jump to navigation

Paper: part 3. April 22, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Childe Harold, Criticism, Hero , comments closed

 This is it! I don’t know if it’s that good, but at least it’s almost complete! Now, for editing!


iii. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: the evolution of the Byronic hero


            The first half of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was published in 1812; the two cantos describing a brooding young gentleman’s voyage through Spain and Greece brought Byron immediate success and international fame (McCarthy *****). Five years later and matured by experience, Byron resumed Harold’s journey down the Rhine and into the Swiss Alps; by the time he published Canto IV in 1818, he had admitted reluctantly that there was no distinction between the poet and the pilgrim (Byron 146). The gradual conflation of Byron with Harold marks a change in his poetic style: more personal ruminations flow into the rhythm of the poem and Byron allows himself passionate digressions on his own opinions of history.

At the beginning of the pilgrimage, Byron gives his brooding, psychologically immature hero two options: “he shall calm his breast, or learn experience sage” (stanza XXVIII, line *****). Though Harold’s journey does not have a specific destination in mind, Byron has planned for his hero to grow into a person who is not controlled by “the harlot and the bowl” (line *****). Yet, in Cantos I and II, Byron fails dramatically to accomplish this goal for two important reasons. First, he had not completed his conceptualization of the hero—as a result, Cantos I and II present many problems without offering emotional or actual resolution for either Harold or Byron. Second, Byron had not confronted the fact that he himself wanted to be the hero of the pilgrimage. However, by the end of Canto II, the initial personality of Harold has almost entirely given way to the thoughts and maturation of Byron himself. In the first half of the pilgrimage, Byron begins an exploration of the world and of the world’s history that changes his philosophy of heroism for the rest of his poetic career.

            In Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage—and throughout his entire career—Byron is looking for a hero. Mozer examines the first four stanzas of Don Juan and remarks on Byron’s mimicry of advertisement language (*****). In the pilgrimage, however, Byron’s call for heroism is prompted often by outrage at history, evident both in his poetry and in his comments. In stanza XXXVI of Canto I, after traveling through Spain, Byron writes, “Awake, ye sons of Spain! awake! advance! / Lo! Chivalry, your ancient goddess cries!” (lines *****). Similarly, in Canto II, he cries, “Ancient of days! august Athena! where / Where are thy men of might? thy grand in soul? / … Sons of the morning,[1] rise! Approach you here!” (lines *****, 19). In both Spain and Greece, he personifies the past as goddesses rendered powerless by the passage of time. In each, he calls specifically to the people of that region to defend their land. Byron’s desire for both Spain and Greece is similar to Manfred’s desire for Astarte: both believe the present should resemble the past, and both desires are futile. By the end of Canto II, Byron has experienced much of modern Greece, but he is still enraptured with the ideal of the ancient and continues to plea for its rescue: “when / Can man its shatter’d splendour renovate, / Recall its virtues back, and vanquish Time and Fate?” (lines 798-800). However, he does acknowledge that time must continue, and beckons to it, “Roll on, vain days! full reckless may ye flow” (line 924): Byron begins to acknowledge that time cannot reverse, and that every moment brings him further away from the ideal past.

            As mentioned earlier, Byron himself wished to answer the call for heroism. McGann claims that “Byron interiorizes the [travelogue] form so drastically that it mutates into a drama of personal history. The historical context in which the personal record is set is turned into a reflection of Byron’s own psychological condition” (Byron 1026). Peter Thorslev, in his analysis of the Byronic hero throughout the poet’s career, identifies Childe Harold as an amalgamation of traditional heroes (132), but later goes on to accuse Byron of being “not only too personal, but too petty and vindictive” (140). Phillip W. Martin, who himself addressed the first half of the pilgrimage in terms of its popular appeal, summed up the previous scholarship thusly: “Approving critics may not the perspicuity of the poem’s dark opinions, or the fascination of its psychology, while disapproving critics might censure the indulgence of high Romantic self-expression or dramatization” (77). Though opinions and methods differ, critics unfailingly return to Byron’s psychology and the disappearance of the Harold persona in the text.  

            This paper argues, instead, that Byron created Harold with a specific heroic persona in mind; the poet’s obsession with absorbed history eclipsed the fictional persona and replaced it with Byron’s. Thorslev isolates the Harold of Cantos I and II, saying “however many details of ancestry of biography he may have acquired from Byron’s personal life… [Harold] is a compound of many distinct and even disparate elements of [other] heroes” (132). The poem, with its genre-schizophrenia, supports this claim. Byron begins the poem in media res and with an invocation to the muse, which mimics Greek epic. The appellation of “childe” implies chivalric tradition with “Love, Honour, and so forth” (Byron *****). Harold himself takes deep pleasure in scenic vistas, which points towards a romantic, “child of nature” tradition (Thorslev 132). Byron also constructs Harold as a bacchanal with few concerns beyond women and wine. Though Harold as an Englishman might understand and consider the Convention at Cintra (stanzas *****), it is unlikely that he would ruminate upon the events during eighth-century Spain allowing Moors to invade (canto I, line 389) or concern himself with the Spanish prime minister Godoy. Canto II, set in Greece, has even more Byron-specific moments, and his personal outrage in this canto is far more tangible than in the first. In his notes, Byron says, “Never did the littleness of man, and the vanity of his very best virtues, of patriotism to exalt, and of valour to defend his country, appear more conspicuous in the record of what Athens was, and the certainty of what she is now” (Byron 85). Reminiscences on historical events are the most obvious moments where the poet intercedes on the pilgrim’s travels. Though Harold absorbs the experience of seeing the world, Byron supplies his protagonist with a historical commentary which eventually overwhelms—and later becomes a part of—the hero. Thus, because it is of utmost importance to Byron, absorbed history comes to the fore in Harold’s later development.

