Jerome McGann's Contributions to Byron Studies 1966-2006
Stauffer, Andrew, The Byron Journal
For over forty years now, Jerome McGann has been shaping the ways we see Lord Byron, his writings, his Romantic contexts and his legacy. Moreover, McGann's engagements with Byron have taken an extraordinarily wide range of forms, including editorial, critical, theoretical, biographical, historical and creative acts, many of which have not only transformed the study of Byron but continue to provide the terms for larger conversations: about Romanticism, about textual theory and practice, about literary history and about poetics and performance. To the extensive record of printed material that these engagements have produced, we need to add McGann's generous influence as a teacher and as a leader in the scholarly community, both roles in which he continues to profess Byron's clear-eyed, lucid, critical spirit while encouraging younger scholars and cultivating a wide-ranging discussion about the poet and his work. It should also be remembered that, all along, McGann has made major scholarly contributions on a number of non-Byronic subjects, including Romanticism and other Romantic-period authors, modern and contemporary poetry, the Pre-Raphaelites, literary and editorial theory and digital scholarship. Such a career might well abash anyone charged with summarising even a portion, especially in brief compass. The following, then, is not definitive, but only an attempt at a chronological overview of McGann's ongoing contributions to Byron Studies.
What might be considered the first phase of McGann's work on Byron begins with his Yale dissertation, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and the Poetics of Self-Expression (1966), and ends with the appearance of the first volume of Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works (1980). During these years, McGann published Fiery Dust: Byron's Poetic Development (1969) and Don Juan in Context (1976), books that established him as a leading new voice in Byron Studies, even as they demonstrated his own evolving theoretical position. Fiery Dust offers a wide-ranging set of readings of Byron's poetry, with a particular emphasis on matters textual, historical and biographical. The Don Juan book is a kind of sequel, though with a more focused attention on form and style. A number of McGann's articles in The Byron Journal and Keats Shelley Memorial Bulletin during this period attest to his interest in textual and editorial matters as he began work on the Complete Poetical Works, and both Byron books reveal his developing historicist sympathies as a critic. One also finds in a very early essay on 'the Dandy' some of the fundamental insights regarding Byronism and Romanticism that would structure McGann's critical attitude in the decades to come. It was during these early years, when he taught at the University of Chicago, that McGann helped form the experimental drama group Cain's Company, which staged difficult plays, including Byron's Cain, in the late 1960s. He also became one of the founding directors of the Byron Society of America in the early 1970s. Most importantly, he began editing the complete works of Byron, a process that caused him to re-think the nature of texts, literary production and reception, and Byron's place in the Romantic tradition. Over the next decades, the effects of this editorial project, and this reconceptualisation, would influence the study of Byron in profound ways.
1. Fiery Dust: Byron's Poetic Development (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969)
2. Don Juan in Context (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; London: John Murray, 1976)
3. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980)
1. 'Childe Harold's Pilgrimage I-II: A Collation and Analysis', Keats Shelley Memorial Bulletin (1966), pp. 37-54
2. 'The Composition, Revision, and Meaning of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage III', Bulletin of the New York Public Library (September 1967), pp. 415-30
3. 'Byron, Teresa, and Sardanapalus', Keats Shelley Memorial Bulletin (1967), pp. 7-22
4. 'Staging Byron's Cain', Keats Shelley Memorial Bulletin (1968), pp. 24-27
5. 'Byronic Drama in Two Venetian Plays', Modern Philology (August 1968), pp. 30-44
6. 'Byron's First Tale: An Unpublished Fragment', Keats Shelley Memorial Bulletin (1968), pp. 18-23
7. 'The Dandy', Midway (Summer, 1969), pp. 3-18
8. 'Editing Byron's Poetry', The Byron Journal, 1 (1973), pp. 1-6
9. 'Milton and Byron', Keats Shelley Memorial Bulletin (1974), pp. 11-25
10. 'The Correct Text of Don Juan, I, sts 190-198', Times Literary Supplement (13 August 1976), p. 1015
11. 'The Murray Proofs of Don Juan, I-II', The Byron Journal, 5 (1977), pp. 10-20
12. 'On Byron: Reply to George Ridenour', Studies in Romanticism, 16 (1977), pp. 571-83
13. 'The Significance of Biographical Context: Two Poems by Lord Byron', in The Writer and His Work, ed. Louis A. Martz (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978), pp. 347-64
14. 'Profile of a Contemporary: Leslie A. Marchand', Wordsworth Circle, 10:3 (Summer 1979), pp. 290-91
14. 'Introduction', Lord Byron: A Collection of 429 Items (Dorking: C. C. Kohler, 1980), pp. 1-3
