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Burns the Republican...

The Guardian are beginning 2009 with the news that Robert Burns was really a Republican who favoured the French Revolution. This is hardly news. He was a Scot writing in his native dialect and for many that meant he became a radical the minute he set quill to parchment. The actual newsworthiness may lie in the fact that Prof. Robert Crawford of St. Andrews came across a journal written by a contemporary of Burns, James MacDonald, who was one of the last people to have met Burns along with a friend. MacDonald later recorded that they 'were both staunch republicans'. Researching the working-class movements such as The Chartists and its organs of communications, such as The Northern Star, and it becomes quickly apparent that many workers idolised Burns and the Romantics. The Chartist newspapers published regularly the imitative attempts by working men keen not only to become poets also but to follow Burns et al in their attempts to glorify their own dialects, thereby sticking a finger up to the King/Queen's English and all those who revered it. Poetry and politics, for Burns and the Romantics, was one and the same and it is no surprise that their poetry was used to rouse, not douse, not least in the run-up, and terrible aftermath of events such as that at Peterloo in Manchester in 1819. Yet, as the article states, Burns was always keen to denounce allegations that he was a radical, insisting that he was "most devoutly attached" to the "glorious" British constitution. Many of these public figures needed to be Janus-faced in order to survive; that Burns was a radical and republican will come as absolutely no surprise to many, especially the scholars of working-class and radical history and the lasting impact of Romanticism on those movements and the key role its philosophies (against organised religion, for instance) and poetry had in helping to protest at conditions within the mid-ninenteenth century.

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Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

My PhD critical paper

I thought I'd upload the critical element of my PhD thesis. Hopefully, for those who are interested enough to read it, it will make sense despite the references to my creative work, which I can't upload as I'm seeking publication. And besides, at 68,000 words...

I'm also going to tweak section one of this three section critical paper with a view to journal publication because of the academic interest in the claims I make of Mary.

-Dedicated with love and respect to Dr Bruce Lloyd-

And in memory of my parents:
Thomas Valentine and Joan Theresa
Good people who taught me so much more than they realised


The biggest thank-you is due to Norma Clarke, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University, who supervised this PhD. I never had cause to doubt my initial instincts as Norma proved to be the best mentor I could ever have wished for.

I would also like to acknowledge the generous studentship that I was fortunate to be awarded by Kingston Universi…

Booker Shortlist announced

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