            In the earlier cantos, Byron’s personal mourning persists to an unending extreme. In Canto I, he addresses the dead John Wingfield and claims, “unavailing woe / Bursts from my heart” (lines 927-8) and that he will mourn until his “frail frame return to whence it rose, / And mourn’d and mourner lie united in repose” (lines 943-4). This funereal language is very reminiscent of the Giaour’s, indicating a grief process that ends only at death. In Canto III, however, Byron revises his process of grief:

Yet must I think less wildly:—I have thought

Too long and darkly,


Yet I am changed; though still enough the same

In strength to bear what time can not abate,

And feed on bitter fruits without accusing Fate. (lines 54-63)

Where in the first half of the pilgrimage, he acknowledged that time must move, here he understands that time heals nothing; human strength bears the weight of human experience. Byron blames his previous melancholy on his education, claiming that he was “untaught in youth my heart to tame” (Canto III, line 51)—he would return to the emotional education of youths in Don Juan. Five stanzas later, Byron transmits his new emotional maturity to Harold, who “would not yield dominion of his mind / To spirits against whom his own rebelled” (lines 105-6). In addition, Harold’s heart “could find / A life within itself, to breathe without mankind” (lines 107-8). One year after the composition of Canto III, Byron gives these same conclusions to Manfred, directly echoing the rebellion against external forces as well as the “life within,” a though which he would perfect in Cain. Here, Byron and Harold triumph over their emotional natures, and in the rest of Canto III, the Harold persona disappears.

            At the end of Canto III, Byron says, “I have not loved the world, nor the world me,— / But let us part fair foes;” (lines 1058-9), and in Canto IV, traveling through Italy, he evinces the reconciliation between his personal life and his vehement historical outrage. Upon visiting the Coliseum, Byron’s vivid historical imagination fills the stadium with a crowd, then a gladiator who “Consents to death, but conquers agony” (line 1254), a shortened version of the heroic success. McGann argues that the Coliseum passage the beginning of a movement away from eye-for-an-eye justice, in which “history is pictured as a process in which each age bequeaths to the next its ‘inborn tyranny,’ its ‘hereditary rage’” (43). He goes on to suggest that Byron does not resolve this cycle of death for death until the story of the Caritas Romana, in which punishment for tyranny is replaced by love and forgiveness, thus ending cyclic process (46).

However, this paper argues that the gladiator is not representative of a brutal justice, but a reenactment of the earlier sentiments of the first two cantos balanced with a more neutral understanding of time. When the gladiator dies, Byron cries, “Shall he expire / And unavenged?— Arise! ye Goths, and glut your ire!” (lines 1268-9), an echo of the nationalistic calls to arms in Spain and Greece. But by now, Byron has universalized his sense of heroism; he has constructed the Gothic warrior as metonymy for the arena and for Rome, evident in the subsequent stanzas describing the Coliseum. The arena in its ruin “will not bear the brightness of the day” (line 1286), though it is a central figure for the reconstruction of Rome. By contrast, at night, “the stars twinkle through the loops of time / … / The garland-forst, which the grey walls wear, / Like laurels on the bald first Caesar’s head” (lines 1290-3). Similarly, the dying gladiator hears the roar of the crowd, “but he heeded it not—his eyes / Were with his heart, and that was far away” (lines 1261-2). Byron creates two sets of parallel present circumstances—the gladiator killed by Rome, and the Coliseum decayed by man—and shows how each can look to past happiness and glory and ignore their agony. The present does not disappear, but – viewed simultaneously with the knowledge of history – can be endured.

            Harold and Byron progressed simultaneously through Europe, accumulating both personal experience and historical knowledge. After Canto III, however, Byron never returned to England, and perhaps never intended to: he wrote his beloved half-sister Augusta, “we shall not meet again for some time, at all events – if ever” (McCarthy 277). This lent not only universality to his later poetry but also a distinct sense of homelessness. Deborah Lutz writes thoughtfully on the Byronic hero’s exile, saying, “Voyaging is tragic… [The Byronic hero’s] dark thoughtfulness keeps him moving, deferring the possibility of settling, and of restfully stopping in a hometown, with intellectual closure and fully formed ideas” (25). Lutz, however, views the need for travel, the melancholy, and the distant possibility of bliss as a failure (27), whereas this paper argues that the decision of self-imposed exile is triumphant. Byron ends Harold’s pilgrimage with an ode to the ocean, unchanging though everything on land is subject to time. He concludes by entrusting himself to the ocean (line 1656), despite the danger and uncertainty it presents. He claims inspiration from Metella’s tomb, sitting by it and imagining himself on a boat which crashes against a shore:

And from the planks, far shattered o’er the rocks,

Built me a little bark of hope, once more

To battle with the ocean and the shocks

Of the loud breakers, and the ceaseless roar

Which rushes on the solitary shore

Where all lies foundered that was ever dear:

But could I gather from the wave-worn store

Enough for my rude boat, where should I steer?

There woos no home, nor hope, nor life, save what is here. (lines 937-45)

This is Byron’s resolution: to henceforth collect what he knows and what he has experienced around him and continue traveling. Byron himself, in the course of writing Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, enacts a heroic success, by accumulating the past, but choosing to live constantly in the present.

[1] Jerome McGann identifies these as Levantines (Byron 1028).

