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The Witching Voice
A Novel from the Life of Robert Burns

by Arnold Johnston

      The Witching Voice, though a work of fiction, follows the life of Scottish poet Robert Burns through the early years of his career as a poet. It wasn't easy in the 1780s for an impoverished young farmer to gain recognition in any of the arts. Fortunately, Burns had the kind of talent that stood out from the ordinary and could not be ignored. But he didn't help matters any getting into trouble with the "Auld Lights" faction of the church.

Young Rab Burns had a thing for beautiful women—and a flair for getting them pregnant. The first was Betty Paton, a young servant hired to help his mother. But she wasn't the kind of woman he wanted to marry. When her family sent for her, saying her mother was ill and she was needed at home, Betty didn't want to go. Rab, on the other hand, was glad to end the affair. By then, he'd met Jean Armour, daughter of a wealthy mason. There was also Mary Campbell, governess of his landlord's children.

It was too late to save him from the wrath of Reverend Auld, for Betty was already pregnant. Rab and Betty were subjected to a punishment called the cutty stool. They were forced to sit on uncomfortably short stools at the front of the church, while they listened to sermons and rebukes about why they had been brought before the church. Rab was expected to marry Betty to atone for wronging her. Instead, he paid Betty and her family off and took the baby to raise.

Besides Burns' sexual exploits, the story also tells of the family's financial struggles on an infertile farm he'd inherited. The story, though well constructed, was slow reading because much of it, especially the poetry, was written in a Scottish dialect that had me flipping over to the glossary frequently. Other than that and too much detail in the sex scenes, the story is worth reading. Give it a chance. You'll be glad you did.

The Book

Wings Press
January 1, 2009
Historical Fiction
More at
NOTE: Contains sex, profanity, violence

The Reviewer

Jo Rogers
Reviewed 2009
© 2009