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Byron: Reality, Fiction and Madness

by Mirosława Modrzewska (Volume editor) Maria Fengler (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 182 Pages

Summary

This book explores the amorphous, fragmented and digressive world of George Gordon Byron’s poetic works, which are pervaded by the themes of change, mutability, deformation and transgression, often presented or described as madness. The blurring of the border between fiction and reality is a matter of the author’s decisions concerning both his life and his texts, and a conscious process of construction and self-fashioning. It is also a recurring epistemological theme in Byron’s works, which make take the form of narrative dis-orientation and the dismantling of easy cultural pre-conceptions. The Authors study Byron’s artistic quixotism and his pursuit of creative freedom which reveals itself in the Romantic irony, digressiveness and self-awareness of his writings.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Reality, Fiction and Madness: Epistemic Vistas of Byron’s Life and Work
  • Physical and Mental Deformity in Byron’s The Deformed Transformed
  • Byron’s Stormy Loves
  • Periodical Reviews and Byron’s Posthumous Celebrity
  • Reception, Appropriation, Manipulation: Castelar’s Life of Lord Byron (1873) and Its Critics
  • Byron’s Dis-orientations: The Giaour, for Example
  • Between Fiction and Reality: Books, Reading and Writing in Byron’s Works
  • Making Madness Beautiful: Byron at Work 1816–1817
  • “A Being More Intense”: Byron, Subjectivity, and the Poetic Artistry of Madness
  • Byron, Beauty, and the Florentine Stanzas of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Canto IV
  • The Architectonics of Marino Faliero: Reality and Fiction
  • Byron and Nietzsche: Nihilistic Semiotics or Truthful Fiction?
  • About the Authors
  • Series Index

Mirosława Modrzewska and Maria Fengler

University of Gdańsk

Reality, Fiction and Madness: Epistemic Vistas of Byron’s Life and Work

From the methodological and theoretical point of view, it has never been quite obvious how to differentiate between biographical and historical studies of Lord Byron’s life and works on the one hand, and literary interpretations of his style and methods of constructing fictional worlds on the other. These two aspects of the Byron phenomenon – life and work – might require different methods of analysis and description. But it seems that Byron’s texts were intentionally written as pseudo-biographical and intentionally centred on the author. Hence the blurring of the border between fiction and reality is not only a problem of the readers and their interpretative capabilities. It is also a matter of the author’s decisions concerning both his life and his texts, and a conscious process of construction and self-fashioning. It is also a recurring epistemological theme in Byron’s works.

Indeed, understanding of Byron’s legacy and ways of studying his works have evolved globally since the 1980s and a variety of interpretations and analytical approaches to his literary output is now available through the activities and publications of the International Association of Byron Societies and of Romanticism studies. The present volume is designed to provide insight into the theme of cognition both in Byron’s life and work and in the world of scholarly interpretative activity.

The amorphic, fragmented and digressive world of Byron’s works is pervaded by the themes of change, mutability, deformation and transgression, often presented or described as madness. This is the subject of the chapter by Frederick Burwick, who analyses the motif of physical and mental deformity in The Deformed Transformed. He places the drama in the context of Goethe’s Faust as well as Byron’s earlier mystery plays, Manfred and Cain. Burwick analyses the subsequent Byronic variants of the Faustian plot, in which the protagonists’ quest for knowledge or power, and Byron’s modifications of the ethical and intellectual aspects of the religious and spiritual psychomachia, the “chaos of the mind,” are inherent in the plot.

Rolf Lessenich’s “Byron’s Stormy Loves” discusses both the poet’s own “amorous irregularities” and the stormy love affairs of Byronic fictional lovers, paying attention to the reality of gender in Byron’s poetry and the recurrent motif of “disillusionment.” ←9 | 10→In this context, Lessenich notices Byron’s rewriting of the Christian theme of the human Fall, arguing that in his poetry the “Biblical Fall of man is reinterpreted as a myth of an ever circularly repeated fall from illusion to reality.”

Josefina Tuominen-Pope examines the phenomenon of Byromania in the context of the debate about passing contemporary celebrity versus lasting posthumous fame, conducted in the Romantic periodical press. At the time, literary magazines were keen to establish their reputation against accusations of pandering to the popular taste for news about the private lives of literary figures, Byron’s being a prime example. The reviewers responded by advancing the contrary argument that Byron’s celebrity might turn into lasting fame, regarded as a mark of true achievement. In this way they not only validated their chosen genre and medium and thus the legitimacy of their own work, but also claimed their own place in literary history.

“Reception, Appropriation, Manipulation” is also the subject of the chapter by Agustín Coletes-Blanco (“Reception, Appropriation, Manipulation: Castelar’s Life of Lord Byron (1873) and its Critics”). Emilio Castelar (1832–1899) created Byron’s first Spanish biography, the Life of Lord Byron (1873), soon translated into Italian and into English (1875). Castelar’s biography seems to be more “balanced” than previously held views of the poet in that it departs from Byron’s image as un loco [‘a madman’], or un poeta satánico. Castelar’s “cultural appropriation” of Byron’s life and work is thus a more mature representation than that of his Spanish predecessors.

Christoph Bode’s essay, entitled “Byron’s Dis-orientations: The Giaour,” offers a narratological analysis of Byron’s tale to demonstrate how it dismantles the easy East–West binaries and preconceptions. He states at the beginning:

“It is safe to say, I believe, that in Lord Byron’s œuvre we find a radical dissolution of the dichotomy of identity and alterity, as well as of the dichotomies of authenticity and role-playing, of fiction and non-fiction, of fact and fake, since his epic and lyric poetry were read, in their own time, as revealingly autobiographical, while, curiously enough, at the same time the persona of Lord Byron can be shown to be a largely fictional construct that conforms to or follows the textual blueprint – all this in a drama that is supremely audience-related, because it is played out with the public (and not only with the reading public) as Lord Byron’s sparring partner: it is a conspicuously public self-fabrication, or self-fashioning, to use Stephen Greenblatt’s phrase.”

Marcin Leszczyński in “Books, Reading and Writing in Byron’s Works: Between Fiction and Reality” writes about madness as a literary theme and a literary convention of “deluding readers” that goes back to the works of Cervantes. Leszczyński attributes Byron’s methods of shaping his fictional worlds to ←10 | 11→artistic quixotism and the pursuit of creative freedom which reveals itself in the Romantic irony, digressiveness and self-awareness of his writings.

Bernard Beatty, in a discussion entitled “Making Madness Beautiful: Byron at Work 1816–1817,” explores Byron’s personas and characters who are “disturbed captives,” analysing their “movement in and out of madness” and the relationship between madness and imagination. Beatty argues that the works of 1816–17 are a watershed in Byron’s writing. They not only introduce new literary forms, such as dramatic monologue, but also mark a “decisive turn,” after which the poet “makes poetry out of the very contingencies of life and consciousness which previously he was seeking to transcend.”

Biographical notes

Mirosława Modrzewska (Volume editor) Maria Fengler (Volume editor)

Maria Fengler lectures at the Institute of English and American Studies of the University of Gdańsk, Poland. She specializes in modern British and Irish poetry. Mirosława Modrzewska teaches British literature and cultural studies at the University of Gdańsk. She is President of the Polish Society for the Study of European Romanticism.

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