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Leancă Daniela Luminița/An II /Sem II /ID/ RO-EN

Byron's strong personality reflected in his work

2. Considering that ‘autobiography’ represents ‘an unmediated and yet stabilizing


wholeness for the self’, what Romantic poet can be best legitimized by the ‘law of genre’ as
writing in the autobiographical mode? Support your assertion with revelatory examples of
poems.

Romantic Autobiography in England embraces that term as a pragmatic designation as it


examines the expanding spectrum and variety of autobiographical writing during the period. To
try to rigorously define the meaning or delimit the range of reference and denotation of
autobiography during the Romantic era would be futile, for it is everywhere—in the poetry and
in the prose, in the male and the female writers, in the canonical and the noncanonical ones.
As metamorphic genre, autobiography has consistently confounded critical attempts to
define it. Paul de Man famously concluded that “attempts at generic definition seem to founder
in questions that are both pointless and unanswerable”. And James Olney, the founding father of
American autobiography criticism, asserted a generation ago that autobiographies are “the most
elusive of literary documents,” insisting “that there is no way to bring autobiography to heel as
a literary genre with its own proper form, terminology, and observances”.
The most famous, scandalous, and widely read of the Romantic autobiographers was Lord
Byron, with his confessional alter ego, the Byronic hero (as we see him in Childe Harold,
Manfred or Don Juan) a spectacular pan-European phenomenon. The memoirs he wrote in Italy
would have been the mother lode of Romantic autobiography as a best-selling genre, had the
manuscript not been destroyed by his publisher and literary executors after his death. In
collusion with his public, Byron created Byronism, diffusing his sensational confessional
persona into the public sphere of print culture. The Romantic male self-fashioners had nowhere
near the meteoric appeal of the confessional Byron who mesmerized his contemporaries, though
De Quincey, whose artistic merits were not fully recognized until the twentieth century, gained
considerable notoriety in his confessional incarnation as the English Opium Eater.
Childe Harold from "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" became a vehicle for Byron's own beliefs
and ideas; indeed in the preface to canto four Byron acknowledges that there is little or no
difference between author and protagonist. According to Jerome Mc Gann, by masking himself
behind a literary artifice, Byron was able to express his view that "man's greatest tragedy is that
he can conceive of a perfection which he cannot attain".
The work provided the first example of the Byronic hero. The idea of the Byronic hero is
one that consists of many different characteristics. The hero must have a rather high level of
intelligence and perception as well as be able to easily adapt to new situations and use cunning
to his own gain. It is clear from this description that this hero is well-educated and by extension
is rather sophisticated in his style. Aside from the obvious charm and attractiveness that this
automatically creates, he struggles with his integrity, being prone to mood swings. Generally,
the hero has disrespect for certain figures of authority, thus creating the image of the Byronic
hero as an exile or an outcast, individual and independent from the common practices of
mankind:
“To fly from, need not be to hate, mankind:
All are not fit with them to stir and toil,
Nor is it discontent to keep the mind
Deep in its fountain, lest it over boil
In the hot throng, where we become the spoil
Of our infection, till too late and long
We may deplore and struggle with the coil,
In wretched interchange of wrong for wrong
Midst a contentious world, striving where none are strong. (III, LXIX, p. 66)
The hero also has a tendency to be arrogant and cynical, indulging in self-destructive
behaviour which leads to the need to seduce women. Although his sexual attraction through
being mysterious is rather helpful, it often gets the hero into trouble. Characters with the
qualities of the Byronic hero have appeared in novels, films and plays ever since.
“Childe Harold was he hight:—but whence his name
And lineage long, it suits me not to say;
…………………………………………….
Childe Harold basked him in the noontide sun,
Disporting there like any other fly,
Nor deemed before his little day was done
One blast might chill him into misery.”
The protagonist is called Childe Harold, “childe” being the title given to a young man
who is eligible for knighthood. Some critics criticized Byron for this title, noting how contrary
to the ideals of chivalry Harold behaves. Byron responded in his second preface to Childe
Harold that the past has been severely romanticized, and if his critics would review their
medieval history they would see how ungodly the characters of these “noble” knights really
were. Besides being historically accurate (in Byron’s view), the protagonist also offers to
literature an early version of Byron’s great contribution to drama and poetry, the Byronic hero:
“The observer of this landscape, Childe Harold, is the first and most striking representation of
the Byronic hero” (Mellown). Childe Harold makes his journey to escape the pain (and possibly
the consequences) of some unnamed sin committed in his homeland (England). He seeks respite
and distraction in the exotic landscapes of Europe; thus, the first two cantos are primarily
focused on poetic descriptions of the sights Childe Harold sees. Harold himself is almost
invisible in much of the work, being a character through whom the reader gains his point of
view, but who also does little to interact with the people or events described. This aloofness
would later become a staple of Byron’s melancholy heroes in such works as Don Juan and
Manfred. It doesn't matter how fascinating the places visited, if the protagonist is more
fascinated by his own ego. Byron excels both as an observer of himself and his surroundings,
and in combining each level of perception to enhance the other. He drops the mock-Tudor
diction and the posturing, and the feeble attempts at establishing Harold as an independent
persona. Byron the rigorous thinker "comes out" as himself – and his writing discovers fresh
nuance and depth as a result.
The poet, like Yeats, pursues "the quarrel with himself" in the company of an immortal
