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Dirt & Deity: Life of Robert Burns Paperback – November, 1996

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this bicentennial of Burns's death, the national poet of Scotland will be toasted liberally in Burns clubs around the world with spirited renditions of "Address to a Haggis" and "For Auld Lang Syne." McIntyre, a British broadcaster and newspaperman, approaches the legend of the "Heaven-taught ploughman" as one would stripping "treacle-dark varnish" from an old painting. In a graceful narrative that advances via bits and pieces of Burns's letters, poetry, and songs, McIntyre prudently maneuvers among the numerous historical and critical versions of the poet's short life and happily sticks to the record. He does not employ the usual condescension in describing how the young farmer, largely self-taught, published a volume of home-spun verse at age 27 and galvanized a country's national pride; nor does McIntyre romanticize Burns's weakness for strong spirits, young women, and subversive politics. The biographer has done his homework here and even includes his rather shameless attempts to have exhumed the infant buried with "Highland Mary" to determine its paternity. The son of Caledonia sings again. Highly recommended.?Amy Boaz Nugent, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 461 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins Pub Ltd; 1St Edition edition (November 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006387594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006387596
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,015,968 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Ian McIntyre, with this elegantly researched and crafted volume, has established himself as a truly exceptional biographer. This was the first work on Burns I have read that presented a compelling portrait of the poet as we know him from his work: a complicated mix of joy and sorrow, deep thought and bawdy humor, loyalty and infidelity, generosity and poverty, arrogance and innocence, British patriot and sentimental Jacobite. McIntyre's incisive and compelling research, copiously documented in notes, completely debunks the equally silly positions of overly sentimental hero-worshipers (mostly Scottish) and effete Burns-trashers (mostly English). McIntyre demonstrates what Burns lovers have known all along: all of Burns' poetry was not good--but when he WAS good, he was one of the truly great poets. The author also wades into many of the great Burns' controversies. He presents the evidence for Burns heavy (if not excessive for the time) use of alcohol, without diminishing Burns' worth as either a man or an artist. His depiction of the "Highland Mary" debate alone is worth the price of the book. This will become THE essential book on Burns, and it is apropriate (and probably essential) that it was written by a Scotsman.
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By A Customer on October 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
An excellent biography of the great Scottish poet and songwriter. It sits proudly on my bookshelf next to the Burns biography by Mackay. Much blather has been written about Burns, of course, and in a crowded field, I think these two books stand out. A worthwhile purchase.
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By A Customer on October 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
The author performed an incredible amount of extensive research using primary sources. In _Dirt and Deity_ he also dispels many of the legends associated with Burns in the past. However, the book suffers a major shortcoming: the book is written like a stream of events, many of them unrelated, rather than in coherent phases. There are chapters, of course, but McIntyre does not summarize or "re-cap" each one (or any of them, really). This leads to confusion and a lack of coherence in the reader's mind.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I HAVEN'T FINISHED READING IT, VERY INFORMATIVE, AND ENJOYABLE READING.
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