Paper: part 2. April 18, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Criticism, Dramatic Plays, Hero , comments closed

Two beers and several hours of hard labor later…


ii. Heroic evidence in Manfred, The Giaour, and “Prometheus”

            The six years between the publications of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage cantos two and three were without a doubt the height of Byron’s popularity (McCarthy *****). In this intervening time, Byron refined his vision of the hero through poetry that spanned all of his travels. Though the poems written during this time period are starkly different in subject matter, they connect thematically through the trials of their heroes. Preceding a group of poems called The Turkish Tales, The Giaour contrasts Muslim Greece and Christian Venice. Nestled deep in the Swiss Alps, Manfred confronts supernatural and powerful spirits. “Prometheus” gives a Romantic voice to an ancient myth. Each of these poems has a hero who nearly destroys himself because of history, and the success or failure of the hero is contingent upon his reaction to the reconciliation of his past with his present. Using poems such as The Giaour, “Prometheus,” and Manfred, Byron sharpened his sense of the heroic to create his autobiographical reconciliation in the finale of Childe Harold.

            Byron summarizes the dissatisfaction of all of his heroes in the first monologue of Manfred. Though Manfred “live[s], and bear[s] / The aspect and the form of breathing men” (lines 7-8), he has somehow transcended humanity. Manfred’s words are the direct ancestor of Lucifer’s final speech; he proclaims his insomnia due to “a continuance of enduring thought” (line 4), and that his eyes “but close / To look within” (lines 6-7), presumably at an inner world that he cannot purge from his mind. Like Cain, Manfred draws from the same image of the trees in Eden in lines 10-12; though he knows much, the truth he knows brings only depression. Later in this passage, he lists his life’s accomplishments, only to dismiss them one by one: “But [they] avail[’d] not” (lines 17, 19, 21). Manfred has enormous earthly power: his sorcery can call spirits who can grant him “subjects, sovereignty, the power o’er earth” (Act I, lines 140-1) and he can visit the palace of Arimanes, based on the Principle of Darkness in Zoroastrianism (Byron 1038). However, Manfred has only one desire to ask of these powerful forces: “Forgetfulness” (Act I, line 279).

            The Giaour also desires forgetfulness. Because his “memory now is but the tomb / Of joys long dead,” he feels as if it would be “better to have died with those [joys] / Than bear a life of lingering woes” (lines 1000-3). At the beginning of each work, both the Giaour and Manfred are balancing memory with a poorly-maintained life. This balanced life appears most tangibly in the present suffering of Prometheus, who is chained to a rock with a vulture to eat his innards—knowing that he will live, but with a constant possibility of dying. Nevertheless, Byron makes the titan’s circumstances match his other heroes: Prometheus bears a “suffocating sense of woe, / Which speaks but in its loneliness” (lines 10-11), which directly echoes the line from The Giaour. The similar language in the three poems – with its almost oppressive emphasis on present suffering – shows a landscape of dissatisfaction that the Byronic hero is currently enduring, and has endured for an indefinite amount of time.

            Some traumatic event—usually involving a woman—is most often the source of the hero’s anguish. Cain has a personal history familiar to Western culture, but in The Giaour, Byron uses local eastern legends unfamiliar to his readership and explains the trope of the revenge tale in his footnotes (Byron *****). Several characters reveal the plot: the Giaour[1] fell in mutual love with Leila, a woman in the harem of the Sultan Hassan. As punishment, the sultan kills her, and the Giaour avenges her death by cutting Hassan’s head off. The Giaour describes the revenge in his first monologue: “My wrath is wreaked, the deed is done, / And now I go—but go alone” (lines 686-7), but the Giaour’s loneliness is not limited to the loss of Leila. Later, he claims to have “nothing more to love or hate, / No more with hope or pride elate” (lines 988-9). Frederick Garber, in his essay on doubling in Byronic heroism claims that “the Giaour is stuck with Hassan, carrying his enemy around with him though they have long since literally unlinked” (236). The Giaour therefore mourns not only the loss of his love, but he also loses an evenly matched enemy. Robert Gleckner, whose work tracks the editorial changes in The Giaour, shows that Byron continuously changed the manuscript to reinforce the heroic images of the Giaour and Hassan “as fallen, finite men, betrayed by their own passions, [who] destroy rather than create or sustain peace and love and beauty” (394). The Giaour shows a man entirely consumed by his personal history, who as a result has nothing left to feel for the world.

            Manfred’s personal history is much the same, but unlike the Giaour, his supernatural power allows him to attempt to communicate with his lost love Astarte. Before this, Manfred has only revealed that her death was his fault, “Not with my hand, but heart—which broke her heart— / It gazed on mine, and withered” (Act II, lines 118-119). Though much of his speech in his conversation with the witch is choppy, this passage is especially illustrative of the intentional ellipsis in Byron’s play. He never reveals fully the circumstances of Astarte’s death; his incomplete thoughts belie an incomplete understanding of the one human he feels close to. The pain of Manfred’s memory therefore must partially stem from a confused motivation—he seeks to change the past only when he is out of it, and does not recognize that humans are embedded in the present (Act II, lines 172-3). Even when he calls Astarte to the human plane, he asks only for mortality; he wants to have lived a life so happy that he will crave death, or as he says, “a future like the past” (Act II, line 130). This entrenchment in the past compels him to ask questions of her that a spirit cannot or will not answer; he does not merely want Astarte to speak to him, but to speak to him lovingly as she once did (Act II, line 155). By speaking to a shade, Manfred engages in a fruitless dialogue with history, not recognizing that he cannot change the past to resemble the present. This scene echoes book six of The Aeneid in which Aeneas calls out to Dido: “In vain he thus attempts her mind to move / With tears, and prayers, and late-repenting love” (http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext95/anide10.txt). Both heroes for that moment have forgotten that their respective loves are dead and cannot grant them mortal absolution. Unlike the Giaour, who loves Leila in both her past and present forms, Manfred is unable to see Astarte as anything but the woman he loved—he wants her spirit to love him as before, entirely missing that it was that very love which killed her. Manfred sees the past with detriment to the present.

