Guest Editorial: Special Burns Supper Issue

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The Burns Supper is a unique phenomenon in the history of global literature. No similar feast, gathering millions in celebration of a long dead poet, can be found elsewhere in the world. Two hundred and twenty years after the first Burns Supper was held, at the poet's birthplace, in July 1801, it would be natural for apprentice Burnsians to expect an endless reading list on this topic, testifying to more than a century of intense scholarship, lively conferences, and noisy symposia. Surprisingly, however, serious research on the history of Burns Night is only just a decade old.

The Burns Supper has remained outside of academia for most of its existence. This situation is due in large part to historical tensions between Scottish intellectuals and the popular Burns movement. Indeed, Scotland's literary revival and early Burns scholarship, in the last century, drew on a rather elitist separation between the study of Burns's poetic genius and the so-called, depraved ‘Burns Cult’ that seemed to mar his legacy. As declared by Hugh MacDiarmid in his famous poem, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, ‘the core o’ ocht is only for the few’ and the past and present of Scottish poetry could not be left to the ‘common trough’ of inebriated Burns diners.1 Epitomising Scotland's ‘kailyard’ in the eyes of many Scottish literati, the Burns Supper became an object of intellectual cringe – if not execration. Sentimental, petit bourgeois, glutton, drunken, tartanesque, inauthentic, and conventional: the seven deadly sins of Burns Night appeared in total contradiction with avant-garde Scottish writing and sober scholarship. Whilst the popularity of Burns prevented Scottish intellectuals from ignoring the poet's works, aloof denunciations of the ‘Burns Cult’ remained de rigueur for most of the twentieth century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)v-ix
Number of pages4
JournalBurns Chronicle
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2021


  • Robert Burns
  • Burns Supper
  • Scottish Literature
  • Burns Night


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