Byron

Byron

Byron

Byron

Synopsis

Lord Byron (1788-1824) was a poet and satirist, as famous in his time for his love affairs and questionable morals as he was for his poetry. Looking beyond the scandal, Byron leaves us a body of work that proved crucial to the development of English poetry and provides a fascinating counterpoint to other writings of the Romantic period. This guide to Byron’s sometimes daunting, often extraordinary work offers:

  • an accessible introduction to the contexts and many interpretations of Byron’s texts, from publication to the presentantion to key critical texts and perspectives on Byron’s life and work, situated in a broader critical history
  • cross-references between sections of the guide, in order to suggest links between texts, contexts and criticism
  • suggestions for further reading.

Part of the Routledge Guides to Literature series, this volume is essential reading for all those beginning detailed study of Byron and seeking not only a guide to his works but also a way through the wealth of contextual and critical material that surrounds them.

Excerpt

Byron is one of those writers whose scandalous and adventurous life has, in the past, tended to overshadow the fact that he was one of the greatest poets in English literature. However, in the past twenty-five years this neglect has begun to be remedied. Scholars have been engaged in a wholesale reassessment of the literary map of the Romantic period and this has resulted in a revaluation of the British writer whose work took Europe by storm in his own lifetime. Some of the most eminent Romanticist critics and scholars of the day have published on Byron. This guide is divided into three parts: Life, Works and Criticism. It aims to provide readers with information on the poet’s life: vital in reading poetry which is sometimes confessional and which often comments on current affairs of the time; contextual and literary commentary on the major works, which consist of long narrative and dramatic poems; and suggestions for finding their way through this wealth of literary criticism. The reader new to Byron may like to read the short biography and then select the relevant sections of Part 2, where necessary, to introduce and assist their reading of the major poems. Critical issues raised by the verse will be briefly indicated. Students may then want to pursue some of the key arguments in more depth, and can consult Part 3, where they will find summarised the main discussions over and various critical approaches to the poetry from Byron’s day to our own. Suggestions for further reading are given at relevant points in each section, and major criticism is listed in the bibliography. The clear signposting of the contents page, index and cross-referencing of the text, it is hoped, will make it easy for the reader to use the tripartite arrangement interactively to enhance their understanding and pleasure in the verse. For example, someone reading Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Cantos I and II might need to go back to the biography to find out the details of the poet’s Grand Tour which inspired this poem, whose first draft was written while travelling. They should also use it to check out the political situation in Europe during the Napoleonic wars, the historical context for the poem. The commentary in the part on Works can be referred to if clarification is needed concerning the scenes being described, if, for example, confusion arises when the poet moves from present time into memory and back again. The reader will there be alerted to the vexed question of whether Harold is a self-portrait of the author and the even more tendentious issue of whether Byron sufficiently differentiates between the function of the protagonist and the narrator. After reading the poem, students may want to . . .

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