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"On His Knees:
Stendhal, Byron and a Hundred Irresistible Impulses"  [1] 

Clara Tuite
University of Melbourne

I was filled with timidity and affection: if I had dared, I would have burst into tears and kissed Lord Byron’s hand.

Henri Beyle, to Romain Colomb, August 24, 1829

1.        So Henri Beyle recalls his introduction to Lord Byron in Milan in October 1816 in the theatre of La Scala, in the box of Beyle's friend, Monsieur Ludovic de Brême: “I entered M. de Brême's box on my return from an excursion on Lake Como. I found that the gathering had a sort of solemn and awkward air: everybody was silent. I was listening to the music when M. de Brême said to me, indicating my neighbour, 'Monsieur Beyle, this is Lord Byron'.” (Lovell 196) At this moment, Byron is freshly exiled and just arrived in Italy, trailing scandalous celebrity and the opening flourishes of “[t]he pageant of his bleeding heart” (Arnold, "Stanzas" ) that came with the separation from his wife, Annabella Milbanke, the ensuing public scandal, and the flight from England. After travelling via Switzerland, where he stayed with Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley at Lake Geneva, Byron has been just over a week in Italy, where he was to live for the rest of his life. Beyle, also in exile, has been mainly in Milan since 1813, when he took leave from Napoleon's army after the retreat from Moscow, and where he would spend the next seven years. When they meet, Monsieur Beyle is still just Beyle, not yet 'Stendhal,' as he will soon become when he adopts this pseudonym for the first time as the author of Rome, Naples and Florence in 1817 (1817), in which he will recount a different version of this first meeting with Byron—one of many, as it turns out, in private letters and published texts.

2.        While Monsieur Beyle is still Beyle, Lord Byron is for Beyle very much the author identified with his works: “At that time I was mad about Lara. From the second glance, I no longer saw Byron as he really was, but as I thought the author of Lara should be” (Lovell 196). Here, Beyle registers both the power and the radical partiality that marks the gaze of the fan, in the form of this “second glance” and its prerogative to wilfully misread. Beyle's “second glance” enacts what D. A. Miller has referred to as the “Stendhalian eros [that] would seem to depend on love plots engendered from misjudgements and blind spots. Error, as it were, permits the narrateable movement of errantry (wandering, elapsing, delaying) in which finally comes to lie the erotic” (225). Indeed, Stendhal's fondness for irony means that he congenially throws such blind spots and errors to his correspondents and readers as though they were gifts.  [2] 

3.        This essay examines the love plots and errantry that proliferate in Stendhal's recollections of his meeting with Byron. Stendhal's work and life (and the intermediating code of “beylisme”) is associated most famously with “la chasse au bonheur” (“the pursuit of happiness”). As I wish to suggest, Stendhal's recollections of Byron are marked by the happy over-investment of affect that has come to be identified with fan practices. A significant feature of Stendhal's account of the meeting is that his emotion is produced after the event, in the act of recollection. The recollections embody, then, a typically Stendhalian concern with the fraught interrelation between desire and memory. For the historical figure of Henri Beyle has offered the consummate allegory of the distortions of memory, and of the contradictions between reason and feeling that memory dramatizes. In W. G. Sebald's historical fiction, " Beyle, or Love is a Madness Most Discreet" (included in Vertigo), Beyle is made to offer “eloquent proof of the various difficulties entailed in the act of recollection” (Sebald 5). Likewise, the fan Beyle who meets Byron embodies love as a madness most discreet: “if I had dared, I would have burst into tears and kissed Lord Byron's hand” (Lovell 196).

4.        In the first full-length biography of Stendhal, Henry Beyle (otherwise De Stendahl [sic]) A Critical and Biographical Study (1874), Andrew Archibald Paton foregrounds such contradictions between reason and feeling as vital to his subject: “Beyle was a man of genius, but he had a hundred irresistible impulses which could not be squared with reason” (9).  [3]  As I wish to suggest, it is precisely such “irresistible impulses” that make up the affective repertoire of fan culture. And nowhere are these impulses offered more readily than in these recollections by Stendhal, the master of memory and emotion. Stendhal's response to Byron is informed both impulsively and masterfully by a withholding or disguising of emotion. As Henry James wrote in his (unwithholding and rather mixed) review of Paton's biography, Stendhal's work has “that singular something ... —a kind of painful tension of feeling under the disguise of the coolest and easiest style” (James 189). The beauty of the impulse, and its significance as a way of illuminating fan practices, is that it occupies a liminal position between the desire to act and the act itself. By narrowing the distinction between desire and act —as mere as “a wave of excitation in the nerve” (OED) or an “influence acting upon the mind” (Johnson 1: 954) —the category of the impulse enables a focus upon the mobility and changeability of desire. In this way, Stendhal's impulse to burst into tears and kiss Lord Byron's hand is both expressed and checked.

5.        The impulse is a very similar emotional creature to the sensation. Stendhal was a keen follower of the sensationalism of the idéologues — materialist philosophers and psychologists such as Condorect, Condillac, Tracy, and Stendhal's revered Cabanis, the physician and materialist philosopher from whom he borrowed his “woman's skin”: “I will borrow for an instant the language of Cabanis. I have too fine a skin, a woman's skin ...; I graze my fingers, which are very fine, for a trifle; in a word, the surface of my body is feminine” (Stendhal, Life 120). Revolutionaries and Republicans with a total system that conceived of personal happiness as an effect of political liberty, the idéologues disregarded the question of classical form when it came to literature and emphasized the effect of the literary work upon reason, sensibility and imagination —its status, in other words, as sensation.

6.        As I will argue in this essay, Stendhal's emphasis on sensation is also legible in relation to the forms of celebrity culture. Stendhal's recollections of Byron offer a different way of approaching the classic Stendhalian affective repertoire of sensation; the pursuit of happiness; the mal du siècle; and the intrigued and intriguing engagement with memory and love. I read Stendhal's recollections as the revelatory staging of a close encounter between celebrity and fan, and I argue that Stendhal's recollections suggest how practices of sensation can be understood as part of the affective routines of the fan that are such a vital part of celebrity culture. This essay explores, then, this constellation of interests in memory, sensation and love, by examining Stendhal's recollections of Byron in relation to the productivity and affectivity of the fan. Hence, my emphasis is primarily on the fan, Stendhal, rather than on the celebrity, Byron. Focusing on the meeting between Stendhal and Byron as a particular form of ritualized sociable encounter in the box at La Scala, I examine how Stendhal's recounting of this meeting enacts celebrity culture's transformation of stranger to intimate, and how the fan-celebrity relation between Stendhal and Byron is mediated both by the social materiality of place and by a shared devotion to another contemporary idol, Napoleon Bonaparte.

