- 39th International Byron Society Conference ‘Byron:the poetry of politics & the politics of poetry’ King’s College, London, 1–6 July 2013
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The 39th Annual International Byron Conference took place in London from 1 to 6 July 2013 at the King’s College Strand Campus on the curving banks of the river Thames. After the collective excitement of the Summer Olympics in England’s capital a year earlier – where certain politicians elevated themselves (via zipline antics) to public prominence and international athletes delighted the crowds with demonstrations of graceful power – it proved a fitting arena for the salutation of a political-poet or poetical-politician of Lord George Gordon Byron’s magnitude. London, a city crucial to Byron’s years of fame between 1812 and 1816 and to the publishing life of his poetry throughout his career, formed the perfect backdrop to a shared discussion on the theme of ‘Byron: the poetry of politics & the politics of poetry’ in which delegates were always in touching [End Page 185] distance of the cultural and literary landmarks associated with Byron’s ‘London Years’. In keeping with the time-honoured ethos of all Byron gatherings, the 39th Annual IBS conference maintained the perfect balance of scholarly and convivial activity, and it is a credit to its primary organisers (Christine Kenyon Jones and Roderick Beaton) that the high-minded and amusing were never cleaved beyond creative recovery.
On the evening of Monday 1 July, conference representatives congregated in the strikingly decorative interior of the King’s College Chapel for the official opening of the conference. Welcome addresses by Professor Sir Richard Trainor, Principal of King’s College London, Lord Byron, President of The Byron Society, and the Reverend Professor Richard Burridge, Dean of King’s College London, emphasised the dual sense of privilege and hospitality at the heart of such events, after which we were treated to a fine plenary lecture by Jonathan Gross (DePaul, Chicago) on Byron criticism in the 1980s. Gross’s paper offered a meticulously crafted historiography of Byron’s reception in the ’80s (an important decade for Byron scholarship in which the seminal editions of the letters and poetry first appeared) based on the polarised political views of Michael Foot and Malcolm Kelsall. His appreciation for the contextual evolution of Byron’s critical reception provided an excellent framework to David McClay’s special exhibition Byron and Politics at the Maughan Library which opened and ran synchronously with the customarily sociable drinks reception. A joint exhibition Byron & Politics: ‘Born for opposition’ was on display throughout the conference at King’s College London’s Maughan Library. This collaborative exhibition principally featured manuscripts and rare books from KCL’s and the National Library of Scotland’s John Murray Archive collections, with some additional private loans of objects, including Byron’s swordstick. Other highlights included the original manuscripts of Byron’s Cephalonia journal, ‘Detached Thoughts’ and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III. The exhibition presented the development of Byron’s political opinions through his writings and actions. As such the exhibition began in Britain, before examining his changing response to Napoleon, his time in Italy before finishing with his death in Greece. An extensive and illustrated catalogue accompanied the exhibition.
Tuesday 2 July
The first full day of the conference offered an abundance of thought-provoking papers and stimulating activity. The North American triumvirate of Andrew Stauffer (Virginia), Charles E. Robinson (Delaware) and Peter Graham (Virginia Tech) opened proceedings with a richly diverse but coherent session entitled the ‘Politics of Culture and Language’. Stauffer produced genuine excitement in the addressees through his presentation of original research to plot the trajectory of Byron’s lyrical poetry – from the juvenilia to his final expressive efforts – as ‘radically occasional acts’. The comprehensive but carefully connected range of the paper set the tone for Charles Robinson’s skilfully coordinated overview of Byron’s distant yet vitally active relationship to Hazlitt, especially in relation to The Liberal. This was...