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Byron’s Romantic Calvinism
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay asks why in the work of the most famous Romantic libertarian do so few characters achieve any kind of freedom? It considers nineteenth-century readings of Byron as either a champion of liberty or the epitome of Weltschmerz, but suggests that these contradictory readings of Byron both respond to a single thread in Byron’s writing that leads directly back to the poet’s early Calvinistic education: Byron’s fascination with the paradoxical idea that damnation is both predestined by the will of God and brought about by man exercising his own free will. The essay shows Byron over and over again thinking about freedom through this Calvinistic lens in, for example, Childe Harold, Manfred and Cain, and argues that in such works human attempts to win and exercise freedom are understood in fundamentally Calvinistic terms: as the means by which the damned discover – by wilfully bringing about – their own predestined damnation. The essay then turns to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin in order, on the one hand, to show how Pushkin’s repetition of Byron’s Calvinistic thinking about freedom in this poem can help us bring that thinking into sharper relief and, on the other hand, to give an example of how, through Byron’s influence, Calvinism could become woven into the fabric of Romanticism as this extended across Europe and beyond.


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