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History, Historicism, and Agency at Byron's Ismail

From: ELH
Volume 81, Number 1, Spring 2014
pp. 269-297 | 10.1353/elh.2014.0000



This essay examines the representation of historical agency in the "Ismail cantos" of Lord Byron's Don Juan. While agency has been an abiding concern of scholarship on Don Juan, this essay argues that existing models – articulated by Jerome McGann, Jerome Christensen, and James Chandler – do not offer a sufficient account of Juan's actions in the Siege of Ismail. When viewed next to Byron's portrait of General Suvarov and in the context of the various media of war to which Byron alludes, Juan's agency emerges as radically variable and fundamentally resistant to any predetermined models of writing about history – thus revealing the truly liberal and liberating vision of Byron's antiwar cantos.

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