Lord Byron

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism and Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). 430 pp. (Hdbk., $ 97.95; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8047-6105-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8047-6105-5). Wolfson, Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). 381 pp. (Hdbk., $ 70; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8018-9474-3; ISBN-13: 978-0-8018-9474-9).

Reviewed by
Diego Saglia
University of Parma, Italy

Although published six years apart, these two volumes belong in the same multifaceted critical mosaic. Both studies address the distinctive concerns which have been central to Susan Wolfson’s critical practice since the 1980s—her preoccupation with gender, her focus on literary form, and her indefatigable search for an increasingly detailed, as well as historically attuned, approach to the stylistic materiality of literary works. As with her previous works, these books require us to read intensively into texts, and we cannot escape this demand as we gradually explore their largely shared literary terrain: Hemans and Byron, mostly, but also Wollstonecraft, the Wordsworths and Keats. Wollstonecraft, in particular, plays a major role in Wolfson’s presentation of her argument in the earlier Borderlines, and its discussion of the continuities and discontinuities within Romantic-period gender debates between the 1790s and the 1830s.

Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire

Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2009). 266pp. (Hdbk., $55.00; ISBN-13: 978 0 87413 066 9.)

Reviewed by
Colin Carman
Colorado Mountain College

Desire, by definition, is mediated, imitative, and mimetic. At the core of identity and indeed of being itself lie the dual demands to be recognized and to be imitated. These are just some of the premises of Eric Gans and René Girard, and the insightful literary study these two thinkers have inspired, Lord Byron and the History of Desire. Byron is a provocative choice: while the “Byronic hero” is usually typified by defiant autonomy, even solipsistic self-adulation, Ian Dennis reveals just how important the roles of mediation, interplay, and the desires of—and for—others are in Byron’s oeuvre.

Karen Fang, Romantic Writing and the Empire of Signs: Periodical Culture and Post-Napoleonic Authorship

Karen Fang, Romantic Writing and the Empire of Signs: Periodical Culture and Post-Napoleonic Authorship (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010). 248 pp. (Cloth; ISBN: 978-0-8139-2874-6; $35.00).

Reviewed by
Luke Iantorno
University of North Texas

Karen Fang’s examination of post-Napoleonic periodical culture in Britain focuses on the works of Charles Lamb, James Hogg, Letitia Landon, and Lord Byron, their individual experiences with imperialism, and how they translated those experiences for British periodicals. Periodical culture, according to Fang, was the nexus of empire and capital, consumption and commodification--a privileged formation that brought imperial exoticism to the domestic consumer, in the "visual and textual representation[s] within newspapers and magazines" (2). Jon Klancher's work figures heavily here, especially his sense that "the professionalization of the early-nineteenth-century periodical marketplace" constituted a "fundamentally different cultural economy": as such, Fang follows Klancher in reading the semiotics of the imperial project, an "'empire of signs, a phrase he derives from contemporary Romantic metaphors of the mind” to develop her own examination of the more material, “geographical exoticism” in British periodicals (7).

Jerome McGann, Byron and Romanticism & Drummond Bone, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Byron

Jerome McGann, Byron and Romanticism. Ed. James Soderholm. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 328 pp.  $85.00. (Hdbk: ISBN 978-0521809580).
Drummond Bone, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Byron. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. 360 pp. $24.99 (pbk). (Pbk: ISBN 978-0521786768).

Reviewed by
Gillen D'Arcy Wood
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Byron plays Mephistopheles to Wordsworth's (and synecdochally, Romanticism's) Faust. Even at moments where he appears a poetic failure—in Childe Harold III or "Fare Thee Well"—he remains magister ludi, hoisting the reader on his own falsifiable expectations. But Byron at the last is also Faust himself. . . .

Such is Jerome McGann's Byron, whose articles on the poet, independent of his two early books, have now been collected in a single, indispensable volume. The first two-thirds of the collection, nine essays in all, constitute a Byron book unto themselves, but have been supplemented by seven further pieces, including a retrospective interview published here for the first time, that showcase McGann's crucial theoretical interventions—on the subjects of ideology, historical method, and deconstruction—and treat Byron mostly obliquely. Taken together, the volume offers both an assembly of vital essays by the most important Byronist of his generation, while pointing toward the Greater McGann of Social Values and Poetic Acts (1988) and the epoch-making Romantic Ideology (1983).