7.        Stendhal's recollections come to us in various textual forms, and are produced over about fifteen years from 1817—1832, in private correspondence, autobiographical fragments and published texts (collected in Lovell 1954: 196-206).  [4]  With the exception of Rome, Naples and Florence in 1817 (1817), all of these accounts take their place within the flood of published recollections that appear in the wake of Byron's death in April 1824. These comprise the new genres of the “conversations of Byron” and “recollections of Byron,” which included recollections by such figures as Thomas Medwin, Lady Blessington, John Galt, Thomas Moore and, some time later, Teresa Guiccioli. Stendhal's recollections, like those of almost everyone else, did not go uncontested. In particular, John Cam Hobhouse, Byron's closest friend and executor, who accompanied Byron during these encounters in Milan, described Stendhal's eye-witness account, " Lord Byron en Italie, récit d'un témoin oculaire " (1830), as “a tissue of fictions.”  [5]  (Not that Stendhal was backward in coming forward to challenge other Byron recollections. As he wrote of "Le Moore" : “J'ai connu lord Byron. Quel chagrin d'être livré après sa mort à un vil hypocrite comme ce Moore!” [Stendhal, Correspondance II: 175]). In this essay, deciding the veracity of Stendhal's memories in relation to the historical record is not my concern. I happily and knowingly read these recollections of Stendhal very much as Stendhal's versions of Byron and not as literal transcriptions of Byron's conversations. I am interested rather in the significance of these memories as participants within a new culture of celebrity encounter, and seek to engage their productive and necessarily inventive power.


8.        The meeting between Stendhal and Byron was destined to be: a match made in heaven on account of worldliness, a shared love of Napoleon, a keen interest in the fraught pains and pleasures of amorous memory, and in sensation. Sensation, after all, is what Stendhal found in the poetry of Byron: “Since my first childhood imaginings, I have found a sensation, comparable by its immensity and its tenacity, triumphing over all other memories, only in the poems of Lord Byron ” (Stendhal Roman Journal, 21). With this marvellous billow of ambiguity that attends the Romantic invocation of childhood, Stendhal suggests both that the sensation of Byron's poetry is the only thing that compares with “childhood imaginings” and that even childhood itself could only imagine the “sensation” that Byron's poetry later realized. Here, the poems of Lord Byron are not so much the secondary compensation for a lost childhood as the sensation that Stendhal has been searching for since childhood. Byron's poetry is the long-lost discovery that transcends “childhood imaginings,” even as it is augured and desired through them. Byron's poetry is the sensation that makes this precocious life worth the wait. In such a way, Stendhal suggests, Byron retrospectively creates his readers and authors their earliest and most precocious longings.

9.        As Stendhal eloquently elaborates, it is the sensation of the poetry itself, and not the moral or the truth it represents, which matters, and which so moved Byron's early readers, for better and worse. As a later reader, Matthew Arnold, wrote in one of his tributes written in that ambivalent moment of Byron's re-evaluation that occurs around 1850:

He taught us nothing; but our soul
Has felt him like the thunder's roll.
("Memorial Verses, April 1850" 270)
In this aptly sensational meteorological figure, Arnold suggests how “Byron's force” (272) licensed the deeply participatory reading practices that privileged the corporeal and emotional effects of the poetry upon the reader (“With shivering heart ... with reverential awe”). A privileged topos of celebrity culture is reading —private, transportable and what Jacques Rancière terms “random” reading experiences (Rancière 14), and the sensations that are affected through these reading experiences.

10.        The culture of celebrity that Byron's poetry both authorizes and is expropriated by places a premium on sharing such readerly sensations with the author himself: “As I told him [Byron] this one day in Venice, quoting The Giaour, he replied, 'That is why it is full of dotted lines. The moment the experience of the age of reason can attack one of my images, I abandon it, I don't want the reader to find the same sensations in my work as at the Stock Exchange'” (Stendhal, Roman Journal 21). Here, as Byron is made to corroborate the fan's sensation, he produces a distinction between reason and sensation and adopts a characteristically anti-commercial stance. Ironically, these very sensations that Byron identifies as constitutively opposed to the Stock Exchange are in fact dependant upon such commercial institutions. For it is only through highly-developed capitalist relations of production and consumption that the particular sensations of print culture and celebrity culture can be disseminated as the commodified cultural pleasures “full of dotted lines” that they are.  [6] 

11.        Against the clichés of celebrity culture as gushy and excessive, Stendhal's meeting with Byron is marked primarily by “timidity” and suggests an encounter that is restrained, discreet and even courtly. Indeed, it is so restrained that Stendhal is rendered speechless: “Since the conversation had languished, M. de Brême sought to make me speak. This was impossible for me” (Lovell 196). But even in silence, there is cliché and emotion and gushiness enough. For when Stendhal recovers himself sufficiently to be able to speak, he goes on to share with Byron “the finest conversation I have ever known in my life; a volcano of new ideas and generous sentiments, so mingled that one believed himself to be enjoying them for the very first time” (Lovell 198). Recounting this moment of the social sublime, Stendhal subtly draws attention to the difference between illusion and reality, and between the past moment of high emotion and the present moment of sober recollection. However, he also suggests that this distinction is barely legible and, in the end, rather negligible. For the impulse of the passage is to catapult the speaker and the reader of the present moment of recollection back into the past as experienced.

12.         Stendhal's recollections of Byron offer an abbreviated form of “the exact and scientific description of a brand of madness” that is produced in Stendhal's 1822 work Love (Stendhal, Love 25). As with Love, Stendhal's recollections work to demonstrate the specificity of literary representation as distinct from scientific description, but they also show how nonetheless emotion can be imbricated with cognition. The cognitive literary critic Patricia Waugh has referred to the unique capacity of literature to “embody ... the problem of knowledge” by enabling the tension between the subjective and objective points of view to be experienced (Waugh 1999: 51, 52). Stendhal's recollections do this too. By inhabiting, in the form of the recollection, both the first-person and third-person perspective, and thereby splitting the subject between present and past, they enable the tension between past and present to be experienced. This suggests an alternative way of approaching Stendhal's famous disrespect for chronology. Far from casually disregarding chronology, Stendhal was acutely aware of chronology as a rhetorical convention of narrative — indeed as a rhetorical effect of narrative —and displayed this awareness in direct addresses to the reader: “After all these observations, I will now be born” (21), he writes in his autobiography, The Life of Henri Brulard (completed in 1836 and published posthumously in 1890). In this way, he draws attention to the tensions and distortions between past and present that are created by the act of retrospective narration.

13.        We know, then, that these “new ideas and generous sentiments” Stendhal claims to enjoy in conversation with Byron can't be so new, if Stendhal is not enjoying them for the first time. But what really matters here is the feeling itself —the sensation. This sensational affective regime of the fan is a fetishistic regime. For Stendhal's statement —“a volcano of new ideas and generous sentiments, so mingled that one believed himself to be enjoying them for the very first time” —does not so much produce a redeeming and enlightening epistemological distinction between the original and the copy, reason and emotion, as recapitulate what Slavoj Žižek refers to as “the formula of fetishism”: “I know, but nevertheless ...”.  [7]  (I know that I was not experiencing these ideas and sentiments for the very first time, but nevertheless.) Such a vindication of affect in the face of disbelieving reality works to consecrate the entry into social life of the intense affectivity of fandom, or what Stendhal's contemporaries termed “idol worship.”

14.        Fandom would seem to proceed, then, according to the fetishistic logic that Naomi Schor refers to as “a perpetual oscillation between two incompatible beliefs” (Schor 114). It is this logic of fetishism that Stendhal's narrative draws attention to in that earlier moment when he says: “At that time I was mad about Lara. From the second glance, I no longer saw Byron as he really was, but as I thought the author of Lara should be.” This is both the knowledge of hindsight (Only now do I realize I no longer saw Byron as he really was), and the knowledge that is fetishism's disavowal (I knew my Byron was the Byron I thought he should be rather than the Byron he was, but nevertheless).