pantheon. (The poet visits the Coliseum in Greece). He has been brooding on personal betrayal,
a gamut of "mighty wrongs" and "petty perfidy". Now, as he resists his drive to self-pity, he
conjures a mysterious "dread power" that might perhaps relate to the "soul of my thought"
liberated by a meditation on artistic creation in Canto III (stanza VI). But, if artistic immortality
is on his mind, it is on an unnamed figure that his eye rests and lingers - the sculpture of the
dying Gaul, previously known as "The Dying Gladiator".
“ 'Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now.
What am I? Nothing: but not so art thou,
Soul of my thought! with whom I traverse earth,
Invisible but gazing, as I glow
Mix'd with the spirit, blended with thy birth,
And feeling still with thee in my crush'd feelings' dearth.”
The poet's emotional cycles harmonise more happily: hope and despair, emotion and
objectivity, balance each other out. Byron is a great Romantic poet, but this greatness owes
much to the Augustan quality of his intellect.
“Then stirs the feeling infinite, so felt
In solitude, where we are least alone.” underline loneliness/solitude of poet.
“I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me: and to me
High mountains are a feeling, but the hum of human cities torture.”
“Don Juan” is a mock epic in that its protagonist—while often heroic (as in the battle of
Ismail in Canto VIII)—is in fact naive and his adventures almost entirely the result of accident.
The tone of the poem is comic, which Byron accentuates with playful rhymes and—in
particular—incisive homonyms. Byron makes his satire of the classical epics clear in Canto I,
where he notes that “Most epic poets plunge ‘in medias res’” (1.6.41), but then states, “This is
the usual method, but not mine” (1.7.49) and then proceeds to tell the tale of Don Juan from the
very beginning: his birth. His dedication to Southey, Coleridge, and Wordsworth seems to be
some incisive critique of their discursive and verbose styles of writing.
The adventures of Don Juan themselves are poetic re-imaginings of Byron’s own
escapades and dysfunctional relationships with the women in his life. These make them of
interest not just as poetry but also as windows into Byron’s biography from his own point of
view. Byron retells the story of Don Juan with himself as the womanizer.
Can be Don Juan a review of Byron's life, pretending to come from Byron himself, who
leaves Juan slumbering in the arms of the frail Haidee and now "draws from himself." Byron is
variously called "Lord Harold," "Lord Beppo," and "Lord Squander."
Lord Byron’s dramatic poem, Manfred represents Byron’s vision of the Byronic hero, who
is seen superior to humans, but rejects the comfort brought to him by religious representatives.
The representational theme in this poem is the guilt he proclaims throughout and how death is
possibly is only solution. Manfred answers only to himself, and because of this he is the
instrument of his own destruction, fashioning a punishment for his unexplained guilt that far
exceeds any possible retribution imposed by human or religious authorities: “I feel the impulse
– yet I do not plunge; I see the peril – yet do not recede; And my brain reels – and yet my foot is
firm”.
Byron wrote this "metaphysical drama", as he called it, after his marriage failed in scandal
and an incestuous affair between Byron and his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. Attacked by the
press and ostracised by London society, Byron fled England. Because Manfred was written
immediately after this, and because it regards a main character tortured by his own sense of
guilt for an unmentionable offence, some critics consider it to be autobiographical, or even
confessional. The unnamed but forbidden nature of Manfred's relationship to Astarte is believed
to represent Byron's relationship with his half-sister Augusta:
“I have called on thee in the still night,
Startled the slumbering birds from the hushed boughs,
And woke the mountain wolves, and made the caves
Acquainted with thy vainly echoed name . . .
I have out watched the stars,
And gazed o'er heaven in vain in search of thee
I have wandered o'er the earth,
And never found thy likeness . . .” (II, IV, 135- 45, pp. 147-48)
At the summit of Jungfrau the Destinies discuss Manfred’s plight, observing that “his
aspirations/ Have been beyond the dwellers of the earth.” They cannot help him because they
can only ratify what he has learned: “Knowledge is not happiness.”
One reason why the Byronic hero exiles himself from society is that his consciousness
creates the world as a mirror of his own hellish mind; the world is an interior space where all is
decimated of meaning. He restlessly circles this world of his own making, this infinite
mindscape. The world can provide no relief or change because of the immutable script of his
own mind. His thoughts taint ”all time”, “all place”, and make all of Nature black like his own
heart.
Byron seems to be claiming that it is we alone who choose and create our destiny, and that
indeed we have the opportunity to create a richer, fuller life for ourselves in this world, if we
have the necessary honesty and bravery, and if we have the strength and temerity to dare.
Even if the masterpiece “The Prelude” of Wordsworth represent male autobiographical, or
others writers like: De Quincey, Mary Shelley, Mary Robinson, Dorothy Wordsworth, and
Mary Hays also mark autobiographical writing, I think that Byron is greatest of all romantics.

Bibliography:

1. Vincent Walsh, “THE REAL SLIM SHADY: DECIPHERING BYRON'S MANFRED”


2. McVeigh, Daniel M. Manfred's Curse.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-190022
(1982): 601-12;
3. Richardson, Alan. “The Dangers of Sympathy: Sibling Incest in English Romantic
Poetry.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 25 (1985): 737-54;
4. Soderholm, James. “Byronic Confession.” Byromania: Portraits of the Artist in
Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Culture. Ed. Frances Wilson. New York:
McMillan, 1999. 184-94;
5. Monique R. Morgan, “Narrative means, temporality in the Nineteenth-Century
British Long Poem”, Ed. University Press Columbus, 2009
6. Stelzig, Eugene. “A Cultural Tourist in Romantic Germany: Henry Crabb Robinson
as Nineteenth-Century Life Writer.” Biography 28.4 (Fall 2005): 515–33.
(Romantic Autobiography In England: Exploring Its Range and Variety)

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