- Between Worlds, Between Works:Byron in 1817 Newstead Byron Society Conference Newstead Abbey 28–29 April 2017
This year's Newstead Byron Society Conference diverged from previous events in spanning two days, rather than one. This gave delegates the option to start the event with a jaunt to the beautiful church of St Mary's, Hucknall. Organised by Ken Purslow (Newstead Byron Society), we enjoyed a tour around the church, admiring its many treasures, from the maquette of Byron's imposing statue in Messolonghi and a wreath of silk flowers alleged to have been used in his funeral cortege, to the beautiful opus sectile decorations and the grave of nineteenth-century heavyweight boxing champion 'Big Ben' Caunt.
Following this, delegates from all over Europe and America convened at Newstead Abbey for the thirteenth Newstead Abbey Byron Society Conference. After lunch, we settled down to enjoy the first session, chaired by Shona Allan (Cologne) in which the speakers explored various aspects of 'Celebrity, Constraint, & Creativity' in Byron's works. The session opened with Christine Kenyon-Jones (King's), who provided a fascinating assessment of the legal permutations of entail and explored the implications of Byron's own unusually unentailed estates, comparing his circumstances with contemporary trends and fictional examples drawn from Austen's works. The next speaker was Samantha Crane (Minnesota-Twin Cities), discussing digression in Beppo. Crane considered the role which deferment and containment played first in Beppo and then in Don Juan, via successive explorations of Byron's use of punctuation. This paper was followed by Leighton Wright's (Northumbria) extension of Tom Mole's work on the commodification of personality, suggesting that Byron deliberately adopts the persona of the desolate parent in the first stanza of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage Canto III, revising his existing hermeneutic of intimacy to attract new readers. The panel concluded with Joselyn Almeida-Beveridge's (Massachusetts) paper on Byron's cosmopolitanism, comparing contemporary texts on world citizenship by Rousseau and Kant with Byron's own espousal of Diogenes' views, and tracing the impact of these theories on Don Juan.
After a short coffee break, we returned to our seats for the first plenary paper, from Alan Rawes (Manchester). Following a brief digression into matters of peacocks [End Page 171] and pronunciation, this paper provided an excellent and wide ranging exploration of Byron's pivotal role in Venice's transition in popular perception from a slowly decaying ruin, encapsulated by Mme de Stael's dismissive summation in Corinne, Ou l'Italie, into a magical city of mists and mystery, the first representation of which, argued Rawes, is found in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage Canto IV. Through a series of subtle treatments of key passages, Rawes mapped out the emergence of Byron's new vision of Venice, with particular emphasis on the role of Venetian nature and the city's evolution into the playground of the imagination which influenced so many of the writers and artists who followed in Byron's footsteps.
That evening (after the usual rounds of drinks, supper, and more drinks), die-hard stalwarts could be found in the hotel bar, entranced by a vigorous—perhaps even heated—debate between Bernard Beatty (Liverpool and St Andrews) and Michael O'Neill (Durham) on the exact pronunciation and underlying meaning of Hamlet's most famous line, a discussion which expanded to include Manfred, and continued well into the watches of the night.
The next morning the conference commenced with a diverse yet coherent session, chaired by Mirka Horova (Charles), entitled 'Metaphysical Transitions & Transgressions'. Bernard Beatty opened with a typically erudite approach to 'Gesalting Byron's transition'. After setting the scene with allusions to the great Bigglesworth and his Prussian nemesis, Beatty turned to the question of whether Byron could be gesalted, grasped in his entirety, or whether he was trapped in a perpetual state of betweenness and transition. This discussion included intriguing comparisons with numerous luminaries, including Wilde, Pope, Goethe and Luther, and was manfully presented in trying circumstances as workmen squabbled over a TV in the middle of the room. This was followed by Meiko O'Halloran's (Newcastle) discussion of Byron's otherworldly spaces and ancestral discontent in Manfred...