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