Dr. Ashley Bender
10 Oct 2014
Lord George Gordon Byron Research Guide
Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) lived a difficult childhood, but grew up to write some of the Romantic era’s best known works that continue to be read and studied 200 years later. The son of Captain John Byron and his second wife Catherine, Byron was born 22 January 1788 in London (McGann). Byron’s childhood was marred by his father’s extensive debts that weren’t relieved by the captain’s death or by Byron’s inherited title of the sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale, an estate that was worn down and debt ridden. Byron also had a congenital deformed right foot that plagued him until he was financially able to have to receive treatment in 1799. Byron considered his deformed foot “as the mark of satanic connection, referring to himself as le diable boiteux, the lame devil” (Eisler 13). These childhood difficulties didn’t prevent Byron from his life experiences, whether it was traveling the world or physical activities such as swimming. Both of these were combined when in 1810 he traveled to Constantinople and retraced Leander’s swimming route on the Hellesport (McGann).
Byron’s poetry career began during his time at Cambridge, which he attended sporadically throughout his young adult years. His first book of poetry was Fugitive Pieces, which he published privately. At Cambridge, he met his lifelong friend John Cam Hobhouse, who traveled Europe with Byron leading to the writing of Byron’s first major work, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Byron continued to write poetry as he became involved in multiple romantic relationships, including an affairs with married women like Lady Caroline Lamb, who famously described Byron as “Mad, bad and dangerous to know” (McGann). Byron scholar Jerome McGann suggests the same comments were given about Lady Lamb.
|Phillips, Thomas. “George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron.”|
Replica photo of Oil on Canvas.
The National Portrait Gallery. www.ngp.org/uk. Web. 30 Oct 2014.
In 1813, Byron reconnected with his half-sister Augusta. Rumors of an incestual relationship with Augusta persisted, but McGann (citing Byron biographer Leslie Marchand) say there is little legal evidence to support the claim. In 1815, the poet married Annabella Milbanke and the relationship was short-lived, but it did lead to a daughter, Augusta (Ada). Annabella and Byron became legally separated in 1816 and Byron never saw them again. After their separation, Byron had a brief affair with Claire Clairmont during a visit with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelly in Geneva. That union produced a daughter (Clara) Allegra Biron (McGann), but she died at the age of five.
After Geneva, Byron moved to Italy, where had more extramarital affairs and eventually settled into a long-term relationship with the married Teresa Guiccoli. While in Italy, his finances significantly improved and he was able to pay off debts that had plagued him most of his life. He also wrote Don Juan, a mock epic, which was considered so risqué that his longtime publisher was hesitant to publish, settling on printing it without naming an author or publisher. Despite its early controversy, modern scholars consider Don Juan one of Byron’s finest works. Byron spent most of the rest of life in Italy, until he decided to join with a group that was fighting for Greece’s independence. Byron traveled to Greece in February 1824, soon became ill and died 10 April 1824.
The Byronic hero, both a character used in his works and a public perception of the poet himself, remains part of the poet’s legacy. In defining Byronism, scholar William Harmon says that Byron created a persona that was “a model of the mysteriously brooding, bitter, vaguely northern loner, sexually polymorphous, reckless and doomed, and always dangerous” (Harmon 70). Among the influences for the Byronic hero was Milton’s depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost. That influence was one of the reason’s that Byron’s contemporary Robert Southey called Byron a participant in the “Satanic School of Poetry” (McGann). Despite Southey’s criticism, the Byronic hero remains an enduring character type in literature and the movies with examples such as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Rochester in Jane Eyre, Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, and film noir detectives (Longman).
“’Manfred and its Time’: The Byronic Hero.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature Vol. 2A, 5th Ed. Ed. David Marosch, Kevin J.H. Dettmar, Susan Wolfson, Peter Manning, and Amelia Klein. Boston, et al.: Pearson, 2012. p 747-748. Print.
Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Food of Fame. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. Print.
Harmon, William. A Handbook to Literature, 12th ed. Boston, et al: Longman, 2012. Print.
McGann, Jerome. “Byron, George Gordon Noel.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford U Press, 2004-14. Web. 13 Oct 2014.
Dennis, Ian. Lord Byron and the History of Desire. Newark: U of Delaware Press, 2009. Print.