William J. P. Neish, The Speaking Eye: Byron's Aberdeen – Places, People and a Poem

William J. P. Neish, The Speaking Eye: Byron's Aberdeen - Places, People and a Poem. Sussex, England: Book Guild Ltd., 2001. xviii + 312pp. Illus.: 4 halftones. £10.50/$22.50 (Ppbk; ISBN: 1-85776-593-1).

Reviewed by
Ann R. Hawkins
Texas Tech University

In 1866, William Neish's great-great-grandmother received a bequest of the entire estate of John Raeburn, a childhood schoolfellow of George Gordon, Lord Byron, that included an oil portrait, several engraved portraits, manuscript copies of three poems by an Aberdeenshire poet, and a piece of Delftware tile with a motif of a sailing ship reputed to have come from the house of the Byrons (xiv).  But among those items Neish discovered a manuscript of an elegy memorializing Professor William Duncan by "Old Pupil" that was published in the Aberdeen Journal on September 6, 1815.

Neish's The Speaking Eye records his exhaustive research to discover who Professor William Duncan and the "Old Pupil" who memorialized him were.  Along the way Neish uncovers a significant amount of data about Raeburn, Duncan, Byron's schoolfellows, and the Byrons' Aberdeen neighbors.  Neish chooses to provide much of this data--even when somewhat tangential to his argument--having discovered a number of discrepancies between published information about these figures and the archival evidence.  Ultimately, Neish considers that Byron might have written the elegy, and he compares "Old Pupil['s]" phraseology with Byron's poems of the period, particularly Parisina.

Jonathan David Gross, ed., Byron's "Corbeau Blanc": The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne

Jonathan David Gross, ed., Byron's "Corbeau Blanc": The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997.  xiii + 488pp. illus. $24.95 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-89263-351-4).

Reviewed by
William D. Brewer
Appalachian State University

Lord Byron met Lady Melbourne (1751–1818) when she was sixty and he was twenty-four, and he came to regard her as his only "confidential correspondent on earth," "the best friend [he] ever had in [his] life, and the cleverest of women." He found her conversation delightful and declared that her letters were "the most amusing—the most developing—and tactiques [sic] in the world" (Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Marchand, 3:141–42, 3:209, 3:153). Jonathan Gross's edition of Lady Melbourne's correspondence makes her numerous letters to Byron, the Duchess of Devonshire, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), Caroline Lamb, her niece Annabella Milbanke (Lady Byron), and others widely available for the first time. He supplements the letters with an informative introductory biography, extensive headnotes and endnotes, a helpful "Glossary of Personalities," and sixty-five illustrations. The illustrations alone make this a valuable book: they include portraits of Lady Melbourne, her family members, and associates; photographs and drawings of her various houses; and political cartoons. Gross also provides the reader with a "Scale of Bon Ton" printed by the Morning Post which ranks Lady Melbourne and other upper-class women on a scale of 0–19 in the following categories: beauty, figure, elegance, wit, sense, grace, expression, sensibility, and principles. (Oddly, Lady Melbourne only scores a three in wit.)

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency and Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. xiv + 262pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8014-3352-5).
Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.  xiii + 469pp. 
$55.00  (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-3095-4).

Reviewed by
Catherine Burroughs
Wells College and Cornell University

In an age when anxieties about the political efficacy of institutional theatre are so palpable, it is no surprise that the question of why certain playscripts reside in "the closet" has proved a crucial line of investigation for scholars. Indeed, recent critical preoccupation with how the body and mind of any reader-spectator are implicated in both the acts of playreading and playgoing seems a poignant response to the desire to believe that theatre, broadly defined, can effect positive cultural change.

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. xiv + 189pp. $42.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1300-3).

Reviewed by
Jonathan Gross
DePaul University

William Brewer's The Shelley-Byron Conversation is an elegantly written account of the moments of influence and intertextuality that occurred between Byron and Shelley during the six years in which they engaged in their diabolical conversations. Brewer's book differs from Robinson's Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (1976) and Stephen Behrendt's Shelley and His Audiences (University of Nebraska Press, 1989) in seeing a "conversation" between Byron and Shelley rather than a debate "between Shelley's meliorism and Byron's pessimism" (Preface). One point of Brewer's study is that the Shelley-Byron conversation was exploratory in nature. By the time Byron wrote The Island and Shelley wrote The Triumph of Life, they had not only learned from each other, but seemed to be experimenting with positions antithetical to the views they held when they first met. The Island is Byron's most Shelleyan poem, and The Triumph of Life is Shelley's most pessimistic work.

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