- Life, Loves and Other Climatic Disorders
42nd International Byron Conference,
Paris, 4–7 July 2016
[Alpine excursion, 8–10 July 2016]
Under its first President Thérèse Tessier, to whose memory Peter Graham paid tribute in his conference talk, the French Byron Society developed a reputation for generous hospitality, generous scholarship and a particular empathy with music and art. These traditions were proudly upheld at the 42nd International Conference in Paris.
Jean-Didier Vincent, the distinguished neuroscientist, gave a witty welcoming speech at the Fondation Del Duca, a main venue with a perfect ambience (from the marvellous décor of the grand salon in which the plenary sessions were conducted to the excellent cuisine and interval coffee). The academic business between Monday and Thursday was accompanied by what amounted to a mini Arts Festival and was followed over the weekend by a memorable Alpine tour in Byron’s footsteps. The unqualified success of all three of these legs of the conference would have been impossible without the extraordinary efforts of the current President of the French Society, Olivier Feignier, and his organising committee (Catherine Adam-Sigas, Rozenn Bouillé, Elisabeth Brisson, Denis Feignier, Victoire Feuillebois, the indefatigable Paul Kujawski, Marguerite Rousselot and Danièle Sarrat).
Olivier Feignier was also responsible for perhaps the highpoint of the extra-mural programme, the Wednesday concert at the Institut Hongrois which he curated and presented. Familiar Byronic studies by Schumann and Liszt were rendered splendidly by pianists Jean-François Ballèvre and Daniel Propper but the capacity audience responded equally warmly to the lesser known pieces that Olivier had unearthed. The first half included three settings of extracts from the Eastern Tales (interestingly all by composers born outside France) sung with requisite theatricality by the bass-baritone Philippe Cantor; the second some breathtaking gallops through Mazeppa composed by Carl Loewe and Alfred Quidant. The concert was perfectly achieved both as an evening’s entertainment and as a lasting contribution to the study of Byron’s afterlife in nineteenth-century France.
The same could be said of the previous day’s combination of a private soirée at the Musée National Eugène Delacroix and a conference session (chaired by Jane Stabler, St Andrews) during which Danièle Sarrat gave a slide presentation about the impact of Byron’s poetry on the visual arts in France between 1819 and 1863. Again some of [End Page 177] the more obscure material proved the most fascinating and again Mazeppa featured prominently among the Salon paintings Sarrat had rediscovered. Her feats of cultural archaeology extended even to the olfactory: an 1825 eau de cologne patented Esprit de Lord Byron. While the Delacroix museum does not hold any originals of his Byron paintings, many of the pieces on exhibit—from Redgauntlet to Romantic Hamlets— maintained the period atmosphere. Conference delegates then enjoyed the privileges of a talk by museum director Dominique de Font-Réaulx and drinks in one of the most beautiful small gardens in Paris, overlooked by the artist’s studio. The London Byron Society, which co-sponsored the reception, was represented by a number of its members including Chairman Kenneth Robbie.
Several other conference talks were devoted to reception history and afterlife. Irina Shishkova (Maxim Gorky Institute) re-examined Byronic mobility through the prism of three twenty-first century novels by John Crowley, Peter Ackroyd and Benjamin Markovits. Piya Pal Lapinski (Bowling Green State) discerned a movement of generosity in Byron’s poetry as she traced the colourful development of Manfred’s storm motif in the grand operas of Meyerbeer and Wagner. Josefina Tuominen-Pope (Zürich) provided a fresh perspective on the venerable issue of the extent to which Byron should be identified with his heroes by returning in detail to the contemporary reviews of Francis Jeffrey and Walter Scott, the oldest—and some of the sagest—observations on the matter. Maria Kalinowska (Warsaw) demonstrated how Adam Mickiewicz’s great cause determined a necessarily partisan view of Byron as the Napoleon of poets (and of Napoleon as the ‘sole poet of fame’), although the Byronic element in the Polish Romantic hero had become more complex by the time of Conrad. The...