Lord Byron took a highly ambivalent attitude toward female authorship, and yet his poetry, letters, and journals exhibit many proofs of the power of women’s language and perceptions. He responded to, borrowed from, and adapted parts of the works of Maria Edgeworth, Harriet Lee, Madame de Staël, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Inchbald, Hannah Cowley, Joanna Baillie, Lady Caroline Lamb, Mary Robinson, and Charlotte Dacre. The influence of women writers on his career may also be seen in the development of the female (and male) characters in his narrative poetry and drama. This essay focuses on the influence upon Byron of Lee, Inchbald, Staël, Dacre, and Lamb, and secondarily on Byron’s response to intellectual women like Lady Oxford, Lady Melbourne, as well as the works of male writers, such as Thomas Moore, Percy Shelley, and William Wordsworth, who affected his portrayal of the genders.
Much has been written about the relationship between these two poets, but few have wondered – how compatible were they in reality, when their poetry, ethics, philosophy of life, and even politics, were so radically different? In this new essay Peter Cochran tries to take an unsentimental view of how Byron and Shelley related, in both social and literary terms. What did each really think of the other? Were they friends to the end? Did Shelley borrow anything from Byron’s verse, or Byron from Shelley’s? Cochran looks at these questions, taking in en route the relationship between Alastor and Manfred, and – most controversially – Adonais and The Vision of Judgement. His conclusion is more disturbing than usual.
This article argues that Byron’s rehabilitation of the abject figure of the Oriental woman in his verse romances serves as a popular model of female heroism for Felicia Hemans. The orientalized Byronic heroines that appear in Hemans’s poems challenge stereotypical representations of femininity through their unorthodox acts of self-assertion—often engaging in violence and even suicide as a means of avenging the loss of familial ties or emancipating themselves from their oppressive circumstances. Defiant heroines like Eudora in “The Bride of the Greek Isle,” Maimuna in “The Indian City” and a whole host of other distraught yet resolute women who insist on reclaiming their dignity and humanity through acts of violence and self-destruction, all reflect the poet’s persistent, even obsessive, meditations on the role of the Eastern woman in the formation of English national consciousness. As the feminized embodiment of Britain’s “self-consolidating Other”, Hemans’s Byronic heroines serve not only as potent symbols of English ambivalence towards racial and cultural difference but also reveal the various inconsistencies of nineteenth-century British society by drawing attention to issues of nationalism and gender closer to home. Placed in the most trying emotional states, these heroines retaliate with impressive displays of agency and courage, and their actions allow Hemans not only to call into question the innate masculinity of acts of valor and sacrifice, but also to underscore the sorority of female suffering. More significantly, the poet’s sympathetic portrayal of her Byronic heroines in the poems discussed --a depiction that links these heroines’ psychological rebellion with the domestic affections-- enables her to promote the feminized idea of the British nation, and by implication, the British Empire, as a political commonwealth based on an ethic of care and tolerance.
Sade’s evil influence on Lord Byron haunts the margins of Byronic criticism. In this article I resuscitate the marginalized Marquis by tracing Byron’s influence on another son of Sade, the pseudo-Comte de Lautréamont. If Sade’s forever violated heroine Justine forms a hopelessly contradictory representation of Byron’s desire for in-nocence (or non-noxiousness) in the name of himself, his illicit affair with his half-sister Augusta, and his interminably complex rapport to other feminine, homosocial, and homosexual objects of desire, how does this clandestine influence estrange a user-friendly Byron from our comfortable stereotype of the poet as wholly different from that other aristocrat? An examination of Sade alongside Lautréamont’s Sadean strain in Maldoror replaces le mal at the core of Byron’s life-writing, thereby foregrounding his lordship’s attempt to evade the practical consequences of evil in his own work. Since Sade is also influential on contemporary criticism via poststructuralism or La Pensée 68, I work through the case of Foucault in order to show how this Sadean order of things is responsible for the tendency to evade confronting the ephemeral or merely literary status of “evil” in the nineteenth century (and beyond).
The sensational Tommaso Sgricci (1789-1836), the most famous improvvisatore of his day, was known for theatrical performances in which he extemporized lyric poems as well as entire Classical dramas. His fame spread throughout Europe through periodical articles and reviews, and through the first-hand reports of English travellers who witnessed his performances in Italy. The Shelleys’ intense engagement with Sgricci during the winter of 1820-21 leaves its mark on important texts written during those years, including Mary’s Valperga and Percy’s Defence of Poetry. Byron encountered Sgricci both personally and professionally between 1816 and 1820; resonances between Sgricci’s distinctive performance genre and Byron’s later poetry are less direct, but more profound. The embodied responses to history in Canto IV of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage bear comparison with Sgricci’s spontaneous dramas on Classical and historical themes, as does the “mobility” exemplified by the performer Lady Adeline Amundeville in the later cantos of Don Juan. Byron’s ability to “revivify” the past in these works may be illuminated by setting them alongside the practice of the improvvisatore, a figure who stands for the real-time, responsive, public process of crafting poetry out of contingent subject-matter, habitual sound-patterns, fragments of memory, and lively imagination.
Considering the largely unacknowledged connection between Byron and Mary Shelley on the logistics which pertain to the experience of crossing-over cultures, this paper investigates the notion of authentic Italianisation as exemplified in their related texts, and discusses its problematics in the context of the dominant themes and preoccupations in Romantic culture. Thus, on the one hand, my paper examines how the Romantic anticipation of being immersed in local culture and of “going native” is articulated – or rather, performed – by Byron himself, by considering specific rhetorical strategies and figures of filiation he used to ground his relationship to Italian place. More specifically, I contend that although Byron’s polymorphic identification to Italian place is constructed in the imagination, it is also grounded in time- and space-bound actions and involves a structure of social relations. On the other hand, the paper delineates how Byron’s idiosyncratic immersion into Italianness is theorised by Mary Shelley and counted on as a model of second culture acquisition.
The first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage remain the least frequently discussed of Byron’s major works. This article asserts that these unjustly neglected cantos are, in fact, central to any understanding of Byron’s larger oeuvre. They offer the first example of what will become a persistent leitmotif in all of his future works: an engagement with the question of how knowledge is produced, and how trustworthy knowledge claims truly are. Childe Harold I & II show Byron examining, and rejecting, conventional Georgian ideas about understanding and its formation -- particularly ideas about the connection between vision and knowledge. In their place, Byron suggests that the link between seeing and knowing is unreliable at best, and posits a version of knowledge itself as fluid, unstable, and undetermined in any objective sense. Harold’s first two cantos are thus a presage of Byronic things to come, for they are a first step down a path that will lead Byron to a complete repudiation of the notion of stable, reliable knowledge eight years later, in Don Juan.