- Byronic Monstrosities: From Vampires to Supermen Newstead Abbey, 30 April 2016
Continuing a three-year tradition, Newstead Abbey provided the backdrop for another convivial gathering for the twelfth annual Byron Society Conference. Marking the 200th anniversary of the ‘year without a summer’, the weekend featured an array of stimulating talks by Byronists and Romanticists from around the world, all united under the theme of ‘Byronic Monstrosities: From Vampires to Supermen’. Conference organ-isers Mirka Horova and Ken Purslow welcomed fellow Byronists to Mansfield on the Friday night, where food and conversation were enjoyed in equal measure at the 281 Hotel. Christy Fearn provided the after-dinner entertainment with her performance, ‘Mary Shelley: Mother of Monsters’, commencing the conference’s theme through a thoroughly enjoyable artistic interpretation of Mary Shelley’s life and legacy.
After the short journey to Newstead Abbey on Saturday morning, the conference’s first panel commenced, chaired by Mirka Horova. Bernard Beatty (Liverpool and St Andrews) opened proceedings with his paper, ‘Is Manfred a Superman: the divergences between the exceptional and the difficult’, which discussed the mutability of literary models of heroism in order to anatomise Manfred’s own heroic character. Extending his analysis, Beatty introduced Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch, through which he argued that Nietzsche saw Byron as corrosively fusing Apollonian and Dionysian elements in heroes. Through this, Beatty identified that Manfred is ‘a collection of opposites’, asserting that Manfred both is and is not a superman, precisely because he finds death ‘not so difficult’.
Christine Kenyon Jones (King’s) was the second speaker on the panel and her paper, ‘Science Fiction and Romantic Biography’, analysed Romantic biofiction as a revisionist consciousness that plays with the past through palimpsest, parody and pastiche. Her discussion was sustained through analysis of writing by William Gibson, Tim Powers and Tom Holland, amongst others. Through this, Kenyon Jones argued that the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mark a crossroads between superstition and an increased scientific consciousness, which explores the organisation and disorganisation of the self through the ready-made frameworks of the lives of Romantic poets.
Diego Saglia’s (Parma) paper, ‘A Mirror for Vampires: Reflection and Revenance in Markovits’s Imposture’ continued this engagement with Romantic biofiction and [End Page 167] monstrosity. Saglia’s discussion of Imposture explored acts of mirroring and the overlapping personalities showcased in the novel through Markovits’s re-writing of Byron and Polidori, analysing the process of constructing identity as paradoxically affirming its ultimate illusiveness. Using René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire, Saglia analysed the clashing identities depicted by Markovits as a form of monstrosity, proposing Imposture as a ‘kaleidoscopic’ text in which the characters’ aspirations of a full identity constantly fail.
Extending the previous three papers’ analysis of Byron as an ‘absent’ figure, Roderick Beaton (King’s) considered Byron’s representation of Greece as a tantalising yet unfillable absence in his paper, ‘From “Franguestan” to Frankenstein: Modern Greece as vampire in the work of Byron and Mary Shelley’. In his reading of The Giaour, Beaton explored Greece as feminised in the character of Leila, being equally enslaved by Ottoman rule. Combining this with a reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Beaton suggested that, even as Byron views Greece as an exquisitely dead corpse, he equally strives to revive it in an act of human overreaching which echoes that of Victor Frankenstein.
Following the buffet lunch the parallel sessions 2A and 2B commenced, chaired by Shona Allan (Cologne) and Peter Francev (Mt San Antonio) respectively. The four speakers who then had their opportunity to give their interpretation of Byronic monstrosities, vampires and supermen were Anna Camilleri (Christ Church, Oxford), David McClay (National Library of Scotland), Ralph Lloyd-Jones (Newstead Abbey Byron Society) and Agustín Coletes Blanco (Oviedo). Camilleri began by presenting a subtle and perceptive analysis of ‘Heroic Cross-Dressing in Sardanapalus’, where she focused on how Byron subverts gendered behaviours in Sardanapalus, and examined exactly how transgressive Myrrha might be. In his paper ‘Murray and Monstrosities: Byron’s and Byronic Influences on John Murray’, McClay interestingly explored how much influence Byron really had on Murray’s decisions to publish Coleridge, but not to...