‘Taking another tack’: quick alternations in Don Juan
19th December 2023
Professor Richard Cronin
In this talk, Professor Richard Cronin will discuss aspects of his new book, Byron’s Don Juan: The Liberal Epic of the Nineteenth Century.
In 1821, just before he was killed in a duel brought on when he launched an attack on Blackwood’s, the Edinburgh magazine, in the columns of his own magazine, the London, John Scott complained of ‘the quick alternations of pathos and profaneness’ in Don Juan. The sudden transitions between ‘serious and moving sentiment and indecent ribaldry’ struck him as ‘an insult and outrage’. ‘This is not an English fault,’ he added. There had been earlier examples, but they were to be found ‘in foreign literature.’ Just four years later in a paper in the very same magazine the poet George Darley remarked that Byron’s supreme gift, the talent that placed him in the same company as Shakespeare, was ‘the faculty of passing from the solemn to the ludicrous, of dropping from the empyreal heights of fancy to the low concerns of reality — in one stroke of the wing.’ The Byronic manner that struck John Scott as outrageously foreign struck Darley as quintessentially English, Shakespearean. In just a few years Byron had succeeded in re-writing literary history so thoroughly that the quick transitions that had struck John Scott as viciously foreign now seemed the characteristic that best defined the Englishness of English literature. This talk considers how it was that the new manner that Byron cultivated in Don Juan should have had so striking an effect.
Art Workers Guild
6 Queen Square
London WC1N 3AT
There will be a dinner for those who wish to join, details will be confirmed closer to the time.