            In these intermediary works, Byron is experimenting with what kinds of history an individual can absorb, and he struggles to balance his efforts with his own historical concerns. Before Astarte entered his life, Manfred was obsessed with the geological history of the Earth. Alone on the cliffs of the Jungfrau, Manfred comments on the beauty of the Alps and the planet in general, then expresses concern over the man’s ecological abuse, saying, “But we, who name ourselves its sovereigns, we / Half dust, half deity… make / a conflict of its elements (Act I, scene 2, lines 39-42). Manfred here regrets a long history of manipulating nature along with other “sovereigns,” by which Byron may mean either sorcerers or world leaders in general. Here, Byron introduces a paradox. Manfred connects himself to geological history, not only reveling in the Alps as they are today, but also by imagining a scene in which nature has conquered Rome (Act III, scene 4), an image that he returns to in Canto Four of Childe Harold. He addresses the moon, and claims that it “fill’d up, / As ‘twere, anew, the gaps of centuries; / Leaving that beautiful which still was so” (lines 34-6). And though he claims to be a misanthrope entirely throughout the play, he also acknowledges the greatness of past rulers, “the dead, but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule / Our spirits from their urns” (lines 40-1). On the other hand, Manfred himself is not faultless in this great historical movement: in act I, he demonstrates a great destructive power, when he casts a “tyrant-spell, / Which had its birthplace in… / The burning wreck of a demolished world” (Act I, scene 1, lines 43-5). Byron portrays two absorbed-historical conflicts: the tyrannical power of man and the time-altering power of nature. These two forces, until the end of the play, confuse Manfred and make him indecisive about his powers and his actions.

            At first glance, The Giaour and “Prometheus” have no equivalent absorbed history—in both poems, the hero himself is entirely consumed by his own past. However, Byron as poet was unable to abandon his own historical concerns and embedded them within his texts. The fisherman narrator of The Giaour extols Leila’s virtues at length between lines 473 -518. Gleckner, conscious of the changes between editions, notes that Byron inserts an “opening hymn to Greece” in the initial description of Leila (395), and based on the opening and the fisherman’s description suggests, “Byron carefully identities pristine Greece with an unstained Leila… But she is also present-day Greece, still lovely by a slave to Hassan, and the Giaour thus becomes an emancipator” (396). Both Jerome McGann and Hadley Mozer, examining Byron’s desire for a hero, have concluded that he conflates himself with the savior of Greece: “Five times, written in the margins of his [Byron’s] enthusiastic scrawl, the ambitious poet has answered [who will save Greece] with a single word: ‘Byron’” (Mozer 41). The convincing arguments of these various scholars suggest that the Giaour’s metaphorical historical concerns—the idea of the Western world somehow revenging an enslaved Greece—were Byron’s actual concerns; thus, Byron’s absorbed history of Greece becomes the Giaour’s.

            With “Prometheus,” Byron more clearly encourages humans to see its titular hero as “a symbol and a sign” (line 45) and through him absorb knowledge of the future. Like Prometheus, man is “part divine” (line 47), which echoes the “half deity, half dust” description from Manfred. Through the character Prometheus, Byron means to show that man too is chained to a rock, and can see “his wretchedness, and his resistance, / And his sad unallied existence” (lines 51-2). Similar apocalyptic images appear in the poems “Darkness” and The Vision of Judgment, and Byron alludes to the possibility of doom in human life. His preoccupation with a dark future, much like his obsession with the past glory of Greece, becomes a history that man must absorb and confront.

            Though Prometheus is unquestionably one of Byron’s heroes, he serves as an example of a failed hero, “a mighty lesson” (line 44) on how to live life. Here, Byron presents a possible solution to the troubles of the hero who can see and understand his fate and must live with it: death (line 59). But is death truly a solution for the Byronic hero? Though Cain and Prometheus are both cursed with life, Prometheus’s eternity is a “wretched gift” (line 24) from which he cannot escape, whereas Cain leaves of his own volition; Prometheus compares readily to Lucifer, two non-human heroes who are doomed to suffer helplessly. With The Giaour and Manfred however, Byron studies the ways in which the hero can die, and by contrast what manner of death makes a heroic success.

            Byron puts emphasis on the attempt at reconciliation by giving the narrative voice to The Giaour. The arrival of the Giaour, the affair, the murder and revenge—the plot of the poem—occupies 674 lines. Byron devotes almost as much attention to the Giaour’s reaction to his past, which takes the form of a deathbed confession to a monk in Venice. While Byron had written a dialogue between the monk and the Giaour, in his notes he says, “The monk’s sermon is omitted. It seems to have so little effect upon the patient, that it could have no hopes from the reader” (Byron 246). Byron suggests by his omission that the Giaour is, at this point, incapable of change. Stagnant and dying, the Giaour lives constantly in the past, and he tells the monk his feelings for Leila, “’Tis all too late—thou wert—thou art / The cherished madness of my heart!” (lines 1190-91).The mid-sentence correction from past to present evinces the Giaour’s inability to move beyond past events into his present circumstances. Here, Byron creates another poetic ellipsis; the reader cannot know how much time has passed since the events leading to Hassan’s murder. This gap in time does not show how the Giaour mourns, only the extent: until the day, the minute that he dies. Garber adds, “It is[sic] as though he cannot bear the thought of the vacancy that would occur if he were to thoroughly blot out the past” (230) – the hero fears that by not loving Leila, his former love for her will vanish. This is not to say that the Giaour needs to forget Leila to succeed; he is simply unable to live simultaneously with her memory and without her person.