In Lord Byron and the History of Desire, Ian Dennis argues Lord Byron used desire in his works as a means to explore identity. Byron’s works provide an understanding of one’s own desire as a sort of freedom from social constrictions, whereas unrecognized desire leads to victimhood. Using the work of philosophers Eric Gans and Rene Girard, Dennis defines desire as subjects who are longing to imitate models, which he calls mimetic desire. This mimetic desire is the thread he uses to connect Byron’s works through their characters, behaviors, or locations. He suggests Bryon’s use of mimetic desire shows the poet’s insight into the construction of identities, both of those who desire to emulate models and those who are resistant to the models created in the poet’s works. Each of these types of desires manifests in different characters in the books and sometimes helps the poet’s audiences identify their own desires.
Dennis examines mimetic desire through chapters focusing on specific Byron works, devoting chapters to Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the Eastern Tales, “Prometheus” and “The Prisoner of Chillon,” Manfred, Cain, and two chapters to Don Juan. For Child Harold’s Pilgrimage, Dennis says that the travel narrative takes readers on a virtual journey, allowing the audience to imitate the desire of experiencing travel (32). The identities of characters become further entangled in the Eastern Tales, The Gaior, Bride of Abydos, and The Corsair, which suggests that love triangles end in bloody conflict creating a person who is both a hero and a victim because the victors in those triangles never receive the love of the person whose affection they were trying to win (67). “Prometheus” and “The Prisoner of Chillon” represent what Dennis calls “metaphysical desire,” where there isn’t desire to emulate another, rather desire is internalized and focused on oneself (97). This same metaphysical desire can be seen in Manfred, who resists the influence of outsiders and focuses on his internal struggle (129).
Cain takes this internal desire and focuses on a desire for autonomy, which Satan exploits and used to control Cain. For Cain, “ … all identity and differentiation are submerged in the violent panic of proliferating mimetic desire” (145). Desire therefore takes control and erases identity. Dennis makes a similar case about the desire of autonomy over lack of control through the example of the marketplace in one of the two chapters on Don Juan. The loss of autonomy is the source of humor in Don Juan, which creates models and subjects (159). Part of that humor is the mocking of female desire, which shows how male and female desires are similar (170). In his second chapter in Don Juan, Dennis argues that Byron uses irony to explain how that awareness of the desire in oneself and others is a form of freedom (207). In the conclusion, Dennis suggests that Byron recognized that knowledge of desire was a freeing force and can affect every aspect of life (234).
Dennis’s theoretical explanations of desire and its origins is necessary to understanding its role in Byron’s work, but the book is often weighed down by those same theories. For example, his interchanging of the idea of metaphysical desire and mimetic desire is sometimes muddied, making it difficult to understand the overall theme about desire. Despite those shortcomings, the discussion of identity and how Byron shaped identities is the most salient in the book. As Byron is so closely associated with the “hero” that he created, an examination of how the poet’s constructed identities remain relevant. The idea that desire connects Byron’s works makes this argument seem even stronger. Dennis’s book could enlighten research on individualism and emotional elements of the Romantic poet’s work.
Selected editions of Byron’s work
Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann, seven volumes. Oxford: Clarendon Press/New York: Oxford University Press, 1980-1993.
Byron's Letters & Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand, 13 volumes. London: John Murray, 1973-1994.
The Complete Miscellaneous Prose, ed. Andrew Nicholson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.
For more information on Byron’s original works, including publication dates and publisher information, go to the Dictionary of Literary Biography.
Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Food of Fame. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. Print.
John Galt, The Life of Lord Byron. London: Colburn & Bentley, 1830.
Marchand, Leslie A. Byron: A Biography, 3 volumes released in 1957, combined into one volume, Byron: A Portrait, in 1970.
The Byron Journal, published by The Byron Society (http://www.thebyronsociety.com), is available through Project Muse at TWU’s library site. The titles of articles in the most recent issue, 42:1 (2014), are:
- “ ‘Our Mixed Essence’: Manfred’s Ecological Turn” by J. Andrew Hubbell
- “Mischievous Effects: Byron and Illegitimate Publication” By Jason Kolkey
- “P. L. Møller: Kierkegaard’s Byronic Adversary” By Troy Wellington Smith
- “‘A Strange Summer Interlude’: Notes on a Lost Plaque” By Howard Davies
- “Three New Letters to Byron” by Peter Cochran
Selected scholarly books on Byron
Bond, Geoffrey. Lord Byron’s Best Friends, from Bulldogs to Boatswain & Beyond. By Geoffrey Bond. [n.p. UK] Nick McCann Associates Ltd, 2013.
