/01/1996
Pages:
461
Product dimensions:
5.26(w) x 7.68(h) x 1.09(d)

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