            Unlike the Giaour, Manfred is able to enact a reconciliation. After his failed dialogue with history in the form of Astarte’s ghost, Manfred resolves to die. In addition to this resolution, however, he decides that his death will be controlled neither by heaven in the form of the abbot who comes to save him nor the spirit who tries to claim him for hell. To the demon, he declares,

What I have done is done; I bear within

A torture which could nothing gain from thine:


I have not been thy dupe, nor am thy prey—

But was my own destroyer, and will be

my own hereafter. (lines 127-8, 138-140)

The beginning of Manfred’s speech echoes the “inner world” of Cain, and Manfred recognizes fully at this point that the “outer world”—heaven, hell, and earth—have failed him. However, he has decided to bear the weight of memory alone, acknowledges it, and decides that his self-torment has been sufficient. The psychological agony he endured before was simply the pain of memory; after talking to Astarte herself and gaining no absolution, Manfred knows that if there is any forgiveness, it can only come from himself. Instead of forgiveness, however, he resolves to punish. Though the demon tries to convince Manfred that his life made him wretched, within the same line Manfred cries “Thou false fiend, thou liest!” (line 109). Manfred’s success, then, is in his reconciliation of his life of stagnation with his history of destruction and choosing death as punishment.

            By examining the works written between episodes of Childe Harold, the fruition of Byron’s hero becomes plain. From Prometheus to Manfred, he moves towards a message of hope, that it is possible for the Byronic hero to accept past trauma, even if the acceptance results in a self-imposed death sentence. Throughout this time period, Byron crafted a model that he could illustrate in clear terms with Cain. Before that point, however, he had to examine his own life with the same model. In Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Byron applies his experience with crafting a heroic message to himself and his life, and the hope that he discovers by the time he writes Manfred shines in the later cantos.

[1] Non-Muslim.

Jerome McGann and Paper Plans. April 15, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Criticism, Hero, Hilarious Things , comments closed

It’s safe to say that this weekend was pretty sweet. Among other things (not all of which were Byron-related),  I met Jerome McGann (which is about as Byron-related as you can get without being Ada Byron or syphilis.) We had a good hour-long conversation, and then he left.  Before I get to the work part of this post, though, I’d like to announce that if I get into grad school at UVA, Jerome McGann says he’ll be my advisor, which is pretty super-awesome.  So, yay me!  I think that’s enough ego-boosting.  (Though, I have to admit, in the face of a man whose books I’m using, I felt kind of like a blithering idiot. It was really intimidating, and the only thing that really put me at ease was saying more smart-sounding words.)

Because of the visit, I’ve decided to shift my focus. I’m still working with Cain as the model, so the title of the paper can — and will — stay. But now I’ve decided to spend all of part three of three talking strictly about Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; after describing my thesis to him, Dr. McGann pointed out a number of passages in canto 4 which not only illustrate the reconciliation described in canto 3, but do it with this really pretty metaphor, reminiscent of Tennyson’s Ulysses. I want to look at the construction of Harold in canti 1 and 2, and look harder at the Albanian section of 2; there’s some kind of resolution there, where Harold/Byron temporarily finds peace. I think the reason why might be because the Albanians don’t — in Byron’s mind — have a historical sanctity to violate. That’ll be a good discussion, I think.

Things I’ve decided not to do: Though it would be awesome, I don’t think I have the time to compare and contrast Byron’s hero with the epic hero and the pastoral hero. That means no genre studies, which means I can’t really bring in the cute moment in DJ canto 4, where Apollo plucks at Byron’s ear. Sorry, Virgil’s sixth eclogue! There’s no room for you! Also, I’ve decided to make Don Juan more a part of the conclusion, with only a short discussion of how Byron might have gotten DJ to the French Revolution and his death.

So there’s that.

Rest of the paper outline:

ii. Heroic evidence in Manfred, The Giaour, Beppo (if I get around to reading it), and “Prometheus”

– Present circumstances: things really suck. Manfred talks about his present, where we are with the Giaour, Prometheus chained to the rock.

– Different types of personal history: things used to really suck.

> The ellipsis with Astarte, and a one-sided dialogue with history.

> The events in the Giaour, and how they’re told.

> Prometheus and Zeus: ow, my precious insides (history or present circumstance?)

– Different types of absorbed history: even without me, things kind of sucked.

> Prometheus seeing visions of the future.

> What is in the Giaour? Will this even work?

> The awe-inspiring AWESOME POINT: Manfred and Geological history.

– Attempts at reconciliation

> “Prometheus”: introduction to death. Is death a victory? If it is for a demi-god, is it for man?

> The Giaour: failure. Death as submission to the pressures of memory.

> Manfred: success. Death on one’s own terms.

iii. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: the evolution of the Byronic hero


iv. Epilogue and Conclusions: Don Juan


I guess I should finish that outline some day.