15.         Stendhal's recollections participate in the genre of the celebrity sighting or what Chris Rojek has referred to as the “out-of-face encounter” between celebrity and fan (17). As the dynamic of presence and absence is critical to celebrity affect, the textual revisitation of the “out-of-face” encounter is about staging the author's presence as a moment of private life and staging familiarity with the author. The genre of the celebrity sighting dramatizes celebrity culture's preoccupation with embodiment, which is predicated upon distance (see Rojek 12). As such, it engages one of the most striking ironies of celebrity culture, which is that the desire for intimacy increases as access becomes more unattainable and distance greater. For this reason, technologies of simulation become more prolific in the labour of transforming the distant celebrity stranger into an intimate, predicated as they are upon the disavowal of the distance that they in fact materialize. The genre of “conversations of Byron” speaks to celebrity culture's premium upon embodiment and authorial presence, and to a certain disavowal of textual mediation. As Stendhal's conversations speak the genre, they present the exquisitely productive power of textual mediation in conjuring authorial presence.


16.         Stendhal's celebrity sighting of Byron is a moment of high emotion. Most significantly, this is a moment of emotion shared between two men, one of whom presents himself with the intensity of a lover. This moment encapsulates a particular intensity of emotion that informs the proverbial devotion of fan to idol, and which mimics the gestures and emotional intensities of Romantic love. Stendhal's episodic narratives mimic, too, the narrative that Roland Barthes has analysed in A Lover's Discourse as the “scene” of “love at first sight”:

the first thing we love is a scene. For love at first sight requires the very scene of its suddenness (what makes me irresponsible, subject to fatality, swept away, ravished): and of all the arrangements of objects, it is the scene which seems to be seen best for the first time: a curtain parts: what had not yet ever been seen is discovered in its entirety, and then devoured by the eyes: what is immediate stands for what is fulfilled: I am initiated: the scene consecrates the object I am going to love. (Barthes 192)

In Stendhal's love-at-first-sighting of Byron, the scene is set at La Scala, Milan, where the curtains part, and what takes place off-stage —more precisely in the box of M. de Brême —is moved to centre-stage. (“I entered M. de Brême's box on my return from an excursion on Lake Como. I found that the gathering had a sort of solemn and awkward air: everybody was silent. I was listening to the music when M. de Brême said to me, indicating my neighbour, 'Monsieur Beyle, this is Lord Byron'.”)

17.        As Michael Moon notes of Barthes' scene of ravishment, the scene of love-at-first-sight requires not so much the “beloved-at-first-sight” as “the scene itself” (Moon 6). For Stendhal, as he writes in Rome, Naples and Florence, it was love at first sight for the scene itself a few weeks earlier, when he returned to La Scala after a brief absence from Milan, but presents it as though for the very first time, devouring it with his eyes:

I was limp with exhaustion; but I dragged myself straight off to La Scala ... and there, at one stroke, lay the justification of my journey. My senses were so weary that they were beyond the furthest reaches of pleasure. Yet all the fantasy that the most exotic intricacy of an oriental imagination may evolve, all that is most baroque and most bizarre, all that is most sumptuous in architectural devising, all that can be made to live and breathe through the soft brilliance of draperies, all that can be coaxed into reality through the symbolism of characters who have not merely the costume, but the very faces and gestures of their make-belief and alien lands ... all this and more have I seen tonight.

Not only as a stage, but as a whole social world La Scala dazzles:

La Scala is the focal point of the entire city; it is the universal salon, the hub of society, which is here, and here only; ... Rendez-vous at La Scala —such is the accepted convention for all business. The first experience is literally intoxicating. I am in a feverish daze as I write this.
(25 September 1816; Rome 6-7)

Byron is also impressed by the multiple uses to which La Scala generously put itself for Milan society:

All society in Milan is carried on at the opera: they have private boxes, where they play cards, or talk, or any thing else; but (except at the Cassino) there are no open houses, or balls, &c., &c. *************************************************************
(BLJ 5: 125)

The privately owned boxes (palchi) where elite Milanese like M. de Brême would Rendez-vous to conduct business and pleasure were lavishly decorated affairs that functioned as multi-purpose sociable spaces within the theatre. As Robert Alter elaborates, “a box at La Scala was more like a small parlor than the little overhanging pockets jammed with fixed seats of modern theatres. A party of eight or ten could comfortably deploy themselves where they chose, around a pedestal table convenient for reading and card playing, in movable chairs by the railing, or on the cushions of the divan set against one wall of the box. This meant that a party at La Scala was very much a social group whose activities were limited neither in nature nor duration by the performance on the stage below” (134).

18.        Taking place on-stage that night of 23 October 1816 was a performance of the opera Elena, a success of that season, by Johann Simon Mayr (1763-1845), himself a successful opera composer despite being later eclipsed by the renowned Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868).  [8]  In Rome, Naples and Florence, Stendhal writes: “La Scala has revived Elena, an opera by Mayr... . Dear God, how dull it seems! Yet what wild enthusiasm still survived to greet the sextet in Act II! ... There is genius in such a passage: old Mayr must have saved it up from the days of his youth, or else pilfered it where he chanced to light upon it. Alone, this passage rescued the entire opera from disaster” (21). Byron too it seems was suitably impressed by the sextet, according to Stendhal in Vie de Rossini (1823): “ Lord Byron avait les plus beaux yeux du monde en écoutant ce sestetto” (quoted in Stendhal, Rome 485).  [9]  Byron himself then becomes the off-stage spectacle at La Scala —the glittering stranger who steals the scene in this glorious space of the social sublime.  [10] 

19.        For all its ravishing social sublimity, the celebrity sighting delivers nevertheless an emphatically different kind of ravishment to the love-at-first-sighting. The celebrity sighting is very much a second sight, a “second-order intimacy” (Turner 92-3), the deliriously misprisioning sight of what Stendhal refers to as the “second glance.” The celebrity is always already known, and so a certain belatedness is at play. Such belatedness also marks the post-Napoleonic social, affective and psychic armature of the mal du siècle, that constitutive feature of French Romanticism, with its nostalgic but inhibited desire for the great gesture, compromised by suspicion of gallantry (see Brookner, Romanticism, 41ff).