The Cambridge Companion to Byron. Ed. Drummon Bone. Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2004.
Cochran, Peter. Aspects of Byron's Don Juan. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2013.
---. Byron and Bob: Lord Byron's Relationship with Robert Southey. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.
---. Byron and Hobby-O: Lord Byron's Relationship with John Cam Hobhouse. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.
Goode, Clement Tyson. George Gordon, Lord Byron: A Comprehensive, Annotated Research Bibliography of Secondary Materials in English, 1973-1994. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 1997.
Hopps, Gavin. Byron’s Ghosts: The Spectral, the Spiritual and the Supernatural. Ed. Hopps. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2013.
Howe, Anthony. Byron and the Forms of Thought. Liverpool, England: Liverpool UP, 2013.
Marchand, Leslie A. Marchand. Byron’s Poetry: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard U Press, 1968.
McGann, Jerome. Byron and Romanticism. Ed. James Soderholm. Cambridge, Cambridge U Press, 2002.
Pomarè, Carla. Byron and the Discourses of History. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2013.
Stabler, Jane. Byron. Ed. Stabler. London and New York: Longman, 1998. Print.
Selected scholarly articles from the past five years
Bari, Shahidha. "Listening for Leila: The Re-Direction of Desire in Byron's The Giaour." European Romantic Review 24.6 (2013): 699-721. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Bernhard Jackson, Emily A. “Swimmers, Trimmers, and Jacks of all Trades: Byron's Paradoxical Struggle for Poetic Dominance.” European Romantic Review 22.6 (2011): 833-45. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Bertonèche, Caroline. “Lord Byron's Eccentricities.” In and Out: Eccentricity in Britain. Eds. Sophie Aymes-Stokes and Laurent Mellet. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2012. 265-275. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Beyers, Chris. “Byron.” Edgar Allen Poe in Context. Ed. Kevin J. Hayes. Cambridge, England: Cambridge UP, 2013. 251-259. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Borushko, Matthew C. “History, Historicism, and Agency at Byron's Ismail.” ELH 81.1 (2014): 269-97. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Britton, Jeanne M. “Written on the Brow: Character, Narrative, and the Face in Byron and Austen.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 34.5 (2012): 517-31. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Callaghan, Madeleine. “The Poetics of Perception in Southey's the Curse of Kehama and Byron's The Giaour.” Wordsworth Circle 42.1 (2011): 38-41. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Camilleri, Anna. “Byron's Arabesque.” Charles Lamb Bulletin 155 (2012): 73-83. Web.
Chatsiou, Ourania. “Lord Byron: Paratext and Poetics.” Modern Language Review 109.3 (2014): 640. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Chien, Jui-Pi. “Matthew Arnold's Reception of Hippolyte Taine: Lord Byron as ‘Touchstone.’” NTU Studies in Language and Literature 27 (2012): 25-46. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Cochran, Peter. “The Phantom Byron Book Sale Catalogue.” Byron Journal 41.1 (2013): 49-55. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Cohen-Vrignaud, Gerard. “Byron and Oriental Love.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 68.1 (2013): 1-32. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Crisafulli, Lilla Maria. “Poetry as Thought and Action: Mazzini's Reflections on Byron.” History of European Ideas 38.3 (2012): 387-98. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. “‘Rappaccini's Daughter’ and a Lyric by Byron.” Notes and Queries 61 (259).1 (2014): 71-3. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Elfenbein, Andrew. “How to Analyze a Correspondence: The Example of Byron and Murray.” European Romantic Review 22.3 (2011): 347-55. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Ennis, Daniel J. “Byron in Ravenna: Laureate of Reform.” European Romantic Review 22.5 (2011): 601-23. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Falloon, Anne. “Byron's Week in Middleton.” Byron Journal 41.1 (2013): 15-25. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Fleming, Anne. “Byron and Montaigne.” Byron Journal 37.1 (2009): 33-42. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Franson, Craig. “‘Those Suspended Pangs’: Romantic Reviewers and the Agony of Byron's Mazeppa.” European Romantic Review 23.6 (2012): 727-43. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Frye, Lowell T. “Carlyle and Byron: Anxiety, Influence and the Choice of Inheritance.” Carlyle Studies Annual 27 (2011): 231-9. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Giles, Paul. “Romanticism's Antipodean Spectres: Don Juan and the Transgression of Space and Time.” European Romantic Review 25.3 (2014): 365-83. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Hegele, Arden. “Lord Byron, Literary Detective: The Recovery of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Long-Lost Venetian Letters.” Byron Journal 39.1 (2011): 35-44. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Hurst, Mary. “Byron's Catholic Confessions.” Byron Journal 40.1 (2012): 29-40. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Lansdown, Richard, and W. A. Speck. “Byron and Disraeli: The Mediterranean Tours.” Wordsworth Circle 43.2 (2012): 106-13. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Llewellyn, Tanya. “ ‘The Fiery Imagination’: Charlotte Brontë, the Arabian Nights and Byron's Turkish Tales.” Brontë Studies: The Journal of the Brontë Society 37.3 (2012): 216-26. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Luijk, Ruben van. “Sex, Science, and Liberty: The Resurrection of Satan in Nineteenth-Century (Counter) Culture.” The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity. Eds. Per Faxneld and Jesper Aagaard Petersen. Oxford, England: Oxford UP, 2013. 41-52. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Minta, Stephen. “Letters to Lord Byron.” Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 45 (2007). Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Mozer, Hadley J. “‘Ozymandias,’ Or De Casibus Lord Byron: Literary Celebrity on the Rocks.” European Romantic Review 21.6 (2010): 727-49. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
O'Connell, Mary. “‘[T]He Natural Antipathy of Author & Bookseller’: Byron and John Murray.” Byron Journal 41.2 (2013): 159-72. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
O'Neill, Michael. “‘Without a Sigh He Left’: Byron's Poetry of Departure in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Cantos I and II.” Byron Journal 41.2 (2013): 115-25. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Peterfreund, Stuart. “Taste, Byron's Cookbook, and the Secret Ingredients in the English Cantos of Don Juan.” European Romantic Review 23.6 (2012): 745-64. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Pielak, Chase. “Shady Beasts: Animal Transgression and Identity in Byron, Woody Allen, and Eminem.” Popular Culture Review 25.1 (2013): 83-96. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Rawes, Alan. “Byron's Romantic Calvinism.” Byron Journal 40.2 (2012): 129-41. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Shears, Jonathon. “‘D----d Corkscrew Staircases’: Byron’s Hangovers.” Byron Journal 40.1 (2012): 1-15. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Shinabargar, Scott. “Unexorcised Conscience: The Byronic Complex of Maldoror.” Intertexts 17.1-2 (2013): 113-28. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Simpson, Michael. “On Byron's Famous Fanes: Ruined Temples and Reformed Theatres.” Byron Journal 41.2 (2013): 145-57. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Slykhuis, Matt. “Beautifully Damned: Imagination, Revelation, and Exile in Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ and Byron’s Cain: A Mystery.” Religion in the Age of Enlightenment 3 (2012): 189-228. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Stansbury, Heather. “Bound by Blood: Incestuous Desire in the Works of Byron.” Byron Journal 40.1 (2012): 17-28. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Stauffer, Andrew. “Poetry, Romanticism, and the Practice of Nineteenth-Century Books.” Nineteenth-Century Contexts 34.5 (2012): 411-26. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Taylor, Anya. “Catherine the Great: Coleridge, Byron, and Erotic Politics on the Eastern Front.” Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 61 (2012). Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Taylor, David Francis. “Byron, Sheridan, and the Afterlife of Eloquence.” Review of English Studies 65.270 (2014): 474-94. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
Webb, Timothy. “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage: Annotating the Second Canto.” Byron Journal 41.2 (2013): 127-43. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
White, Adam. “Identity in Place: Lord Byron, John Clare and Lyric Poetry.” Byron Journal 40.2 (2012): 115-27. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
- International Association of Byron Societies: The site offers a timeline and biographical information, as well as an extensive listing of Byron’s works. It hosts conferences and offers some recommended readings. The website is http://www.internationalbyronsociety.org.
- Poetry Foundation page: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lord-byron
- BBC page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/byron_lord.shtml
- Biography.com page: http://www.biography.com/people/lord-byron-21124525
- Biography Documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usuxB9lOGUA
- Reading of “She Walks in Beauty” with text: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_zCOJOgd4U