Paper: part 1. April 15, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Dramatic Plays, Hero , comments closed


i. Cain as model

            Cain, published in 1921, is the penultimate work in this study, but it is an apt place to begin an examination of history. When the play begins, the world that Cain knows has had few events, and Byron focuses on the more dramatic of these: the creation of Earth and man, the loss of Paradise, and the introduction and threat of death. Cain initially constructs his identity based on this history, but his dissatisfaction with his present circumstance of laboring for his food prompts a curiosity when Lucifer offers him knowledge. “Let me but / be taught in the mystery of my being,” Cain entreats (Act I, lines 322-3), which begins the conflict of every Byronic hero: the acquisition and understanding of a greater history beyond the self and the ability (or inability) to reconcile history with the present. Because the history of man at this point is so short, Byron has a rare opportunity to clarify his philosophy about different types of experience, and thus Cain serves as a concise model for the Byronic hero’s attempt at historical reconciliation. 

            First, the Byronic hero must be dissatisfied. This discontent appears in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage as wanderlust, in Manfred as unwanted memory. At the beginning of the play, Cain is troubled by the threat of Death, which no one has yet experienced. In Act I, he questions first the need to labor for life (lines 64-5), then the desire for life at all (lines 110-115). Because of the intrusion of death, he begins to doubt God’s goodness: “I judge but by the fruits – and they are bitter – / Which I must feed on for a fault not mine” (lines 78-9). Though initially self-concerned, Cain begins to see death and its unfairness in his surroundings, particularly in young creatures such as his son (Act III, lines 22-5), the sacrificial lamb (Act III, line 266), and all future lambs and kids “which fed on milk, to be destroy’d in blood” (Act III, 293). Byron portrays a Cain who does not seek God’s favor, but struggles to understand why he should worship a God who creates life which leads only to death. Though this argument is not original to literature or theology, Cain’s encounter with Lucifer leads to a sophisticated consideration of personal experience versus external history.

            From dissatisfaction comes the quest for resolution. Unable or unwilling to worship like the rest of his family, Cain asks a series of questions until, as if prompted, Lucifer appears to answer them. Byron uses “Lucifer,” light-bringer, instead of Satan to emphasize the knowledge that the fallen angel bears. In one of their first exchanges, Lucifer tells Cain not of the world of man, but the worlds, plural, which God has created (Act I, line 149). Cain replies, “Thou speak’st to me of things which long have swum / In visions through my thought: I never could / Reconcile what I saw with what I heard” (Act I, lines 167-9). Even before Lucifer’s involvement in the heroic struggle, the story of the loss of Paradise is troublesome to Cain. The history that his parents have told him has already become a focus of obsession; Cain relates to Lucifer how he stood by the gates of an Eden that he never experienced (Act I, line 172). This “heard” or absorbed history (as this paper will call it) is the focus of the Byronic hero’s conflict. Though Cain’s absorbed history is limited at first to the beauty and loss of Eden, Lucifer exposes the hero to a greater past: not the history of the world, but the history of all worlds.

            Byron devotes Act II of the play to an explorative journey, in which Lucifer frames his discussion of history with physical settings meant to give Cain perspective on his own earthly existence. Act II, scene 1 is set in “The Abyss of Space.” Perhaps Byron’s Lucifer is not anticipating space-travel, but in this scene he makes plain his role as a bringer of knowledge: “I will show / What thou dar’st not deny,– the history / Of past – and present, and of future worlds” (lines *****). Byron intentionally sets his discussion of the future in space, far from the fertile ground of Paradise—indeed, Cain has to admit that he can’t identify the one spot of Eden on the blue circle of Earth (lines *****). Here, Lucifer reveals the future history of Cain and man, but Cain, still tortured by the unfairness of death, says,

Here let me die: for to give birth to those

Who can but suffer many years, and die—

Methinks it is merely propagating Death,

And multiplying murder. (lines *****)

The immortality of the soul is no comfort to Cain, who does not want to be a progenitor of generations of men whose only destiny is to die. Even the knowledge of the immortal soul does not ease his teleological despair (“immortal despite of me”, lines *****), and he seeks more knowledge from being nearer to death. This discussion of the future and fertility becomes a part of Cain’s absorbed history, which he considers in the final lines of the poem; he recognizes the irony that he has prevented Abel from fulfilling this destiny of propagation (Act III, lines *****). The case of Abel’s death shows clearly that Cain is unable to reconcile his outrage at flesh-sacrifice and his knowledge that Abel would have populated the earth—if only God had not willed his murder.

            Act II, scene 2 opens in Hades, where Lucifer gives Cain one final piece of history to absorb: the pre-Adamite past. Before this scene, Cain does not know that such a past exists. In Hell, Lucifer shows Cain the phantom of an ocean and “its inhabitants / The past Leviathans” (lines *****), and phantoms of earthly mammoths “ten-fold / in magnitude and terror” (lines *****). Byron populates a pre-human world with enormous beasts, but it is evident that he was influenced by the discoveries of his time. Georges Cuvier, a naturalist and paleontologist whom Byron refers to in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, had in the two decades previous to Cain’s publication identified the pterodactyl, the plesiosaur, and a giant mammoth (McCarthy 432). Additionally, Cuvier had proposed that reptiles, not mammals, had been the dominant fauna (Rudwick 158). Byron, who was clearly familiar with Cuvier’s work, seems to allude to this theory in the earlier scene; Cain asks if the seemingly infinite other worlds have serpents, and Lucifer replies, “Must no reptiles / Breathe, save the erect ones?” (lines *****). To Cain, the existence of these pre-human beasts is evidence that God is willing to destroy a world full of creations, including men. This history becomes a part of his chronicle of the world, and because – according to Lucifer – he is destined to populate Earth, he can see it only as a destiny for himself and his progeny.

