restricted access Burns’s Tales of ‘Aloway Kirk’ and Romantic Short Fiction

Despite the enduring critical and popular interest in Burns’s ‘Tam o’ Shanter’, very little attention has been paid to the three prose fictions from which the poem was adapted. This paper argues that these ‘Witch Stories’, sent in a letter to Francis Grose of 1790, are significant works that speak to both the antiquarian culture of the period and the development of short fiction. Recent scholarship helps to illuminate a key context for the pieces, read here as precursors to the Blackwoodian use of the tale form in the early nineteenth century. This lineage is analysed in tandem with the tales’ operation as folk artefacts. While this engagement with short fiction anticipates many of the characteristics of the form as taken up by James Hogg and others, Burns’s tales also demonstrate a textual instability that is symptomatic of the antiquarian culture of the period, linked to the complexities inherent in a mediation of tradition.