20.         Stendhal's biographer, Paton, would beg to differ from a reading of the meeting between Stendhal and Byron as a scene of ravishment and idol worship: “But Beyle was not on his knees before Byron, as if he had been an idol, like thousands of others, whose admiration of his verses made them blind to all the personal defects of the man; and Beyle tells us roundly that those who saw him close at hand considered him haughty, and even a little mad” (Paton 1874: 122). Indeed, in another recollection of Byron, the 20 October 1816 letter to Louis Crozet, Beyle refers to Byron as “the original of Lovelace,” and, in Rome, Naples and Florence in 1817 (1817), as “the most amiable monster that I have ever seen” (quoted in Lovell 196). Celebrity affect is, after all, an ambivalent mode of affect. “The purpose of gossip about celebrities,” as Graeme Turner points out, “is not to elevate or idealize them as exemplary individuals” (107); it is about “modelling, fantasy and identification” (Gamson, quoted in Turner 110). As a practice of the fan's identity work, gossip involves, then, the production of identity through dis-identification as much as identification with such amiable monsters. The fan's obsessive preoccupation with the private life of the celebrity necessarily entails revealing the bad, the mad and the dangerous to know. And, as it turns out, there is quite a lot for Stendhal not to like about Byron.  [11] 

21.        In any case, as we already know, Beyle was on his knees inside the box of M. de Brême, if only in the form of the repressed impulse expressed in the letter to his cousin, Romain Colomb: “I was filled with timidity and affection: if I had dared, I would have burst into tears and kissed Lord Byron's hand” (Lovell 196). This is love at first sight —or, at least, “second glance” — and he is rendered speechless by the coup de foudre of this first sighting. But this speechlessness too is an active structuring impulse, just as his “timidity” reflects the impulse acting on him as a “wave of excitation in the nerve.” Whilst this restraint holds Beyle back from outwardly going on his knees for Byron, the withheld emotion is later displayed in the autobiographical disclosure: not-daring-to is purely rhetorical, for Stendhal does dare, if only in the disclosure. In this way, Stendhal's disclosure produces one of the ironies of the affect of the fan: that a moment of the display of intense emotion can also be a moment of withholding. Stendhal's disclosure thereby dramatizes a certain complication of the distinction between private feeling and public display that is central to the workings both of celebrity affect and the poetry of Byron as it is read. Byron's life and work habitually inspired such displays of emotion, such reworkings of the boundaries between public and private, and the spectacularly rhetorical disclosures of the heart that he referred to in Don Juan as “The truth in masquerade” (XI, 37, 290, Byron 1986: 476). A feature of that rhetorical sophistication is that Byron's poetry, to borrow Jerome McGann's memorable formulation, “is always, at whatever register, elaborating reciprocities with its audiences” (McGann 85-6).

22.        Celebrity culture enables —indeed would seem to demand —the mimicry of Romantic love, even in the space of a relationship between two men. (So much so that the cultural and discursive genre we refer to as “Byromania” also involved elaborate recantations, usually on the part of mature authors, such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Benjamin Disraeli, who looked back on their love of Byron as a youthful folly [see Elfenbein].) But what kind of relationship between two men? In underscoring the proximity of the fan's devotion as a form of love and “Stendhalian eros,” I am not suggesting that Stendhal's revelatory staging of intense feeling for Byron is intended as a kind of unmasking of himself and his feeling as self-evidently homosexual  [12]  —or even indeed as definitively sexual (as though what is being revealed here is a knowable and consolidated sexual identity rather than the desiring play of eroticised identifications and investments) —although it is certainly, in all its mobility and intensity, very queer. And even though Paton's image of Stendhal not on his knees suggests Leo Bersani's “seductive and intolerable image of a grown man, legs high in the air, unable to refuse the suicidal ecstasy of being a woman”, that is, of “getting fucked” ("Rectum" 212), unable to refuse the pleasures of “self-divestiture” (Homos 128), and of willingly sacrificing disciplined self-mastery for “self-shattering and solipsistic jouissance” ("Rectum" 222).

23.        The affect of the fan is proverbially like that of the lover, but also unlike, perversely freighted as it is with all kinds of mobile identifications, impulses and intensities of emotion and desire that exceed the boundaries of traditional masculine homosociality and subjectivity yet which are not to be overdetermined by sexuality. The affective and discursive practices of Romantic fandom are vitally significant because they usher this impulsiveness into sociability, into a world where impulse is legible, meaningful and valuable, for all its contradictions. Byron's scandalous celebrity licenses such perversity and inspires a re-imagining of author-reader relations, endowing them with new pleasures and sensations. The fandom it generates is a productive affective and social economy that spectacularizes the transformative agency of the reader. Far from entailing an exclusively passive position (in docile thrall to the sovereignty of author and text), fandom can be seen to transform a traditional textual economy of active and passive, thereby enabling reception as a mode of delirious productivity —proliferating often disobedient and indiscreet disclosures —as Stendhal's fan practices demonstrate in abundance.


24.         Stendhal's numerous recollections are characterized by repetition, the habitual revisiting and restaging of the scene of the first sighting, and the connoisseurial selection and discrimination of “moments” to recount — Byron's “moments of genius” as well as more “prosaic moments” (Lovell 197). This devotional practice involves the multiplication of nuance and detail, to compare and contrast, enabling the obsessive return to the scene of encounter. As I mentioned earlier, these versions did not go unchallenged. In the years after Byron's death, John Cam Hobhouse, Byron's closest friend and executor, was fierce in his attempts to regulate the posthumous accounts that flooded the market, as well as the letters and memoirs that enabled people to profit from these memories. (Having said that, Hobhouse's position was complicated and somewhat compromised by his own vested interest in always having to be seen to be Byron's first-best friend.)  [13]  As “keeper of the flame,” Hobhouse could claim at least a legal obligation or entitlement to regard all memories of Byron as a form of property. Less convincing are contemporary critics of celebrity who (without such cause) would naturalize this traditional economy of authorial sovereignty whereby the authorial image is understood to be the exclusive property of the author and to be controlled by the author.  [14]  As my account departs from such an understanding, I emphasize the expropriation of the author by the fan.  [15]  For it is the fan who is the foregrounded subject, even in the gesture of self-abnegation:

what I know concerning that singular man is only the memory of what I have felt in his presence. How does one give an account of a memory without speaking of self, and how dare one speak of self after having named Lord Byron? (Lovell 197)

How dare one speak of self, but speak of himself Stendhal does and must. In this spectacular subordination of fan to celebrity, the beloved celebrity is made over into the creature or the darling of the fan, through the self-same gestures of revelation that stage intimacy between Byron and “self,” distinguish Stendhal as a fan and mark Byron with those distinguishing features of Stendhal's love. What we see is Stendhal's display of the supreme prerogative of unveiling authorial presence, Stendhal's staging of privileged access, Stendhal's narrative manipulation of the dynamic of presence and absence that is critical to celebrity affect's preoccupation with embodiment. In this way, Stendhal's rendition of the Byronic conversation and recollection proceeds like the fan website, with the “interpolation of autobiographical example ... [implicitly declaring] this is my site, my contents ... my way” (Hoxter, quoted in Hills 91).

25.        The meeting between Byron and Stendhal is a close encounter between celebrity and fan, a sighting of the celebrity. But it is also a moment of social presentation: being introduced to a stranger. This drama of social presentation involves reading that stranger through social signs. For his part, Byron initially gets these signs wrong, as Stendhal coolly informs us in " Lord Byron en Italie" (1830):

[Lord Byron] had been informed that in the course of the evening he would probably be introduced to a stranger who had performed the celebrated campaign of Moscow, which still possessed the charm of novelty, as at that time we had not been spoiled by any romances on the subject. A fine-looking man, with a military appearance, happening to be one of your party, his Lordship naturally concluded that he was the hero. (quoted in Lovell 200)

The “hero” is not the “fine-looking man, with a military appearance,” but Stendhal,  [16]  so Byron is mistaken. But only temporarily: “The next day, however, Byron was undeceived ... [and] did me the honour to address me on the subject of Russia” (Lovell 200).