            The history that Cain absorbs on his journey adds to the history he has been told about the fall of man. He does not experience one as a metaphor for the other, but has both chronologies within him, simultaneously witnessing the death of the dinosaurs and the death of men. The result is internal turmoil, and Cain tells his brother that these sights “have made [him] / Unfit for mortal converse” (Act III, lines *****). Though more knowledgeable, Cain recognizes now that he is less pious than Abel, and his direct address to God is his attempt to reconcile the history he has learned and the perceived unfairness of his present circumstances. Here, he gives God one last chance to be good in his eyes: God must choose between the innocent lamb and fruits of the earth which have not “suffered in limb or life” (Act III, line *****). History – more specifically, God’s history of killing the great lizards – has become a crucial component of Cain’s character, which influences his behavior and his sense of morality so much that he kills his own brother.

            Cain is ideal as a model because it shows the direct and extreme influence of history on the hero’s life. He is so consumed by history that he seeks to engage with it, as Byron himself did in the Greek wars of independence. However, life does not occur in the past, and eventually, the Byronic hero must attempt to reconcile his knowledge of history with his present actions. In the final scene of the play, Cain suffers the consequences of the murder and desires death (Act III, line 482). His punishment, however, is life—the angel marks his forehead, but Cain himself must accept and continue with life in order to enact a full reconciliation. Cain does not expect or desire the forgiveness of God, but instead makes his reconciliation with the earth, which he is doomed to wander: “Oh, earth! Oh, earth! / For all the fruits thou hast render’d to me, I / Give thee back this.—Now for the wilderness” (Act III, lines 542-4). This short declaration captures the spirit of the Byronic hero; when Byron’s hero commits himself to the wild, he succeeds—not because he has somehow defeated life, but because he proceeds to endure the weights of life and memory simultaneously.

            Cain’s success has a counterpoint in the failure of the play’s other hero, Lucifer. At the end of their journey, Lucifer gives one of the English language’s most potent speeches on freedom of thought, in which he concludes, “Think and endure,— and form an inner world / In your own bosom—where the outward fails” (Act II, lines 463-6). Cain has experienced outrage over what he perceives as an unjust God; his rebellion and the murder of Abel are a result of his thought, but the endurance springs from Adah’s love and the realization that he must live. Lucifer too shares his history: the fall of worlds and of Paradise, the conflict with God, and the ceaseless obsession with the past. Also like Cain, Lucifer is doomed to live, and he devotes his life not only to truth, but using truth to malign others against God “world by world, / And star by star, and universe by universe” (Act II, lines 435-441) without end. However, Lucifer is unaware that God is no longer battling him in the same, physical way as He did during the war in heaven. Instead, Lucifer has doomed himself to this immortality of hatred, not because the war with God will not find resolution, but because the war consumes him. As Jerome McGann said in an interview, the successful hero must end in a state of “resting without rest” (**Interview**); where Lucifer is a slave to his battle, Cain finds peace in his free will and resolution to endure.

            Cain portrays the fullness of Byron’s heroic vision. From a stagnant and uncomfortable beginning, the hero reflects upon his own history and an external history that he assimilates into his personality. His personal history is tragic, in part a cause of his present dissatisfaction. His absorbed history is universal, beyond the reaches of his experience, but grand enough that he wishes to engage with it. His struggle with these histories and with his present circumstance is the plot of the poem and Byron’s main concern: how do people live with trauma, either their own or the world’s? The rest of this paper examines the evolution of Byron’s philosophy up until the poetic moment in Cain.


So that’s what I’ve got so far. 4.19.2007: edited, and clearer now.

Procrastinating. April 11, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Hilarious Things, Miscellany , comments closed

In honor of me finally starting my paper, I have stayed up until three am wasting my time and making Byron headers. I’ve put up a new one to commemorate the fantastic title of my paper, given to my project by my oh-so-insightful roommate.

Here is the original header (sorry for the thumbnail, but the full sized ones get truncated):


And the new one:

And three more, that I plan on eventually cycling in, but are now just here for the sake of amusement:




Well, I thought they were funny. Paper sections to be posted.

Manfred in a flash of inspiration! April 11, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Uncategorized , comments closed

Manfred tries to use his magic to change geological history in order to insert himself into the greater course of geological history. But he can’t, because he’s inherently human.

This is like how Byron can’t actually insert himself into the glory of Greek history, because that glory is gone — temple at Athens in CHP — and he can only join the present circumstance to bring glory back.

Milton, Byron, and Intertextuality. March 23, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Childe Harold, Dramatic Plays, Hilarious Things, Miscellany , comments closed

Just got back from a third of the Milton Read-a-thon, having wimped out after only four hours. I had to put something down, though:

I have not loved the world, nor the world me;

I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bow’d

To its idolatries a patient knee,–

nor coin’d my cheek to smiles,– nor cried aloud

In worship of an echo; in the crowd

They could not deem me one of such; I stood

Among them, but not of them; in a shroud

Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,

Had I not filed my mind, which thus itself subdued. (CHP, Canto III, stanza 113).



This knows my punisher; therefore as farr
From granting hee, as I from begging peace:
All hope excluded thus, behold in stead
Of us out-cast, exil’d, his new delight,
Mankind created, and for him this World.
So farewel Hope, and with Hope farewel Fear,
Farewel Remorse: all Good to me is lost;
Evil be thou my Good; by thee at least
Divided Empire with Heav’ns King I hold
By thee, and more then half perhaps will reigne;
As Man ere long, and this new World shall know. (Paradise Lost, Book IV, lines 103-113).

