- 37th Annual International Byron Society Conference: ‘Byron and Latin Culture’ University of Valladolid, Spain 27 June–1 July 2011
After a sojourn in Boston, the International Byron Society Conference made a welcome return to Europe for 2011. The Castilian city of Valladolid played host to a conference whose broad subject, ‘Byron and Latin Culture’, resulted in papers of an impressive geographic and topical range. These included: Byron’s indebtedness to Classical sources such as Ovid, Horace and Juvenal; the impact of Byron’s travels in continental Europe on his verse; the extent to which the Italians were for him ‘the only poetical moderns’, and their influence on his work of exile; the poet’s afterlife in French and Albanian literature. In breaks from academic pursuits Valladolid’s trinity of climate, food and wine were enough to keep delegates occupied. With day temperatures rarely below 100°F, exploration was somewhat restricted, but the air-conditioned rooms of the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras provided the more heat-sensitive amongst us with some solace. The upside to this heat was that the nights were warm enough to explore the many tapas bars and restaurants of the old town – Byronists could be seen enjoying the local specialties with a helping of regional wine until the early hours.
One notable difference between this conference and the last was the inclusion of parallel sessions, sometimes with three panels running concurrently. This system has its good and bad points: in this instance it allowed for all papers submitted to be accepted, and left room in the calendar for excursions, but it can mean clashes between papers, when delegates would like to hear both. All things considered I am in favour, but in terms of writing a comprehensive report of the conference, parallel sessions make life difficult. I feel I can only really write-up those papers I attended, and therefore what follows is very much my personal experience of the conference. I apologise to those speakers whose work is not discussed in detail.
Monday morning began with the usual formalities, this time welcoming delegates to the conference in both Spanish and English, which were then followed by the first plenary, on ‘Byron in Romantic and Post-Romantic Spain’. This subject was comprehensively dealt with by conference host Eugenia Perojo, who lectures in English Literature at the University of Valladolid. She effectively mapped the late-blooming of Spanish Romanticism, its major exponents and the influence of Byron on the movement. Perojo’s plenary acted as the ideal prelude to the first set of (three) parallel sessions, all of which featured papers on Byron’s relationship with southern European culture. [End Page 181]
The session I attended began with Katherine Kernberger (Linfield College) talking on ‘Religion and the Supernatural in Tirso de Molina’s El Burlador and Byron’s Don Juan’. Kernberger provided a brief but necessary summary of Molina’s play, one of the earliest versions of the Don Juan myth, and made connections between it and Byron’s masterpiece. Byron may not have known Molina’s work, but he was clearly aware of Juan on stage – he claims in the first stanza of his own poem that ‘We have all seen him, in the pantomime’. A detailed reading of the final cantos of Don Juan alongside the traditional Don Juan ending was the focal point of the comparison, where the supernatural events in Norman Abbey can be read as hinting at the role of the deity at the conclusion of Molina’s play. Valeria Valucci (Rome) presented the second paper, entitled ‘The “Giant” Affair: Byron, the Neapolitans and the Papal States’. This was the product of thorough archival research in Rome and Naples, and it examined the extent of Byron’s political activism around 1820–1821, especially his relationship with the Neapolitan Giuseppe Gigante. The paper questioned whether Guccioli’s later account of Gigante as an agent of the Neapolitans, stopped on his way to inspire revolution in northern Italy, was to be believed. What made this paper one of the most enjoyable of the week was that Valucci resisted making grand claims for Gigante’s role in Byron’s life; there was...