Should Auld Acquaintance: Discovering the Woman Behind Robert Burns

Melanie Murray. Nightwood (Midpoint, U.S. dist.; Harbour, Canadian dist.), $22.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-88971-328-4
Murray (For Your Tomorrow), a literature professor at Okanagan College, successfully brings to life Jean Armour, the hard-done-by wife of Scottish poet Robert Burns. With an evocative mix of novelistic reinvention and exhaustive legwork, she recreates Armour and Burns’s late-18th-century courtship. Murray starts her pilgrimage, which includes details from her own life, in the Scottish village of Mauchline, where Burns first encountered the “Belle of Mauchline.” Armour was drawn in yet conflicted, since as a dutiful daughter her sole aim was to please her demanding father, stonemason James Armour—until the charming Burns seduced her. Just as her father predicted, Armour’s storied life with Burns was never simple or easy, since Burns was “philandering, dissolute, and impoverished.” Armour’s fixation on Burns baffled her family, who preferred her first suitor, Robin Wilson, a stable weaver. Mrs. Burns paid a price: prior to their 1788 wedding, Armour alienated her conservative father and brought shame to the Armours. The loyal Wilson continued to compete for her affections even when Armour was pregnant with Burns’s twins (the first two of nine babies). Fans of poetry and melodrama will be transfixed by Murray’s compelling portrait of Armour’s enduring commitment to Scotland’s bawdy bard. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2017
Release date: 01/01/2017
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