This is so much cooler in my head. I have to reread Cain. Oh man, why didn’t I read Milton earlier?

Two figs… March 15, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Hilarious Things, Miscellany , comments closed

I had a good revelation in the shower, and I wanted to write them down before I forgot.

1. The other day, Sophie and I were laughing about the feminine theory model for narrative structure (multiple climaxes), and I got to thinking that Manfred, The Giaour, and to an extent Childe Harolds I & II have a structure of climax without catharsis. I might have to reread the climactic scene in Don Juan I as well, but I think it follows.

2. Don Juan I has a very interesting narrator — one who can make fun of Southey and Wordsworth (and really, don’t they deserve it?) but also one who can comment on the state of Spanish politics and sometimes looks upon Don Juan like a character he knows personally. What is Byron doing here? At the beginning of DJ II, he does a similar thing, ironically making fun of English poets. Not just one unreliable narrator, but two? Heaven help us.

Cain and the Infinite Sadness February 26, 2007

Posted by jophine in : Childe Harold, Hero , comments closed

What type of man is Byron’s Cain in Byron’s Cain? I think, when he depicts the second man, Byron is in essence creating a simplified version of all of his heroes, including the naive Childe Harold of cantos I and II, Manfred, the giaour, and the matured Childe Harold of cantos III and IV. Cain sees the world through specific filters which all of Byron’s heroes suffer, and the most important and potent of these filters is history. Cain perceives the world through the very little human history that exists, and he absorbs what Lucifer shows him of pre-human history. Armed with the knowledge of his and the earth’s past, Cain interprets his present differently from his entire family, and ultimately chooses free will over subservience to God.

If I were writing a paper on Cain alone, that’s how I would begin it, but since this is a blog, I’ll take liberties and just let it be a space where I can clarify my thoughts. Cain, I think, is a human that is concerned not with all of human history, but with the extremes of it — the beauties of a Paradise and the despair of a fall which he did not witness, but envisions and mourns:

And this is

Life! — Toil! and wherefore should I toil? — because

My father could not keep his place in Eden.

What had I done in this? — I was unborn,

I sought not to be born; nor to love the state

To which birth has brought me.

Even before he meets Lucifer, Cain is already concerned with his own history’s greatest and worst moments. In his other heroes, Byron usually merges these. For example, though Harold (Byron) was not there for the battle of Waterloo in Canto III, he walks on the land imagining the trials his cousin endured, and considers the affects of the battle knowing the outcome rather than the process. The pain he feels, though — the loss of a cousin and the loss of Napoleon — affects him gravely. Just as Cain did not personally fall, Harold did not personally battle, and the loss is merely a response to the events he has internalized, seemingly on behalf of the dead.

Cain, however, also internalizes more distant history, which he can be told, but which he cannot understand — it is completely out of his scope of social understanding. In their grand tour of the universe, Lucifer shows Cain Hades, and Cain discovers that there were creatures inhabiting earth and cast into hell long before humans existed: dinosaurs (awesome, dinosaurs!) He absorbs this history as part of the history of Earth, and is astounded by these beasts whose size and majesty would be too great for the Earth he inhabits. Similarly, Harold cannot witness the field of Marathon without imagining the great battle that happened there in vivid — if unknown — detail, and he also sees the subsequent irreverence with which people walk on the grounds. He then perceives the modern day, ravaged version of Marathon, and can only mourn the bloodshed and glory that were once there. Because of the internalized history which he was not a part of but which nevertheless affects him, Harold, like Cain, can only despair his own position as witness without agency, helpless in the face of a higher order.

I think Cain, too, helped me to understand canto III of Childe Harold a little better. Byron frames canto III with a message to his daughter, whom he saw only when she was a baby, and whom he would never see again. Cain, though he tries to force his wife and son away, is nevertheless swayed by her unconditional love and insistence; he asks if she fears the first murderer, and she replies, “I fear / Nothing except to leave thee, much as I / Shrink from the deed which leaves thee brotherless.” Byron has only the child to leave, and so wanders alone, but like Cain has to reconcile himself with the fact that he is one of those cliched “doomed to live.” But I don’t think that either Harold or Cain (or Byron) really feel that life is their punishment, but in truth, it’s the extension of remembering history as well as witnessing the sufferring of the future. Towards the end of canto III, Harold/Byron says,

I have not loved the world, north the world me, —

But let us part fair foes; I do believe,

Though I have found them not, that there may be

Words which are things, — hopes which will not deceive,

And virtues which are merciful, nor weave

Snares for the failing: I would also deem

O’er others’ griefs that some sincerely grieve;

That two, or one, are almost what they seem–

That goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.

And the earlier Cain:

Oh! thou dead

And everlasting witness! whose unsinking

Blood darkens earth and heaven! what thou now art,

I know not! but if thou see’st what I am,

I think thou wilt forgive him, whom his God

Can ne’er forgive, nor his own soul. — Farewell!

At the end of both Cain and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage canto III, both heroes reconcile themselves not with the higher power, but with the events of their time. They distinguish themselves through in Harold’s case social out-casting and unique thought, and in Cain’s case crime. But each one is reconciled with his antagonist. For Cain, this is Abel whom, though he suffered under the same weight of their parents’ fall, nevertheless bows and prays to God with pure faith. For Harold, this is the world which, perceived through the lens of history, rapes itself and tortures him with irreverence for both history and nature and glory — such as that of Napoleon. Both men have to reconcile their personal histories with their internalized histories, and then make peace with the world that they witness.