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Childe Harold Canto Three: Rewriting Reading

  • Tom Mole
Chapter
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Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)

Abstract

In 1816, everything seemed to slide into crisis. With the breakdown of his marriage, his ostracism from polite society and his departure from England, never to return, Byron seemed to have become what he called ‘The careful pilot of my proper woe’.1 But it wasn’t a crisis in quite the way we tend to think. For a start, Byron’s celebrity was not truly imperilled by the scandalous rumours that flared around him. Scandal is not a crisis for celebrity, but another part of the apparatus; transgressions can be almost instantly reclaimed and made to function in its service. It was a crisis because Byron no longer felt able to use some of the rhetorical strategies on which he had come to rely. In the aftermath of his departure from England, Byron returned to the poem that had made him famous in the first place, but not in an effort to placate his erstwhile admirers. He was trying to rethink his position in the apparatus of individual, industry and audience that structured Romantic celebrity culture. In Childe Harold Canto Three, I argue, this effort took two forms: firstly, he re-imagined his relationship with the audience by experimenting with possible shifts in his hermeneutic paradigm; secondly, he renegotiated his relationship with the industry by changing his compositional and commercial practices. Neither of these efforts was entirely successful: Byron’s reviewers declined to endorse the new paradigms of reading he imagined, and his publisher found ways to circumvent his wishes.

Keywords

Romantic Period Polite Society Rhetorical Strategy Ideal Reader Gift Economy 
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Notes

  1. 5.
    Lawrence Stone, Road to Divorce: England 1530–1987 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 196.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Quoted in Doris Langley Moore, Lord Byron: Accounts Rendered (London: John Murray, 1974), p. 444.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Sheila Emerson, ‘Byron’s “One Word”: The Language of Self-Expression in Childe Harold III’, Studies in Romanticism, 20, no. 3 (1981), 363–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 17.
    Samuel Smiles, A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir and Correspondence of the Late John Murray, with an Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768–1843, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1891), I, 369. Murray sold seven thousand copies of The Prisoner of Chillon the same evening.Google Scholar
  5. 24.
    [John Wilson], ‘Review of Byron, Childe Harold, IV (1818)’, Edinburgh Review, 30 (June 1818), 87–120 (pp. 99–100).Google Scholar
  6. 26.
    L.E. Marshall, ‘“Words are Things”: Byron and the Prophetic Efficacy of Language’, SEL, 25 (1985), 801–22 (p. 818).Google Scholar
  7. 36.
    Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. by W.D. Halls (New York: Norton, 1990).Google Scholar
  8. 38.
    For a theoretical discussion of these issues, see John Frow, ‘Gift and Commodity’, in his Time and Commodity Culture: Essays in Cultural Theory and Postmodernity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997), pp. 102–217.Google Scholar

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© Tom Mole 2007

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  • Tom Mole

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