Magazine article The Spectator

Vampires and Barbara Cartland

Magazine article The Spectator

Vampires and Barbara Cartland

Article excerpt

BYROMANIA:

PORTRAITS OF THE ARTIST IN NINETEENTH- AND TWENTIETH-CENTURY LITERATURE

edited by Frances Wilson Macmillan Press, 42.50, pp. 234 lose your Byron and open your Goethe,' that miserable old renegade Thomas Carlyle once demanded and just occasionally one wishes that somebody would listen. In the 175 years since Byron's death at Missolonghi there have been more than 200 works on his life, and now here is another to add to the industry, a collection of a dozen essays on what the Princess of the Parallelograms herself called 'Byromania' - on Byron `the myth' and `the myth of myth-making', on Byron the 'product' and Byron the 'commodity', on Byron the 'metaphor', Byron the `polyvalent paradigm' and all those other terms that English departments use to dress up the simple fact that they are talking about the funniest comic poet in the language.

There is certainly a real subject here, as Frances Wilson's exemplary introduction makes clear, but it is one that is neither new nor, more importantly, responds to the critical jargon that spoils so many of these essays. There is such a wonderful lucidity about Byron's own prose, too, that you wonder how anyone who had read him could talk about the `dyadic union' of poet and reader, or subtitle an essay `Literary Commodification and the Birth of Celebrity'.

And Coleridge, too, has lately taken wing. Explaining metaphysics to the nation I wish he would explain his Explanation.

The answer, though, probably has as much to do with the academic culture that produces a volume like this as with any individual contributor. There is such a constant pressure to publish in university life now, so stark an equation between survival and 'citations', that critical overkill is the almost inevitable result. There is a good and scholarly essay on Byron portraits. There is a second interesting piece from the editor, Frances Wilson, on Lady Caroline Lamb and a valuable appendix on Byron's afterlife in fiction. But Byron and Barbara Cartland? A jolly enough thought in a camp sort of way, but a 15-page essay complete with full critical apparatus? Or `Byronic Bioplays'? Byron and vampirism? Two essays on the handful of ludicrous films involving a fictionalised Byron?

In fact, the first of these essays, by Peter Cochran (credentials: a pupil of F. …

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