This brief period was a crucial theoretical watershed, during which McGann's immersion in Byron gave rise to two powerful manifestos (both published by the University of Chicago Press in 1983) that went on to transform the fields of Romanticism and textual editing. The Romantic Ideology challenged Romanticist criticism by revealing its immersion in the ideologies of its subject. The relative exclusion of Byron from the scholarly discussion of the time was crucial here, as McGann used Byron's ironic critique of Romantic mythologising to frame the terms of his argument. A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism presented a social theory of textual transmission that revealed the inadequacy of current approaches to editorial matters. McGann's experiences editing Byron provided the model for this critique, which rejects the quest for pure authorial intention and emphasises the materiality of textual production and the distributed nature of authority. Both books historicise current practice and belief, and use the example of Byron as a focusing device for their re-imaginings of the critical landscape. Further, both have re-framed the discussions of their subjects and continue to be widely influential. During this same period, McGann produced two more volumes of the Complete Poetical Works (covering Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and the poetry through to 1816), making available corrected texts of Childe Harold, the Eastern Tales and many of the lyrics. Finally, in The Beauty of Inflections (1985), McGann published 'The Book of Byron and the Book of a World', an essay that draws together bibliographic and critical insights in a way that charts the path for the extensive re-reading of Byron upon which McGann was about to embark.
1. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, Vols. II and III (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981)
2. The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983)
3. A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983)
4. The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985)
The third, perhaps most significant, phase of McGann's work on Byron began when he moved to the University of Virginia. These years saw the completion of the sevenvolume Complete Poetical Works. Drawing on a large archive of unpublished and inadequately examined material, McGann mapped the complex textual histories of poems he now presented in authoritative versions, giving us a new foundation for the study of Byron. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Complete Poetical Works to the revival of Byron Studies, as it spurred a generation of scholars to re-examine the poet's work and laid a wealth of information open to them. This process is ongoing. Simultaneously, McGann was producing his own synoptic interpretation of Byron's poetry, in a series of essays published mostly in the early 1990s. Emphasising the oppositional, deconstructive truth-function of Byron's poetic procedures, this reading of Byron claims the poet as one of a few key figures of modernity, a (hypo)critical, creative spirit that spares nothing, including itself. In the titles of some of these essays, one can hear the dialectic being developed between the poet's ironic, dandiacal masquerading and the poetry's truth-function: 'The Poetry of Deception', 'The Truth in Masquerade', 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces', 'Byron's Twin Opposites of Truth', 'The Anonymous Lyric'. Taken together, as they would be in the later volume, Byron and Romanticism (2002), this body of critical work on Byron represents a varied but unified vision that developed over several decades of theoretical and practical investigation, and continues to have a wide influence on conceptions of the poet and his work. In 1989, both the Byron Society of America and the Keats-Shelley Association presented McGann with their highest awards for distinguished scholarship. And there was much more to come.
1. Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, Vols. IV, V and VI (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986-93)
2. The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics: Byron, ed. with Alice Levine, Vols. 1-4 (New York: Garland Press, 1985-88)
3. The Oxford Authors Byron (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986)
4. Towards a Literature of Knowledge (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), including 'Lord Byron's Twin Opposites of Truth' (pp. 38-64)
1. 'Byron, Mobility, and the Politics of Historical Ventriloquism', Romanticism Past and Present, 9:1 (1985), pp. 67-82
2. 'Mixed Company: Byron's Beppo and the Italian Medley', in Shelley and his Circle, ed. Donald H. Reiman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), Vol. 7, pp. 234-97
3. 'Lord Byron's "Francesca of Rimini"', in Shelley and his Circle, ed. Donald H. Reiman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), Vol. 8, pp. 857-67
4. 'Private Poetry, Public Deception', in The Politics of Poetic Form, ed. Charles Bernstein (New York: Roof Books, 1990), pp. 119-48 (on Byron, with a primary focus on Don Juan)
4. 'What Difference do the Circumstances of Publication Make to the Interpretation of a Literary Work?', in Literary Pragmatics, ed. Roger D. Sell (London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 208-24 (on Byron's 'Fare Thee Well!')
