Sunday, January 24, 2010
Short Answer: In what ways might Byron be termed a “conservative” as a poet?
Short Question (Aprox 1-2 pages double spaced in length)
In what ways might Byron be termed a “conservative” as a poet?
Gorge Gordon, the 6th Baron Byron, is an extremely difficult figure to separate from his poetry because his contemporaries often conflated the author with his fictional characters (Greenblatt 608).Lord Byron led a flamboyant and socially scandalous life—for one thing, he reportedly had an affair with his half-sister. Also, the content of his poetry can be seen as scandalous and immoral. A prime example of this would be Byron’s mock-epic Don Juan with it rampant sexual content and its unreliable narrator. As such, it is hard to imagine his poetry as conservative. However, if one considers the fact that Byron’s poetry does owe a considerable debt to the satirists of the 18th century then one might cede that Byron’s poetry can be seen conservative in form, if not in content. Alexander Pope’s Horatian poems greatly influenced Byron’s work, particularly Don Juan, therefore it will be most fruitful to examine how Byron’s major satire of moral folly (a scandalous poem in content) is actually quite conservative in form.
Martin Maner in “Pope, Byron and the Satric Persona” examines the relationship between these two poets and their use of satiric persona. Maner points out that Byron’s literary disguise is but a variant of the traditional, naïve satiric persona, particularly as developed in Pope’s Horatian poems (564-565). However, Byron uses this naïve persona as a solution to the prudishness of his contemporaries. This naïve persona allows Byron to deal in the scandalous issues of sexuality and romantic affairs in Don Juan while seeming to deploring them.
As Maner notes, it is true that readers argue that there are no values presented in Don Juan; that both the title character and the narrator lack morality. However, these readers are overlooking the satirist’s devise of holing up a model of virtue for us to admire and see through it (565). This technique is integral to Byron’s construction of Don Juan. Consider the opening lines:
I want a hero: an uncommon want,
When every year and moth sends forth a new one,
Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,
The age discovers he is not the true one:
In these opening lines, Byron establishes the persona of the narrator who is unable to hold on to one static idea of a hero. As such, the narrator, seemingly innocent, plays with our conception of a hero. However, his naivety allows him to comment on the social norms that produce and refute heroes. What Byron is doing is offering his reader a model to admire, but at the same time, expecting them to see through the guise (Maner 565). Thus, by adopting this traditional satiric tool, Byron is able to delve into moral ambiguities. Therefore, it can be concluded that Byron’s conservativism lies in his adoption of traditional literary devices, such as persona, rather than in his choice of content.
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Maner, Martin. "Pope, Byron and the Satric Persona." Studies in English Literature 20.4 (1980): 557-73. JSTOR. Web. 24 Jan. 2010.
Greenblatt, Stephen (ed)."George Gordon, Lord Byron." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume D The Romantic Period. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. 607-11. Print.