Byron, Poetics, and History

Byron, Poetics, and History

Byron, Poetics, and History

Byron, Poetics, and History


Jane Stabler presents this examination of Byron's poetic form in relationship to historical debates of his time. Responding to recent studies in the Romantic period, Stabler asserts that Byron's poetics developed in response to contemporary cultural history and his reception by the English reading public. Drawing on new research, she traces the complexity of the intertextual dialogues that run through his work.


This chapter traces a new instance of the poem's intertextural weaving of history and form. Here the effects of Don Juan's various literary intertexts are complicated by material drawn from the less highly wrought source of contemporary newspapers. Digressive allusions disclose journalistic details in the fabric of the poem, opening its literary texture to chance daily 'events'. Disconcerting the prevailing view that 'accident' should never impinge on the work of art, Byron's texts insist that the reader is fully aware of and implicated in the construction of what is accidental. After investigation of Don Juan's play with the gazettes, the issue of contingency will focus on a great source of nineteenth-century journalistic scandal, 'feminine Caprice'. This form of transgression is thematised in the poem's plot, but it is also closely linked with the digressive mode of the narrator, especially in the English cantos where the reader is drawn into the dynamics of an intricately constructed plot and the complex allusive play that colours it.

As we have seen, Byron's references to other texts are bound up with his awareness of audience relations. in the multi-volume publication of Don Juan the recurrence of a particular allusion can test how the poem's relationship with the reader might have changed since the last usage. When we recognise the same intertextual moment in a different context within the poem, we also experience the precariousness of allusion itself; we are involved in the risk of audience reception. in cantos X and xi, for example, a well-known scene from Macbeth is reused and modified as the narrator watches

All my gentler dreams of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall,

Like Banquo's offspring; — floating past me seems My childhood in this childishness of mine: I care not — 'tis a glimpse of 'Auld Lang Syne.'

(X. 18) . . .

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