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  • ‘Byron Original and Translated’, 40th International Association of Byron Societies Conference, Tbilisi, Georgia, 23–30 June 2014
  • David McClay

Yet once again, adieu! Ere this the sail That wafts me hence is shivering in the gale; And Afric’s coast and Calpe’s adverse height, And Stamboul’s minarets must greet my sight; Thence shall I stray through Beauty’s native clime, Where Kaff is clad in rocks, and crowned with snows sublime.

(English Bards and Scotch Reviewers)

Whilst Byron may never have realised his ambition to visit Georgia, international Byronists have enjoyed ‘Beauty’s native clime’. Around 100 Byronists from nearly twenty countries gathered in Tbilisi, Georgia for the International Association of Byron Societies’ 40th conference. For such a diverse international gathering ‘Byron Original and Translated’ was the appropriate and stimulating theme. Amongst the international delegates were special guests of the conference, Lord and Lady Byron and the Earl and Countess of Lytton. Their presence and participation was appreciated not only by the delegates but also most warmly by the Georgian people.

The Byron Society of Georgia and Tbilisi State University lived up to the reputation for Georgian hospitality, whilst delivering an ambitious academic and cultural programme. From the huge attendances at both the opening and closing ceremonies, to the warmth and interest received throughout the conference it was clear that Byron and the study of Byron have special significance in Georgia. The combined efforts of all those involved, including institutional sponsors, hosts, performers, the academic committee, volunteers, chairs and speakers created a most memorable conference. To all of those whose efforts should be applauded, one person requires special mention and praise: Professor Innes Merabishvili, founder of the Byron School of English and the Byron Society of Georgia. It was her ambition, of many years, to host an international Byron conference in Georgia. Luckily for all of us her perseverance paid off.

The academic proceedings of the conference had four plenary speakers: John Clubbe (Kansas), Bernard Beatty (Liverpool and St Andrews), Innes Merabishvilli (Tbilisi) and Naji Oueijan (Notre Dame). Each brought their decades of research, thoughtfulness and insight to bear in four quite different papers, which reinforced the depth of the conference theme. John Clubbe’s assessment of Byron’s varied responses to the [End Page 183] French Revolution, liberté and Napoleon focused on his political poems of 1815–16, The Prisoner of Chillon and Don Juan. It also included a consideration of the parallel response of another great figure of that turbulent yet occasionally optimistic age – Beethoven. By combining these two great cultural figures we gained a greater appreciation of why their appeal is both timeless and international. Bernard Beatty, with his customary mastery of the complexities of Byron’s considerable poetic output and the literary traditions he engages with, was able to lead us through Byron’s wholly or partially translated works, but also to show how Byron’s profoundly ‘original’ works were nonetheless translated, or transferred in the Latin sense of the word, from earlier precedents, thus providing an understanding of Byron’s concept of originality to contrast against the contemporary rising culture of artistic originality. Naji Oueijan, like Beatty, looked to Latin roots. For him the Latin derivation of transferation – to bear across – provided the theme for his detailed examination of the transfer of meaning. Here Byron’s Oriental works, particularly The Giaour, allowed him to draw upon his cultural and linguistic insights to highlight Byron’s Oriental poetic uniqueness. Innes Merabishvilli’s address was focused on her recently published Encounter with Lord Byron. A Scholarly Version on Byron and Georgia, which was launched at the conference. This valuable book was dedicated to the conference and generously presented to all of the delegates. The extensively illustrated volume contains not only numerous Georgian translations of Byron’s work, but a personal and national engagement with the poet. As such it is a fitting souvenir and reminder of the conference but also a fitting monument to Innes’s career in promoting Byron in Georgia and internationally.

Aside from our distinguished plenary speakers, the conference themes were further explored by 48 speakers in 15 sessions. By including round-table discussions there was no excess of parallel sessions...


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pp. 183-189
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