26.        The moment in the box is a moment of high emotion, but it is also constrained —and enabled —by social ritual. As we have seen, Stendhal's response to Byron is informed by a withholding of emotion: “if I had dared I would have.” However, this not-daring “timidity” is also an active structuring impulse, in play with “affection,” for Stendhal is “filled” with both. To conceive of fandom as a form of social ritual is to understand it as something more than a debased, excessive, inauthentic mode of emotion. Rather, it is to see it as a complex form of social modernity, aligned with new modes of social performance and presentation, affect and publicity, and to see it as an exemplary form of intimate publicity. For what marks the particular encounter between Stendhal and Byron is both the intensity of emotion and also the restraint with which it is controlled and produced: the ritualization of that emotion. As the social theorist Erving Goffman has suggested, “When in the idol's immediate presence we act with ritual care” (quoted in Smith 28).


27.        We act with ritual care, but also with a sense of strategy. For once the introduction between Stendhal and Byron has been made, strategic skirmishes ensue on the subject of the recent Anglo-French hostilities. As Stendhal writes:

I idolized Napoleon, and replied to his Lordship [Byron] as I should have done to a member of the legislative assembly who had exiled the ex-emperor to St. Helena. I subsequently discovered that Lord Byron was at once enthusiastic in favour of Napoleon, and jealous of his fame. He used to say, “Napoleon and myself are the only individuals who sign our names with the initials N.B.” (Noel Byron.)
My determination to be cold offers some explanation for the marked kindness with which, at the end of a few days, Lord Byron did me the favour to regard me. One evening, however, he spoke to me without cause of the immorality of the French character. I replied firmly and mentioned the hulks where the English had tortured French prisoners of war, of the deaths of Russian emperors, happening always at such a convenient time for English interests, of infernal machines, etc. etc. Our friends in the box imagined that the discussion which had taken place, and which, though polite and respectful on my part, had been rather warm, would prevent any further intimacy between us. They were mistaken. The next evening his Lordship took me by the arm, and walked me for an hour in the saloon of the Theatre de la Scala.
("Lord Byron en Italie," 1830, quoted in Lovell 1954: 200)

This passage elaborates a gradual transformation from stranger to intimate, as each man is required to negotiate the often oblique social signs that the other puts into circulation. It is about the tactical manoeuvres of social affect and social intimacy, which involve emotional withholding: giving out coldness when one feels warmth. But it is also about the expectation that this paradoxical coldness will be read, and worked through, as indeed it is, when Stendhal discovers that Byron is not the typical “member of the legislative assembly who had exiled the ex-emperor to St Helena. I subsequently discovered that Lord Byron was at once enthusiastic in favour of Napoleon, and jealous of his fame.” This mutual love for Napoleon explains in retrospect that intriguing paradox of social emotion: “My determination to be cold offers some explanation for the marked kindness with which at the end of a few days, Lord Byron did me the favour to regard me.” Stendhal is determined to be cold, and this results in kindness from Byron. Why? The discovery of a shared Napoleon-love not only rescues and redeems an awkward social moment, but also reconfigures the co-ordinates of a map of first impressions shared by the two men that assumes national identity to determine political identification. After the discovery, Byron rewards Stendhal with kindness for his loyalty to Napoleon, even when that loyalty has entailed coldness toward himself. The exchange is about the enigma of making a connection through being cold. Stendhal's friends think they won't be friends but they are wrong, for Byron has taken his arm.

28.        These meetings occur in a relatively circumscribed social space, the theatre box of M. de Brême, an intriguing figure who as a consecrated priest, almoner of the ex-king and leader of the Italian Romantics, mixed exotic forms of Italian social and cultural capital. Clearly charmed, Hobhouse gives a detailed account of his first impression of

Monsignore Lodovico de Brême, one of Napoleon's almoners for the Kingdom of Italy, whence his title. The son of a noble Piedmontese family, destined for the Church, who has been offered two bishoprics by Napoleon and one by the people, but wishes rather to unfrock himself than to put on the mitre. He is a young man about thirty, wears his dark hair combed upright, which gives him a wildness of expression not unlike that of Alfieri [the Italian Romantic poet]. He is, on the whole, one of the most attractive men I ever saw. He gave Lord Byron a most warm reception, and as Madame de Stäel had introduced me to him in her letter in favourable terms, was pointedly civil to me. He spoke with a certain degree of point on every subject, delivering his apothegems and ironies in the gravest tone, which made him quite irresistible. (Hobhouse I: 40-41)

Unable to resist, we might say smitten, Hobhouse has his own moment of love-at-first-sight. Heady fan-love is in the air, and the scene takes on the aspects of a mid-summer Shakespearean romance of mistaken identities, multiple love objects and deliriously mobile desires, all predicated upon what René Girard refers to as the “idolatrous worship of otherness” (197). A sucker for grave ironies, Hobhouse sees in Brême the same combination of social, cultural and physical power associated with the Byronic aura. Brême’s “wildness of expression not unlike that of Alfieri” also mediates the Byronic aura (as Alfieri's likeness to Byron was noted by contemporaries [see BLJ 9: 11]). It is as though Hobhouse here displaces his own desire for Byron via Alfieri onto Brême, who is himself drifting in the homosocially shared trancelike obsession with Byron that he sponsors in his box. In this series of displacements, the cycle of mimetic desire is routed first through Byron and now through Brême, to produce two couples of admirer and admiree: Beyle and Byron, Hobhouse and Brême, with Napoleon and to a lesser extent Alfieri mediating idols in between.

29.        This circle of love recalls another one tenderly fantasized by Byron barely two years before, when he had written to Hobhouse to break the news of his engagement to Annabella Milbanke. This extraordinarily moving letter entwines Byron's most gentle and optimistic feelings for Milbanke (“my intended”, before she becomes “ that woman ” [BLJ 5: 120]) within a textbook illustration of homosocial triangulation, when Byron asks Hobhouse to be witness to the ceremony in the same breath as expressing the fond wish that he too might be married, so that they might share the experience, “like people electrified in company through the same chain” (BLJ 4: 213). As it turned out, Hobhouse witnessed the marriage, the bitter separation and the never-ending degradation of “my intended,” Annabella Milbanke, into “the bitch my wife” (BLJ 6: 95), “that infernal fiend” (BLJ 6: 129), that “Porca buzzerena” (BLJ 6: 131), or sodomite sow. [17]  And here in these early weeks of exile, Hobhouse joins hands to witness the electric chain of fan-love with the adoring Italian Romantics. As he wrote after Byron's death, “No human being could approach him without being sensible of this magical influence” (Hobhouse III: 41). [18]  However, as he also knew, especially as keeper of the flame, the magical current generated by this Byronic “electrified company” could also turn.  [19]  As Girard writes, “the disquieting infrastructure of mimetic desire” entails the “necessarily jealous and conflictual nature of mimetic convergence on a single object” (197). Jealousy is alive and well for Hobhouse, both in Byron's life and death, and he was notoriously jealous of other pretenders (such as Thomas Moore) to the title of Byron's first-best friend (see Hamilton). Despite these rivalries, he acknowledged that Byron's “power of attaching those about him to his person was such as no one I knew possessed” (Hobhouse I: 41).

