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Title: 'Every honour except canonisation' : the global development of the Burns Supper, 1801 to 2009
Author: McGinn, Clark
ISNI:       0000 0004 5347 1367
Awarding Body: University of Glasgow
Current Institution: University of Glasgow
Date of Award: 2014
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This thesis is the first thorough investigation into the phenomenon known as the Burns Supper. This has grown spontaneously over the years from a nine man dinner at Burns Cottage, Alloway in July 1801 which marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Robert Burns, to over 3,500 dinners embracing more than nine million people across the world during the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth in 2009. The original event took the form of a convivial club dinner, typical of that period and using invented ritual paying homage to Freemasonry, key elements were grafted onto the running order which remain core today: notably a toast to Burns (‘the Immortal Memory’), poetically addressing (and eating) a haggis and performing Burns’s songs and poems including Auld Lang Syne. While the other contemporary societies and annual literary dinners have fallen into desuetude, the Burns Supper has exhibited longevity and a growth in scale annually that is exceptional. The success of the format is three-fold. First, the Burns Supper remains a social and convivial party; secondly, there is a greater degree of flexibility in how it can be arranged than is often recognised; and finally, the few mandatory elements are key to understanding Burns’s own imperative to be recognised as ‘Bard’ within a milieu which calls for participation. The original Burns Suppers recognised this and deliberately utilised Burns’s most performative verse to capture the spirit of his oeuvre and by incorporating that bardic quiddity, the Burns Supper two hundred years later still shares that fundamental experience which is essential to its immediacy and integrity as a vehicle for the appreciation of Robert Burns. By detailed study of the original minutes of the early suppers, combined, for the first time, with extensive newspaper reports, club archives and biographical sources, the expansion of participation in the Burns Supper from friends of the poet through to Scots at home or expatriate, to the wider global audience is tracked and analysed. As with all amateur (in both senses) movements, enthusiasm has at times exceeded critical judgement and the fear of change has been self-defeating. The simple paradox is that from the Second World War while the academic study of Burns was in steep decline, the number of people attending Burns Suppers grew consistently. By a mutual recognition that the Burns Supper, like Burns’s poetry, is not in the ownership of one nationality, political party or gender, the Burns Supper remains the largest literary festival in the world.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PE English ; PN0441 Literary History