About Melanie Murray
I am the author of Should Auld Acquaintance: Discovering the Woman Behind Robert Burns (Nightwood Editions, 2017) and For Your Tomorrow: The Way of an Unlikely Soldier (Random House, 2011). I have an M.A. in English from the University of New Brunswick and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing (with Distinction) from Humber College. I taught English and Creative Writing at Okanagan College in Kelowna, BC for thirty years.
The seeds of Should Auld Acquaintance were planted when I traveled to Scotland to research my ancestry for my first book, For Your Tomorrow, a memoir about my nephew Jeff Francis who was killed while serving with the Canadian military in Afghanistan. I was writing this book to create meaning out of Jeff’s life and death, hoping it would help our family deal with his loss.
My research completed a couple of days before my flight home, I drove down to Ayrshire — Burns country — where Scotland’s most famous son was born in 1759. In the village of Mauchline, I toured the Burns House Museum, a room where Jean Armour and Robert Burns had lived for a short time after they married in 1788, then visited the gravesite of their four daughters. As I knelt at the two-century-old grave, I thought for the first time about Jean Armour, born and raised in Mauchline; I knew little about her. Having witnessed the maternal grief that had crushed my sister, I couldn’t fathom how a mother could survive the anguish of losing four of her children. I wondered what happened to her daughters, what kind of life she had with the philandering poet, and what became of Jean and their five young sons after Burns died in poverty at age thirty-seven.
Those questions, along with that small second-floor room and the grave of the four baby girls, preoccupied me. Jean Armour seemed like so many of the faceless wives of famous men, never acknowledged for their role in the great men’s achievements. And the central fact of her life, falling in love with a poet, resonated with me on a personal level. I wondered if this eighteenth-century woman’s experience might illuminate my own.
So began my search for Jean Armour.