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  • Student Byron Conference:‘Byron and Crime’, Edge Hill University 22 May 2013
  • Emma Povall

On Wednesday 22 May, Edge Hill University hosted the third annual student Byron Conference. Undergraduate and early postgraduate students from across the UK had once again been invited to present papers, this time on the theme of ‘Byron and Crime’.

Conference organiser, Mary Hurst (Edge Hill) opened by giving a warm welcome to all attendees. She described the purpose of the conference, noting the supportive atmosphere in which students at undergraduate and postgraduate level, could experience conference protocol, allowing them the practice of presenting a conference paper, and providing them with ‘useful skills for post-graduate study or future employment’. Mary introduced the keynote speakers, Jonathon Shears (Keele) and Bernard Beatty (St Andrews) acknowledging their support and involvement from the beginning.

Jonathon Shears began the day with his paper, entitled ‘Byron and Forgiveness’. He examined the complication and complexity of forgiveness, as it is found in Byron’s verse. Acknowledging that ‘Byron finds forgiveness difficult’, Shears demonstrated that there were times in Byron’s own life when he did exhibit repentance and publicly sought forgiveness. Shears argued that although forgiveness is slow in coming for Byron, letting go of the weight of resentment on those who inflict suffering is a dominant theme. He argued that ‘forgiveness is embedded in the language of Byron.’ Byron, he conceded, at the very least imagines himself into a position of forgiveness. In Childe Harold when revenge is contemplated the words ‘let it pass’ follow. ‘If this is the language of forgiveness’, Shears argued, ‘it is also the language of crime.’

A short question time, coffee break, and photo opportunity for the students, chairs, and keynote speakers followed. The conference resumed and the first session was chaired by Ben Brabon (Edge Hill). The first student paper was given by Wayne Nuttall (Edge Hill). Titled ‘Byron and Augusta’s Secret Crime’, Nuttall examined Byron and Augusta’s relationship and considered Augusta’s subsequent marriage to her cousin. Acknowledging society’s condemnation of incest, Nuttall contemplated the intensity of Byron’s feelings towards Augusta and whether his exile was self-imposed or forced.

Robert Tompkins (Edge Hill) gave the second paper of the session, entitled ‘“Abominable Outsiders”: Social Transgression in the work of Lord Byron and the Beat Generation’. Tompkins recognised Byron to be the key Romantic figure – the outsider – and drew a comparison with the Beat generation in America. Beat Bob Kaufman coined the phrase ‘Abomunist’ a neologism meaning ‘abominable outsider, a denizen of that generation.’ Acknowledging that neither Byron nor the Beats were ‘common criminals’ [End Page 176] but ‘intellectuals’, Tompkins explored how ‘Byron and the Beats chose to rebel against accepted practices, offering an affront to the norms they saw as detrimental to the individual rather than beneficial.’ Byron, he argued, offered an affront to Enlightenment rationalisation, while the Beats offered an affront to capitalist and consumerist values. Byron and the Beats focus, he conceded, on individuality, moral relativism and transgression.

Stuart Bates (Edge Hill) delivered his paper ‘“Darkness is so strong, and so is Sin”: Byron’s “Darkness”’. Arguing that the composition of Darkness is largely accepted as being inspired by The Last Man catastrophe genre, Bates argued that inspiration was also derived from two other key areas. One was in the ideological injustice and, by inference, the perpetration of a crime against the rights of the Nottinghamshire Weavers. A series of Byron’s speeches, given in the House of Lords, and also some of his letters, describe his vehement opposition to the government position concerning the weavers. The second, Bates noted, was the natural disaster, the eruption of Mount Tambora, which is said to have caused ‘the year without summer’ in 1816 in which Darkness was composed. Bates argued that ‘From being a “rebel with a just cause” in the speeches and letters of 1812, Darkness articulates Byron’s despair and anger’. The final lines of the poem, he concluded, suggest that humanity has marked the course of its own destruction.

After lunch the second panel, chaired by Steve Van Hagen (Edge Hill), began with James Reith (Manchester) and his paper, entitled ‘Byron, de Staël and Goethe...


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