30.         Girard writes about the love triangle using fan-love —the “idolatrous worship of otherness” —as his model for all desire. Likewise, what Bersani says about sexual desire also holds true of fan-love in this giddy scene of homosocial desire: “Displacement is endemic to sexuality” and “sexual desire initiates, indeed can be recognized by, an agitated fantasmatic activity in which original (but from the start, unlocatable) objects of desire get lost in the images they generate” (221). The confusion is such that objects of hero worship become confused with appropriate objects of desire. Napoleon was particularly vulnerable to such confusions and displacements, and offers the exemplary case in point here. The case is dramatized with spectacular force and piquancy in the bedroom farces of Stendhal's The Red and the Black (1830), where a portrait of Napoleon hidden under the bed of Julien Sorel in the home of his Ultra-Royalist employer is mistakenly thought to be a portrait of an unidentified secret lover, and Hazlitt's "Liber Amoris" (1823), where H. is simultaneously the rival of a bust of Napoleon for the affections of S., “She is my heart's idol,”, and the rival of S. herself for that precious little bust of Napoleon, “the god of my idolatry” (Hazlitt 45, 28). Struggling in the box at La Scala to maintain the line between homosocial and homoerotic desire, it is perhaps just as well that, as Stendhal writes, “The company there assembled consists entirely of men of letters. No woman ever passes the threshold” (Stendhal, Rome 64). And sure enough, Stendhal presents Byron “declin[ing] the honour” of introductions to the “assemblage of lovely women as that which chance had collected in Milan” (Lovell 202).

31.        This is, then, a highly gendered, male-homosocial space. It is an aristocratic social space, but also a cosmopolitan one, and a specifically Italian form of cosmopolitanism, as Stendhal is at pains to point out, noting the social genre of meeting in the box of the aristocrat as a particular form of Italian warmth and informality: “This Italian custom, not generally followed in France, banished all ceremony. The affectation that chills the atmosphere of a French saloon is unknown in the society of Milan.” As his dismissive remarks about French social custom underscore, Stendhal, like Byron, is in happy self-exile from his own country (“his blood / Is all meridian” ["Stanzas to the Po" ], and he will eventually have inscribed on his gravestone “Arrigo Beyle, Milanese”). In this congenial setting, Stendhal and Byron rewrite the hoary old script of chilly Anglo-French hostilities into a congenial dialogue of transnational camaraderie, hosted by the Italian informality of the box of M. Brême, which welcomes exiles, and the saloon of La Scala. They too might have been trapped as prisoners of memories of war, but they move beyond these dim, shabby “hulks” into the light, bright and airy, liberal and cosmopolitan, space of the box at La Scala.  [20] 

32.        The meeting between Byron and Stendhal dramatizes the poignant liminality of this historical moment when Stendhal, Byron and Napoleon are all freshly exiled, Napoleon himself living on in the period that can only just be referred to as post-Napoleonic, so that Stendhal's store of Napoleonic reminiscences “still possessed the charm of novelty” (Rome, Naples and Florence, 1817, quoted in Lovell 200). The spectres of “hulks” and torture and “infernal machines” of recent military conflict, that loom early in the conversation and chill the air (making it “rather warm” in the sense of unfriendly), disintegrate under the spell of an ecumenical Napoleonic aura that banishes these bad memories and baleful animosities as so many gloomy ghosts at the table. This reminds us of the powerful mediating force that Napoleon was throughout Europe as “an embodiment of liberty and opposition to monarchical power” (Bainbridge 137) both while he was in power and after. (Of course, Napoleon was also for many the contemporary embodiment of despotism. And Byron, who could be full of adoration for Napoleon, was also of course famously ambivalent about him and so could be very critical too. But that's another story.)  [21] 

33.        For all his later attacks on Stendhal, Hobhouse —also a lover of Napoleon —entered a highly appreciative account in his diaries of the anecdotes that Stendhal gave them of Napoleon. Stendhal, who had been in charge of dispatches, tells of the Emperor Francis carefully cutting the seal off dispatches from Napoleon for his Minister, and then “rubbing it against his clothes, smelling it, and giving it its due praise. The eagle was well done, the sword perfect” (Hobhouse I: 52-3). He tells of how Napoleon “never would pronounce the word Kaluga” (a key site in the retreat from Moscow), “but called it sometimes Caligula, sometimes Salamanca,” and how “[h]is attendants, who knew what he meant, went on writing or listening without making any remark” (53). And he tells of how he was there during the retreat from Moscow (“as the reader of any given five pages of his writing will not fail to discover” [James 188]), and of how during the retreat “the soldiers burst into tears” (54).

34.        In this encounter in the box at La Scala, the stranger who is being introduced is well-known at a distance but can still be introduced into a relatively closed circle, according to traditional social protocols. As such, the encounter dramatizes a transitional moment in the history of celebrity, which is the transition between the domain of the social and what Chris Rojek refers to as the “para-social”, interactions that occur at a social distance with people we don't know (Rojek 52). This is not strictly an interface between the poet and the anonymous public, for the box of M. de Brême is a kind of liminal space between the traditional, known audience of social equals, and the wider, anonymous public that literature is moving towards. It is an extremely privileged social space, too, that mixes old social class and old money. As Stendhal observed, “A box at La Scala is treated as freehold property, like a house, and may change hands for as much as twenty-five thousand francs” (Stendhal, Rome 24-5). Indeed, after the original theatre of Milan (the Teatro Regio Ducale) had burned down in 1776, it was the owners of the boxes who lobbied Archduke Ferdinand to build a new one, and it was the sale of new boxes that financed the building of La Scala to replace it. The box at La Scala emblematises the particular conjunction of social, economic and cultural power that M. de Brême embodied.

35.        Not only Byron, but Byron's poetry itself charms the box of M. de Brême, as their host M. de Brême points out: “So keenly are his works relished by those of his friends who know English that, without ever mentioning it, we are endlessly showing him our private admiration” (Lovell 206). This reserve about Byron's poetry is maintained apparently even despite the fact that they have an Italian poet in their midst, “the celebrated Monti,” who “graciously recited [his poetry] for us,” and who puts “Lord Byron ... in raptures.” So relished, so precious is Byron's poetry that it has the power to become an object of the unspoken in this circle of socially elite men who count a poet among their number. They negotiate this desire, and Byron's charm, through feats of “private admiration.” Again, like Stendhal not daring to kiss Byron's hand, we see another form of restraint in this meeting with Byron. As we've seen, celebrity culture works not always or only in terms of the spectacular displays of outrageous affection. It is marked, too, with the protocols of an elite social culture of discretion. And Stendhal's discretion is rewarded. For, after the poetry recitation: “From that day, I passed almost every evening with Lord Byron” (Lovell 197).


36.        In Stendhal's 1829 letter to Colomb, Byron and Stendhal make their farewells at the end of a delightful evening. The recollection is marked by one last moment of self-deprecation, as Stendhal responds to Byron's request for street directions:

Lord Byron asked me, as the only one who knew English, to tell him the names of the streets that he would have to pass through on the way back to his inn. It was at the other end of town, near the fortress. I saw that he would go astray: in that part of Milan, at midnight, all the shops were closed. He would wander amidst empty and ill-lit streets, and without knowing a word of the language! In my devoted affection I was so foolish as to advise him to take a carriage. At once a shade of haughtiness passed over his face: he gave me to understand, with all necessary politeness, that what he wanted of me was the names of the streets, and not advice as to how to use them. He left the box, and I understood why he had reduced it to silence. (Lovell 196)

In this brilliant moment, when Stendhal advises Byron to take a carriage, Stendhal fantasizes being Byron's chaperone, and Byron a stranger in need of protection. Byron declines his advice, and the anecdote ends as it opened with Byron reducing the box to silence. Another masterful Stendhalian ending that eludes closure: returning to the anecdote's beginning —to that “sort of solemn and awkward air” and that fraught form of silence that opens the encounter —the ending transforms this awkwardness by turning it into a moment of comedy.

