YSU Professor Looks Into the Legacy of Robert Burns
By Ashley Smith
Corey Andrews, associate professor of English at Youngstown State University, will see the release of his new book in March.
“The Genius of Scotland: The Cultural Production of Robert Burns, 1785-1834” is the product of a long fascination with Scotland and famed Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns.
“I have been writing about Robert Burns and Scottish poetry for almost twenty years. My first book, ‘Literary Nationalism and Eighteenth-Century Scottish Club Poetry,’ explored Burns’ importance in popular and literary culture during his life. ‘The Genius of Scotland’ continues this form of critical inquiry by evaluating Burns’ continuing significance after his death, looking specifically at its key sources in Scottish culture,” Andrews said.
The text sets out not only to explore the influence of Burns on the literary world, but also to examine historical details of Burns’ life and discuss their veracity.
“During my research process, I discovered that there was a wealth of misinformation that obscured Burns’ life story and literary reputation. I correct errors that still bedevil his legacy in Scotland and abroad by explaining their origins. Burns was a heterodox public figure whose biography was often censored by religious critics in the 19th century,” Andrews said. “In some respects this process continues unabated, with the focus more now on his relationship to radical politics than his rather messy personal life.”
Andrews also looked into the nature of artistic genius, and how that applies to Burns.
“I discuss how the conception of literary ‘genius’ derived from philosophy and literary criticism in eighteenth-century Scotland, and I link its emergence as a way of explaining highly-talented writers to issues of nationalism as well. My book examines how Burns’ reputation as a literary ‘genius’ affected the ways that he was understood and interpreted by later audiences, starting in the early nineteenth century,” Andrews said.
He pointed out that Burns is still a relevant figure in Scotland today.
“The Scottish voted no for political independence last year, and Burns was a key part of much political coverage of this event. It’s fascinating to me that a poet from the working class in 18th century continues to exert such powerful influence in the present,” Andrews said.
Andrews spent several years working on the book and took a sabbatical to conduct research outside of the area.
“This book took about five years to write from start to finish. It grew out of research that I conducted in the W. Ormiston Roy Burns Collection at the University of South Carolina Library during two funded fellowships,” he said. “Having the opportunity to work in the best archive of Burns-related materials in North America during a sabbatical was critical to my success completing and publishing the book.”
Andrews said he believes readers who aren’t familiar with Burns or Scotland can still appreciate the book, as it also explores the nature of reputation and celebrity status among literary figures.
“I hope readers gain a better understanding of how the process of constructing literary reputation works. It very rarely has an author’s consent, and it can have little to do with the actual history of the author under scrutiny … in the United States, comparable figures include Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, both of whom have popular cultural reputations sometimes at odds with their biographies,” he said. “Throughout my book I wanted my readers to gain a clear understanding of how this process works, and why it matters in our present-day understanding of literary figures.”