The Shelley-Byron Conversation

The Shelley-Byron Conversation

The Shelley-Byron Conversation

The Shelley-Byron Conversation

Synopsis

"All advanced students of English Romanticism would find this book of use.... From the first, Brewer recognizes that the conversation between Shelley and Byron is, in the deepest sense, stylistic rather than moralistic."--Stuart Curran, University of Pennsylvania

"Lucid, direct, and refreshingly unpretentious in its intellectual approach."--Peter Graham, Virginia Polytechnic Institute

While critics traditionally have seen Shelley and Byron as two irreconcilable opposites, separated by both temperament and philosophy, this study--informed by scholarship of the past eighteen years, since Charles Robinson's landmark study--explores their six-year relationship and argues that it was more collaborative than contentious.
Shelley and Byron first met at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816, brought together by Claire Clairmont (Mary Shelley's stepsister and the Shelleys' traveling companion). The two poets soon discovered that they shared radical political sympathies and a determination to abandon moral platitudes and religious cant. From the beginning it appears that they inspired each other and those around them. After this encounter Byron began a new phase in his development, Shelley embarked on a major work, and Mary Shelley completed Frankenstein.
In 1818, the men came together again in Venice for their most important interaction. In the period of intense creativity that followed, both wrote their masterworks: Shelley composed Julian and Maddalo (a poem inspired by their discussions) and began writing Prometheus Unbound and Byron completed the first canto of Don Juan and all of Mazeppa.
By analyzing the echoes and allusions found in their writing, Brewer suggests that Shelley and Byron transformed each other's work. His discussion of Julian and Maddalo considers the conversational style each poet came to employ; his analysis of Cain shows how it reflects their mutual interest in Prometheanism and their fascination with the Devil; his examination of The Triumph of Life includes an appraisal of the influence of Goethe's Faust on both.
In general, Brewer says, Shelley and Byron have not been given credit for their willingness to learn from each other. Their personal and literary dialogues ranged from discussions of their social-activist goals to their perceptions of the benighted and tragic state of humanity, shaping some of the most important achievements of the Romantic era. William D. Brewer is associate professor of English at Appalachian State University. He is the editor of New Essays on Lord Byron and the author of articles in Philological Quarterly, The Keats-Shelley Journal, and other publications.

Excerpt

While critics traditionally have seen Shelley and Byron as two irreconcilable opposites, separated by both temperament and philosophy, this study of their relationship argues that they have much in common, and that their works, rather than simply presenting the contrasting outlooks of idealism and despair, go beyond these limited perspectives to deal with the human condition in a complex and often ambivalent way. In his pioneering work Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (1976), Charles E. Robinson succeeds in showing the importance of the Shelley-Byron relationship, but his presentation of the poets' "philosophical antagonism" turns their relationship into a debate between Shelley's meliorism and Byron's pessimism. In contrast, my study argues that the Shelley-Byron association resembles a conversation rather than a debate, and that their personal and literary dialogues were often unstructured and exploratory in nature. It is thus appropriate, in my view, that Shelley subtitles Julian and Maddalo--a poem inspired by discussions that he and Byron had in Venice--"A Conversation." Through my analysis of the poets' interactions, the echoes and allusions found in their poems, their responses to other writers, and their poetic styles, I try to demonstrate that the relationship was more collaborative than contentious, and that the poets' similarities are more significant than their differences. This book on the conversations of Shelley and Byron is intended for all students of British Romanticism, including undergraduates, graduate students, and specialists in the field.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.