1830s

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The Fictions of Byron

 

Fictions of Byron: An Annotated Bibliography
by G. Todd Davis

1830s

Faust: A Tragedy. Johann W. von Goethe. 1832. In the "Euphorion Opera," Euphorion represents not only the spirit of poetry but also Byron. Phorcyas calls Euphorion a "naked genius unfledged." He carries a "golden lyre" just like a young Apollo. His "boyish looks and bearing" allow him to become "heir apparent to all beauty." He cavorts with Gods and, much like Icarus, attempts to leap from the bounds of the Earth, heedless of the danger. He desires to leap higher, ever higher, to a point where gravity will no longer hold him. Both he and the chorus involve themselves within an intricate dance that turns into an imaginary hunt. Euphorion captures a girl and attempts to force himself upon her. She resists and turns into a flame. He shakes off the flames and begins to leap up the cliffs. He sings of war and of conquest rather than peace and serenity. He says that one must trust oneself. He leaps one last time and falls (in a recognizable form that implies Byron) in a heap at the feet of his parents, Helena and Faust. He dies. A lamentation to Byron ensues after Euphorion dies. As the spirit of poetry, Euphorion represents not only "the final collapse of the European poetic tradition," but also the death of a poetic genius.

Don Leon. Anonymous. 1833. This poem in heroic couplets was allegedly written by Byron, in the guise of Don Leon, to Thomas Moore. Don Leon, as a thinly-veiled pretense for Byron, tells the story of his life from a homoerotic standpoint. From his initial feelings of desire for John Edleston to sodomy with his wife, he enjoins the reader to understand his longings. He speaks about the unjust laws that victimize individuals who do no harm to anyone. He speaks about individuals tried and hanged. He recounts his life in Turkey and Greece and the fact that other countries are far less rigid when it comes to sex. In one section, he talks of the benefits and joys of anal intercourse, describing in particular detail the sodomizing of his wife when she was nine months pregnant with Ada. Of particular importance are the numerous individuals he describes from antiquity to the present who share his same-sex desires. Much ink has been spilt trying to determine the best candidate for authorship. The poem was allegedly written before Byron died, but many of the dates and names are anachronistic. Therefore, the best estimate is 1833 for initial publication. G. Wilson Knight hypothesizes the author to be George Coleman the Younger, but others disagree with him, most importantly, Doris Langley Moore, who believes Richard Paternoster, of Madras, to be the author. Louis Crompton leaves it as a mystery.

Vivian Grey. Benjamin Disraeli. 1833. Only a brief passage (pp. 141-142) regarding the need for more men like Byron. Disraeli would save his Byronic fictionalizing for Venetia.

Salmagundi. Mrs. Frances Trollope. 1834. The poem focuses on the burial of Byron's daughter in the Harrow church according to Byron's wishes. Murray had strict instructions, which he was unable to carry out. The Harrow Men, determined that a tablet should not be erected to show her resting place, fear that the young men who attend the boarding school would think it proper to foster bastards. Mrs. Trollope praises Byron profusely. She has an extensive knowledge of Harrow and the men who run that venerable institution, but doesn't have too many kind words for any of them. Her son's comments on her poetry are also included in the text. He seems to think her adulation somewhat overdone and slightly misplaced.

Lodore. Mary Shelley. 1835. In many of Mary Shelley's novels, Byron functions as the template that Shelley molds and refashions. Fitzhenry is the Byronic character here. In her introduction to this text, Lisa Vargo writes: "Lodore is important for what it tells about Shelley's desire to remain true to Jacobin ideals of the decade of her birth, and for what it illustrates about ideological perspectives on women as the middle class gained hegemony during the 1830s" (29).

The Private Life and Amours of Lord Byron. J. Mitford. 1836. A somewhat specious and fanciful novel, in which the author either misremembers or doesn't know specific details from Byron's biographies. For instance, Byron meets Caroline Lamb much earlier in his life and he has an ongoing relationship with William Lamb; at the end of the novel, Teresa Guiccioli is with Byron in Greece when he dies, soothing and comforting him until he breathes his last. Allegedly a traveling companion of Lord Byron, the narrator writes himself into Byron's biography. Many of the amours listed here were one-night stands or brief trysts that the author draws out into elaborate and satisfying relationships that were particularly meaningful to Byron at the time and that he would remember forever. No mention exists of the men with whom Byron had relationships. He appears here as staunchly heterosexual, with little discourse with men on any level except to cuckold them by sleeping with their wives. A number of elaborate descriptions both of Byron's physical appearance and his genius appear within the text.

Venetia. Benjamin Disraeli. 1837. In this novel, the Byronic character is Lord Plantagenet Cadurcis. The story depicts his futile desire to marry Venetia, the daughter of Marmion Herbert, a poet in exile who combines qualities of both Byron and Shelley. Venetia's mother dislikes her husband and his poetry, and detests Cadurcis for his resemblance to Marmion. The scene moves from the country to London to Italy, where Venetia finally meets her father briefly. Cadurcis and Marmion become fast friends, but quickly drown in a boating accident, alluding perhaps to Shelley's own demise. Venetia eventually marries George, the next Lord Cadurcis. Disraeli incorporates much of Byron's biography into the text. Lady Cadurcis resembles Byron's mother Catherine. They have a tumultuous relationship, although she dies while Cadurcis is still quite young. Lady Anabel bears a resemblance to Annabella Milbanke in some ways, and Venetia might be said to prefigure an adult Ada. Lord Cadurcis is definitely Byron but Marmion Herbert also has Byronic traits, while at the same time evoking images of Shelley. A fluid biography, with no one particular image or character representing what it seems to at the outset.

Falkner: A Novel. Mary Shelley. 1837. Yet another novel where Shelley uses Byron as a template for her male protagonist. Falkner, a former exile who returns to his native country, finds it difficult to assimilate once more into Regency England. He attempts to kidnap Alithea Rivers, a former love, who during his long absence has married. Much like a nymph in ancient Greek mythology fleeing from a lusty God, she drowns trying to escape from him. A guilt-ridden Falkner fights, like Byron, in the Greek War for independence in order to assuage his culpability and to pursue an honorable death. Elizabeth, his adopted daughter and the heroine of the novel, saves him. He becomes both penitent and to some extent idealistic. As such, Mary Shelley alters and improves Byron's image by reforming her Falkner.

Published @ RC

January 2006

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