Byron's Grand Tour
April 14, 2009 7:58 PM   Subscribe

Whats so great about Childe Harold's Pilgrimmage?

I mean, what about it and its publication made it such an instant hit? (As Byron said, he woke up one morning to find himself famous; he also didnt think it was his own best work).

I'd be interested in either reasons internal to the text or reasons regarding the external context of its publication.

Also FYI, this is purely for personal interest. I come from the sciences but dabble in the humanities. I know a fair amount of the history of the period, and a fair bit about Romanticism, but when I attempted to read Childe Harold I nearly passed out with boredom. :) (So I havent really read it yet, but have a fair idea of what its about). Help me find a way in! What is he challenging? (I assume that, being Byron, he's fighting something -- after all, isnt he the ultimate Byronic hero?)

(As an aside, for whatever reason, of all the Romantic writers I've perused thru so far, a relatively peripheral figure, Leigh Hunt, has gotten most of my admiration so far, for his poignant writing, the way (to my mind) he captures the essence of the Romantic and liberal spirit, as well as remarkable personal life story of survival and intellectual grit). In contrast, the major figures have mostly bored me.
posted by jak68 to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As someone said, "Byron's poems combined the more popular features of the late-18th-century romanticism: colorful descriptions of exotic nature, disillusioned meditations on the vanity of earthly things, a lyrical exaltation of freedom, and above all, the new hero, handsome and lonely, somberly mysterious, yet strongly impassioned for all his weariness with life."

Being a violaphile, I think the best thing about "Child Harold's Pilgrimage" is that it inspired Berlioz to write this. Maybe the spirit and tone of the music will help you see what other Romantics saw in it.
posted by aquafortis at 8:19 PM on April 14, 2009

Best answer: Byron is mostly famous for his salacious biography--contemporaries like Keats and Shelley were far superior writers and appear more often in humanities syllabii. Along with Shelley (and Keats, for that matter), Byron is understood to have personally embodied the Romantic sentiments of romanticism; yet where the typical Romantic man was passive, tortured, and melancholy, Byron gnashed at the world with sexual aggression and life-affirming sensuality. CHP doesn't just epitomize the Byronic Hero, it created the persona. The term both filtered not only into later works of literature (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Wuthering Heights, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, um, Twilight) but also retroactively defined tormented, doomed anti-heroes like Milton's Lucifer in Paradise Lost.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:59 PM on April 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Byron is understood to have personally embodied the Romantic sentiments of romanticism...

it's sleepy and I'm late

posted by zoomorphic at 9:01 PM on April 14, 2009

I think it helps to view Byron primarily as a pop icon-- others' work might be more interesting as literature, but his work leads right back to him, and his figure in the popular imagination: Handsome Rich Athletic Adventurous Rebellious Wounded Poet Scoundrel Aristocrat.

He, as an individual, neatly and conveniently embodied an entire genre, and most of the wilder, literally romantic associations thereto.

"You want Heathcliff? I got your Heathcliff. I got your Heathcliff right. Here."

And remember, literature, the visual arts, and journalism were the important media of the day, so being a good-looking nobleman poet with a flair for PR, revolutionary politics, and sexual scandal was a pretty helpful combination.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:08 PM on April 14, 2009

Fiona MacCarthy's biography of Byron has a good explanation of the importance of Childe Harold -- it's also a highly entertaining read.
posted by Lycaste at 10:01 PM on April 14, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks lycaste, I've put it on my wishlist.
posted by jak68 at 11:25 PM on April 14, 2009

This is just the tip of a fascinating time/movement/story. I didnt know much about the romantics bar the odd poem until I (accidentally) got a copy of Noyes. If you are interested in the romantics then I cannot recommend this highly enough. All of the poets are included, aswell as significant critics, and each entry contains a good selection of poetry and prose aswell as a selection of letters. By reading the original texts you can get a real insight into the events of the time.

Shelly's holiday with Byron, for example; you can read the letters sent by Shelley, Mary wollenscraft and Byron aswell as reading poetry written at the time. You can then follow Byron off to fight for freedom in Greece, or Shelley to his doom in Italy and you can trace the impact that all this had on their friends and on the development of 'romanticism'.

As people have said; Byron is the Sid Viscous, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix of his day. Wordsworth and Coleridge had invented and popularised the idea of romanticism, Byron took it on himself to embody it. In his flaming path through the period you can see the whole of romanticism from it's idealistic birth, the end of innocence to it's ultimate self-destruction.

When Byron died a number of his friends gathered and burnt all his unpublished writings; all his poems, memoirs and journals. I would love to know what scandals and secrets were lost forever then!
posted by BadMiker at 5:08 AM on April 15, 2009

Response by poster: i've put noyes on the wishlist too, thanks :)
posted by jak68 at 2:27 PM on April 15, 2009

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