5. '"My Brain is Feminine": Byron and the Poetry of Deception', in Byron: Augustan and Romantic, ed. Andrew Rutherford (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990), pp. 26-51
6. 'History, Herstory, Theirstory, Ourstory', in Theoretical Issues in Literary History, ed. David Perkins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), pp. 196-205 (on "Fare Thee Well!')
5. 'Byron and the Anonymous Lyric', The Byron Journal, 20 (1992), pp. 27-45
6. 'Rethinking Romanticism', English Literary History, 59 (1992), pp. 735-54 (reprinted in part in Literaria Pragensia, 3 (1993), pp. 3-13; reprinted again in The Challenge of Periodization: Old Paradigms and New Perspectives, ed. Lawrence Besserman (New York: Garland Press, 1996), pp. 161-78)
7. 'The Hero with a Thousand Faces: The Rhetoric of Byronism', Studies in Romanticism, 31 (Fall, 1992), pp. 295-313
8. 'Byron and "The Truth in Masquerade"', in Romantic Revisions, ed. Robert Brinkley and Keith Hanley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 191-209 (reprinted in Rereading Byron, ed. Alice Levine and Robert N. Keane (New York: Garland Press, 1993), pp. 1-19)
9. 'Byron and the Lyric of Sensibility', European Romantic Review, 4 (1993), pp. 71-83
This most recent phase of McGann's Byronic career was one of both consolidation and carving new paths. For Byronists, the most important text to emerge was the collection of essays, Byron and Romanticism, which not only gathered together many of McGann's crucial, variously published writings on Byron, but provided the occasion for the reconsideration of this work - McGann revised each of the essays prior to re-publication. The book thus offers a coherent, evolving view of the poet and his work (as described above), serving as the essential single-volume source for McGann's shorter Byron criticism. The earlier Poetics of Sensibility (1996) may not be immediately recognisable as a book about Byron, but it offers its reconfigured literary history by privileging many of the qualities McGann locates in Byron's style: theatricality, an emphasis on incarnate forms, a certain coldness at the heart of its passionate deployments. With particular attention to female Romantic poets, this book suggests that the Byronic model of Romanticism shared important commerce with a larger aesthetic movement, 'sensibility', and its rhetorical procedures. During this period, McGann also continued to produce edited selections of Byron for reading and classroom use, and published comprehensive essays and statements on Byron for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and The Cambridge Companion to Byron. Along with interviews with James Soderholm and others, his personal surveys, 'Romantic Scholarship and Culture, 1960-2001: A Byronic View' and the 'General Analytical and Historical Introduction' to Byron and Romanticism, offer insights into the importance of Byron to McGann's spiritual and critical autobiography. It becomes clear that Byron has always been McGann's 'sun of the sleepless', the central representative of an attitude towards art and life that drives McGann's work - ultimately, a rejection of pious cant and a commitment to truth as a function of contradiction, artifice and pitiless self-reflection.
1. Byron: The Oxford Poetry Library (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)
2. The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996)
3. Lord Byron: Selected Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)
4. Byron and Wordsworth (Nottingham: School of English, University of Nottingham, 1999)
5. Byron and Romanticism, ed. James Soderholm (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
1. 'Byron and Romanticism: An Interview with Jerome McGann' (with James Soderholm), New Literary History, 32 (Winter, 2001), pp. 47-66
2. 'Romantic Scholarship and Culture, 1960-2001: A Byronic View', in Byron and Greece, ed. Byron Raizis (Athens: Messolonghi Byron Society, 2003), pp. 4-23
3. 'Byron, George Gordon, Lord', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)
4. 'Byron's Lyric Poetry', in The Cambridge Companion to Byron, ed. Drummond Bone (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 209-23
McGann's current major Byronic project (discussed in detail in this issue's interview with James Soderholm) involves the staging of Manfred, something he has been pondering since his days in the late 1960s with Cain's Company. McGann calls Manfred 'the central Byronic text', and suggests that performance is the most appropriate (and perhaps most difficult) mode of critical engagement with this work of 'mental theatre'. In addition, 'Is Romanticism Finished?' - an essay with a central focus on Byron and Coetzee's Disgrace - will soon appear in The New Cambridge History of English Literature: The Romantic Period. Whatever may be said for Romanticism, McGann is clearly not finished.
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Publication information: Article title: Jerome McGann's Contributions to Byron Studies 1966-2006. Contributors: Stauffer, Andrew - Author. Journal title: The Byron Journal. Volume: 35. Issue: 2 Publication date: December 2007. Page number: 115+. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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