Frances Wilson, ed., Byromania: Portraits of the Artist in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Culture. London and New York: Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, 1999. ISBN: 0-333-68383-8 and 0-312-21220-8. Price: £42.50 (US$55.00).Jane Stabler, ed., Byron: Longman Critical Readers. London and New York: Longman: 1998. ISBN: 0-582-30393-1. Price: £13.99 (US$32.60).[Notice]

  • William D. Brewer

…plus d’informations

  • William D. Brewer
    Appalachian State University

The word Byromania was invented in 1812 by Annabella Milbanke to describe the craze for Byron and his poetry following the publication Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Cantos I-II. In Byromania: Portraits of the Artist in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Culture, this term takes on a broader significance: the eleven essays explore the development of the Byron myth through analyses of his poetry, his literary commodification, his portraits, bioplays, films, silver-fork and romance novels, fictional vampires, and books inspired by his affair with Lady Caroline Lamb. The underlying assumption of this collection is that outside of the academy Byron's poetic achievement has been eclipsed by his legend. In her introduction, Frances Wilson declares that "it is now forgotten that Byron became the master of the ottava rima and was Wordsworth's equal in the consistency and sheer quantity of his poetic output: one of the effects of Byromania is that Byron's quality as a poet has been left out of his reputation" (pp. 4-5). "Why," she asks, "is it that Byron is remembered more for sartorial splendour than for his satirical classic, Don Juan [?]" (p. 8). Two of the contributors to this volume, Ramona M. Ralston and Sidney L. Sondergard, also claim that Byromania has outlived Byron's verse: "the image of Byron as a poet and the excesses of his Romantic lifestyle are what remain in the popular imagination, while actual knowledge of his poetry, among any but English majors and scholars, has all but disappeared" (emphasis added, p. 150). Whereas the late twentieth-century film- and television-adaptations of Jane Austen's novels have greatly increased their popularity, the caricatures of Byron devised by screenwriters and romance novelists appear unlikely to spark much interest in his poetry. This is a sad state of affairs for those who believe that Byron's works have much to say to turn-of-the-millennium readers. Although Wilson writes that "this collection of essays on Byron…leave out the poems" (p. 3), in the volume's insightful first article Peter Graham contends that both Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan "proved good vehicles for Byron's preferred mode of myth-making: the truth in masquerade" (p. 29). Graham shows how Byron fashions his myth "through combined self-revelation and self-concealment" (p. 28), creating narrators, protagonists, and other characters (like Don Jóse) who both resemble and differ from him. In Ghislaine McDayter's Marxist assessment of Byron's literary commodification, she argues persuasively against the "fantasy of poetic control which has been perpetuated by the poet's critics since his lifetime" (p. 45). According to her, the "unstoppable machine of literary production" (p. 57) appropriated Byron's myth, particularly after his self-exile from England. Imitations and forgeries of the poet's work flooded the marketplace, and the Byronic took on a life of its own. Goethe pronounced Polidori's The Vampyre Byron's masterpiece, and critics attacked his historical plays for their failure to be authentically Byronic. Far from Graham's artful masquerader, McDayter's Byron is the victim rather than the manipulator of his myth, estranged, like Marx's workers, "from himself in…the commodification of his labour" (p. 58). Two of the essays in this volume evaluate the numerous film presentations of Byron. Although these articles differ from each other in tone—Peter Cochran's writing is more witty and engaging than Ralston and Sondergard's—they both point out that these historically inaccurate cinematic portraits reveal much more about the film-makers than they do about Byron. Cochran complains that in demonizing Byron screenwriters and directors make him boring. The film-makers who seek to portray the poet envy, hate, and loathe him because he was wealthy, handsome, sexy, cosmopolitan, famous, and talented. In Cochran's view, these attributes "plus the incest-rumours, and a …