37.        But the story does not end there, for there are other versions of that evening that end more optimistically and keep the electrified company there despite Byron's departure. Later that very same evening, as the 1824 letter to Louise S. Belloc recounts, Byron strolls with Stendhal around the “immense and solitary foyer of La Scala.” This time, Byron is successfully transformed from stranger into intimate. Again, memories of Napoleon are the currency of this transformation, which is aided by the social lubricant of their mutual devotion:

I had the good fortune to excite his curiosity, in giving him some personal details concerning Napoleon and the retreat from Moscow, which in 1816 were not yet commonplace. This species of merit procured for me many strolls tête-à-tête, in the immense and solitary foyer of Scala. (Lovell, 197-8)

Once again, the curtain parts, and the scene of the fan's love at second glance is consecrated. The supreme transformation of the stranger to intimate occurs as Stendhal and Byron share “strolls tête-à-tête.” What we also note, as the curtains part, is the particular kind of social space that stages—and houses—this transformation from stranger to intimate: “the immense and solitary foyer of Scala.” This paradoxical figure encapsulates marvellously the transformative effect of celebrity as a mode of publicity, a mode of intimacy, a mode of public intimacy. That this immense public social space should also be nonetheless so “solitary” enables it to host and to hold and to bear witness to all the paradoxes of intimate strangeness that attend the meeting between Byron and his enraptured fan of “a hundred irresistible impulses.”

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[1] The research and writing of this article were supported by a grant from the Australian Research Council. BACK

[2] Stendhal's generous capacity for error in relation to dates, for example, is registered in the letter to Colomb, where the meeting of October 1816 is misremembered as occurring in “the autumn of 1812” (see Lovell 196), and in the famous misdating of the 1816 meeting that is included in Rome, Naples and Florence in 1817. BACK

[3] Paton's biography displayed a certain contradictory charm itself, as Henry James noted in a review in the Nation (17 September 1874): “It contains hardly an opinion which is not ludicrously erratic, and hardly a quotation, a foreign phrase, or a proper name which is not misspelled or misprinted. But the author writes with a garrulous bonhomie —that of an easy-going cosmopolite ... —which will soften the edge of the reader's displeasure; and he is to be thanked at any rate for bringing Beyle once more before the world” (James 187). BACK

[4] Except where indicated, I take my primary quotations of Stendhal from His Very Self and Voice: Collected Conversation of Lord Byron , ed. Ernest J. Lovell (New York: Macmillan, 1954), 196-206. For readers who wish to consult directly the relevant published works by Stendhal (and by others who use material provided by Stendhal), I list them here as follows, more or less and as far as possible in chronological order given that the constant reworking of these recollections makes a chronology difficult to sustain: Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817 (1817); " Lord Byron en Italie, récit d'un témoin oculaire," published originally in Revue de Paris , March 1830, later included in Racine et Shakespeare (1830), published in English in The Foreign Literary Gazette, reprinted in The Mirror, and then in John Galt's The Life of Lord Byron (London: Colburn & Bentley, 1830); " Lord Byron en Italie " is a reworked version of a narrative given upon request to Louise Swanton-Belloc (1796-1881), who included it in Lord Byron, par Mme. Louise Sw.-Belloc, 2 vols (Paris: Antoine-Augustin Renouard, 1824); Souvenirs d'Egotisme, the autobiographical fragment written in 1832 an first published in 1892. The letters to Louis Crozet (20 Oct. 1816) and Louise Belloc (24 Sept. 1824) are included in Correspondance, ed. Henri Martineau and V. Del Litto, 3 vols. (Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1962-1968): to Crozet, I: 831-835 (letter no. 608); Belloc, II: 42-46 (letter no. 771). The letter to Stendhal's cousin and executor, Romain Colomb (24 August 1829), is included in Correspondence Inédite (Paris, 1855), II, 71. Prior to the meeting with Byron that is recounted in the letter to Crozet of October 20, Stendhal writes to Crozet over four letters (of 28 September; 30 Sept; 2 Oct; 16-17 October, and five if we include the letter of Oct 20 after the meeting, about Byron's significance for “[l]e systéme romantique” (827) and “les passions énergiques” in a discussion of Francis Jeffrey, Romanticism and the Edinburgh Review (See Correspondance, I: 818-835). For an analysis, see Wu 2007. Of particular interest here in regard to sensation and celebrity is the discussion of Jeffrey on contemporary poetry's “pursuit of her new idol of strong emotion”. BACK

[5] Hobhouse is quoted from an undated MS in the John Murray archive in Doris Langley Moore's The Late Lord Byron: Posthumous Dramas (372). See Moore, Chapter XI, “An Imaginative Frenchman,” 372-95. Moore's highly unsympathetic account of Stendhal takes its cues from Hobhouse and reads Stendhal's recollections as “published exploitation” (374). For an analysis of Hobhouse and Moore, see Jonathan Keates's biography Stendhal (186-94). Keates traces the chronology of textual production of the different versions of the meeting, and claims that “[t]here is no hard evidence ... with which to catch Stendhal in quite so blatant an act as that of faking Byron” (190). For his part, Byron wrote to thank Stendhal for the praise he received in Rome, Naples and Florence: “Sir, At present, [now?] that I know to whom I am indebted for a very flattering mention in the 'Rome, Naples, and Florence in 1817, by Mons. Stendhal,' it is fit that I should return my thanks ... to Mons. Beyle, with whom I had the honour of being acquainted in Milan in 1816.” (Genoa, May 29, 1823, BLJ 10: 189) Byron also took the opportunity to defend Walter Scott against the attack Stendhal had made on him in the same work. BACK

[6] On Byron's relation to the commercial entailments of fame and celebrity culture, see Manning, Christensen and Mole. BACK

[7] These are the words (“Je sais bien, mais quand même”) of Octave Mannoni's famous patient in Clefs pour l'Imaginaire ou l'autre scène (Paris: Seuil, 1969). For an elaboration of these words as the “formula of fetishism”, see Žižek 245. See also Schor 113-116. BACK

[8] Rossini became the young idol of the Italian opera-going public virtually overnight in 1813 with the success of Tancredi, which Byron and Hobhouse saw in Venice in November 1816, performed, as Hobhouse writes, by “the famous Marchesini [who] delighted me, and indeed affected us both, more than [Angelica] Catalani” (Hobhouse I: 61). As Benjamin Walton notes, Rossini was “the Scott, Byron or Napoleon of music, depending on the fancy of individual critics” (Walton 82). Despite Rossini's enormous popularity, however, in 1816 he endured the scandalous failure of the first performance of The Barber of Seville in Rome on Feb 26 1816. (The second performance, in Bologna, was a big success.) Stendhal writes about the episode in his Vie de Rossini (1823), itself a scandalously plagiarized text “cribbed” from Guiseppe Carpani's Rossiane. See Walton on the mixed reception of Rossini in London. To note another Napoleonic intertext: Rossini's father, the town trumpeter, very famously welcomed the Napoleonic troops into their northern Italian town, a gesture for which he was later thrown into jail after the Habsburg restoration of 1796. BACK

