This image is the cover for the book Life of Robert Burns, Canongate Classics

Life of Robert Burns, Canongate Classics

This classic and controversial biography of Scotland’s National Bard offers an unvarnished chronicle of the 18th century poet’s life.

First published in 1930 to an unprecedented storm of protest, Catherine Carswell’s The Life of Robert Burns remains the standard work on its subject. Widely revered as Scotland’s greatest poet, Burns’s devotees were so upset by its contents that Carswell famously received a bullet in the mail, with instructions for its use.

Carswell deliberately shakes the image of Burns as a romantic hero, exposing the sexual transgressions, drinking bouts and waywardness that other biographies chose to overlook. But Carswell’s real achievement is to bring alive the personality of a great man: passionate, hard-living, generous, melancholic, morbid and, above all, a brilliant and inspired artist.

“Catherine Carswell’s The Life of Robert Burns is still, apart from Burns’ own account, the best.”—Alasdair Gray, The Observer, UK

“It is not only an outlandishly good book, but one which raises questions about the nature of Scottish culture and cultural change.”—Sunday Times, UK

“This is a book which makes you feel better for having read it. I only wish a few contemporary biographers wrote as well as Catherine Carswell did.”—Allan Massie, Literary Review, UK

Catherine Carswell, Tom Crawford

Catherine Carswell's (1879-1946) friendship with D.H. Lawrence was kindled by her favorable review of The White Peacock (1911). They met in 1914 and their relationship lasted until Lawrence's death in. In 1916 she and Lawrence exchanged manuscripts of Open the Door! and Women in Love. Her novel was completed in 1918 and won the Melrose Prize on publication in 1920. Her other novel, The Camomile, was published two years later, after which she devoted herself to The Life of Robert Burns, which made her name in 1930. This was quickly followed by a biography of Lawrence, The Savage Pilgrimage (1932). She worked with John Buchan's widow on his memorial anthology, The Clearing House (1946) and on her own autobiography, which was published, incomplete, as Lying Awake in 1950. Carswell died in Oxford at the age of 66.