So I’ve spent this last week reading novels about two of our greatest ever bards, William Shakespeare and Robert Burns – or more precisely, the women in their lives.
The first of these books is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, which I’m going to review for you in more detail nearer it’s publication (31st March). But I’ll give you a sneaky heads up – it’s brilliant and so beautifully emotive.
The second book which I finished earlier today is The Jewel, a novel about Jean Armour, the wife of Robert Burns. Being Scottish and my Dad reciting Burns poetry to me instead of reading goodnight stories when I was young, I’ve always had a fascination with Burns; especially about the women in his life and his marriage. I’ve always known about its sad ending since I was a child; I remember very clearly when I first heard about it (I think I was about seven) and it’s always really moved me. And with Burns Night only last weekend, it got me thinking about it all the more.
So you can imagine my excitement when I came across The Jewel, a novel of the life of Jean Armour and her husband, Robert Burns by Catherine Czerkawska. Me being the history buff that I am, it didn’t disappoint.
I’ve known about Jean Armour since I was a child but I always imagined her to be pretty miserable (and believe me, she had cause to be). I always imagined the wife Burns portrays in Tam O’Shanter, a ‘sulky sullen dame, gathering her brows like gathering storm, nursing her wrath to keep it warm‘ to be based on Jean. But crikey, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As well as being Burns muse and having to deal with a lot as his wife (having four of his children out of wedlock and his many love affairs with other women), Jean was a fascinating woman in her own right; feisty, educated, compassionate.
I enjoyed reading The Jewel; I found it a moving story. And yes, it is historic fiction but I feel that Catherine Czerkawska was really thorough with her research. So I like to think it’s a very authentic portrayal of great woman in Scottish history.