[9] A letter to Thomas Moore suggests that Byron seemed less taken with Elena (which doesn't rate a mention) than with the performance of the celebrated castrato, Tommaso Sgricci: “His fluency astonished me; but, although I understand Italian, and speak it ... I could only carry off a very few commonplace mythological images. ... Some of the Italians liked him —others called his performance “seccatura” (a devilishly good word, by the way) and all Milan was in controversy about him” (BLJ 4:125). BACK

[10] Byron also notes how the theatre functioned as a site of public spectacle, when he reports that “A mother and son were pointed out at the theatre, as being pronounced by the Milanese world to be of the Theban dynasty” (BLJ 5:125). BACK

[11] On Byron's character flaws, Stendhal writes that “Lord Byron could have pardoned Napoleon more easily if he had had a little of the colourlessness of Washington. Amusingly, it was not at all the despotic and odious part of Napoleon's character which displeased the English peer” (Lovell 197). He also presents a Byron jealous of Brummell: “in his moments of dandyism, he always pronounced the name of Brummell with a mingled emotion of respect and jealousy” (201). BACK

[12] Not that Stendhal does not have his own homosexual fans, such as the openly homosexual Second Empire dandy Jean Lorrain (1855-1906), who paid his homage by adopting the effeminate, diminutive nom-de-plume “Stendhaletta”. As Rhonda Garelick writes, the “[h]eavily rouged, powdered, openly gay” Lorrain, who presented himself not as a man of fashion but as a femme du monde, was also the author of an initiatory fashion text that identifies fashion with cultural memory, La nostalgie de la beauté (1912). See Garelick 43-6. Proust challenged Lorrain to a duel after Lorrain publicly implicated Proust as a homosexual. See Nye 122-3. BACK

[13] Hobhouse's role in the destruction of Byron's memoirs and the publication of Moore's subsequent Life is illuminating here, suggesting how fraught this position could be. Byron had originally given Moore the MS of his memoirs to raise money. Moore opposed the destruction of the memoirs (a campaign which Hobhouse initiated and completed within three days of learning of Byron's death), and wrote his Life of Byron, which brought in the money that would have been his from the memoirs. Hobhouse seems to have been a little bit jealous of Moore for having been entrusted with the MS, which possibly makes him suspect Moore's motives. As Hobhouse wrote in the "Narrative of Events Connected with the Destruction of Lord Byron's Memoirs" , “Lord Byron made a present of himself to Mr. Moore, and Mr. Moore sold his Lordship to the booksellers” ( Hobhouse III: 331). And in his diary of 14 May 1826: “Moore owned very frankly to me that he would make a book to get the money he wanted, but not a book of real merit as a Life of Lord Byron... . I am sorry that circumstances have made this interview necessary, but as I feel that Byron certainly intended a benefit to Moore, I cannot but assist him in some degree to gain his 2, 000 out of Lord Byron's memory. That is his motive; he has no other.” (Hobhouse III: 134-5). Hobhouse also had to contend with the publication of a collection of “religious conversations” with Byron as “one of the thousand and one squabbles which my intimacy [has] entailed upon me” (IV: 81). For a detailed analysis of this episode, see Hamilton. BACK

[14] Recent legal theory has challenged this idea of publicity as a form of property. As David Lange points out, “if the right of publicity was to be a new species of property it could in theory devolve and descend forever” (154). BACK

[15] The authorial image, like the star image, as Richard Dyer points out, includes “what people say or write about him or her, as critics or commentators, the way the image is used in other contexts such as advertisements, novels, pop songs, and finally the way the star can become part of the coinage of everyday speech” (3). Hence, the authorial image is not the exclusive property of the author nor is it controlled by the author. BACK

[16] Stendhal the man may not have had the “military appearance,” but his sentences do, as Anita Brookner suggests, in her subtle and appreciative account of Stendhal's gift for a peculiar kind of emotion constrained by formality: “Hence too the depth and subtlety of the emotion which eventually goes into the novels disguised or wrapped up in short, military sentences” (Genius, 36). BACK

[17] Louis Crompton helpfully glosses Byron's nasty little Italian neologism: “'Porca' means sow; 'buzzerena' is a Venetian dialect term derived from 'buggerone,' a 'sodomite'” (Crompton, 235, fn 83). BACK

[18] Earlier in 1816, just before coming to Milan, Byron had been the centre of another homosocially configured magic circle of love, when he spent the summer at Lake Geneva with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont from May until August. As Byron was to write of this summer of love, when Shelley “dosed” him with Wordsworth as he was writing Childe Harold III, “I was half mad during the time of its composition, between metaphysics, mountains, lakes, love inextinguishable.” BACK

[19] And turn it did, quite badly, with the Italian Romantics. The morning after the magical night of October 1816 came in July 1818, when Hobhouse's "Essay on the Present Literature of Italy" appeared as part of his Historical illustrations of the fourth canto of Childe Harold: containing dissertations on the ruins of Rome; and an essay on Italian literature (London: John Murray, 1818) and contained not a single mention of the irresistible Brême. Brême wrote to Byron to indicate his displeasure, and then Hobhouse wrote back to Byron: “Di Breme may be damned! ... Breme is vexed because I have ventured to tell some disagreeable truths about poor dear Bonaparte and because I have said nothing about his behissed comedy. You had better tell him so and then you will succeed to your heart's content in making him hate me as much as you have made me hate him” (quoted in Vincent 21). In fact, the author of the “Essay” was not Hobhouse but the exiled Italian patriot and poet Ugo Foscolo, whom Hobhouse had met in London, and who agreed to write the “Essay” on the condition of secrecy about his authorship. Byron himself seemed to enjoy the falling out between Hobhouse and Brême. As he wrote to Hobhouse on 3 August 1818, “Enclosed is Breme’s scrawl ... he gives you devilish bitter words —and I long to see you by the ears —that I do.—” (BLJ 6: 63). And as he wrote to Guiseppino Albrizzi, the son of Countess Albrizzi, a major Venetian hostess, known as the Madame de Staël of Italy: “Tell Hobhouse —his letter to De Breme has made a great Sensation —and is to be published in the Tuscan & other Gazettes” (BLJ 6: 91). BACK

[20] As a radical Whig who opposed the Congress devised by the Liverpool administration, Hobhouse also thrived in this space: “A persuasion that I am of the Liberal English and, more than all, have a hatred of the Congress Castlereagh system, gives me a willing audience in this place, which is not elsewhere found, at least I have not found it” (Hobhouse II: 47). BACK

[21] This ambivalence is manifest in the "Ode to Napoleon" (1814), written on the occasion of the first abdication. For a compelling analysis of Byron's ambivalent relation to Napoleon in the “Ode” and elsewhere, see Bainbridge 134-52. On the diversity of views amongst English sympathizers with Napoleon, see the classic study by E. Tangye Lean, The Napoleonists: A Study in Political Diasaffection 1760-1960. BACK

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Published @ RC

April 2011