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Enfants Don't Come Any More Terrible Nor Is Any Poète More Maudit
November 8, 2002 6:13 AM   Subscribe

Enfants Don't Come Any More Terrible Nor Is Any Poète More Maudit than "bad, mad and dangerous to know" Lord Byron, which is why biographers can't resist delving into his multitude of sins, transgressions and crimes. Increasingly, the life of a great writer overshadows his work and the consequences of this mania look bleak indeed... [More inside]
posted by MiguelCardoso (17 comments total)

 
The latest biography, by Fiona MacCarthy, dispels some of the worst myths (apparently added by reviewers!) but, according to Anne Fleming in this week's TLS, ends in the usual state of moral shock. Today's hell-raisers and immoralists are choirboys and nuns compared to him. The fact that he was also a great poet recedes more and more as the revelations accumulate. This contemporary mania for tell-all biographies, a lot of them little more than idle gossip with a veneer of literary respectability, seems to be making our greatest writers more known about than actually read. At what price?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:16 AM on November 8, 2002


The most recent victim of the biographical treatment was, of course, Philip Larkin, whose poems now have to struggle with his reputation.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:26 AM on November 8, 2002


If we're doing novelists next week I call Gaddis.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:28 AM on November 8, 2002


They should be mad and bad, no? Rimbaud would be a field day for a biography or a film (but he's not as well known as Byron, except for Aube). And how about Genet, and Lorca, and even Wilde and Poe? It seems the best are often the scandalous, the elegant criminals.

(And you, Miguel, you rebel, flying directly in the face of PoemFilter! Forgive my liberal commas above.)
posted by Shane at 6:42 AM on November 8, 2002


= href="http://www.whitmanarchive.org" title="The Walt Whitman Archives, including an online reproduction of the 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass.">Whitman? Or, is "outside the conventional norm" not mad and bad enough?

(Shane: Rimbaud is the subject of Total Eclipse, not a great film but not an uninteresting one. Based on an astonishing play, somewhat underappreciated in its premier, it recounts the relationship of Rimbaud and Verlaine, a story that Christopher Hampton has struggled to tell for quite a long while.)
posted by JollyWanker at 7:58 AM on November 8, 2002


Mad? Bad? Whitman? Or, is "outside the conventional norm" not mad and bad enough?

(Shane: Rimbaud is the subject of Total Eclipse, not a great film but not an uninteresting one. Based on an astonishing play, somewhat underappreciated in its premier, it recounts the relationship of Rimbaud and Verlaine, a story that Christopher Hampton has struggled to tell for quite a long while.)
posted by JollyWanker at 7:58 AM on November 8, 2002


Um... oops.
posted by JollyWanker at 7:59 AM on November 8, 2002


He was extremely sensitive of his lameness; its effect upon his character was obvious enough . It was rumored that his nurse, May Gray, made physical advances to him when he was only nine.

Man, I need to acquire some lameness if that's the result.
posted by xmutex at 8:03 AM on November 8, 2002


Total Eclipse was...interesting. If only because it's really amusing to watch Leonardo DiCaprio (as Rimbaud) at the end, in really bad makeup intended to age him into his 40's...

I have to confess, Byron isn't my favorite Romantic poet--that would be Percy Bysshe Shelley. You have to love a poet who can go from the sublime ("Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world") to the ridiculous ("I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!") and back again ("My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!").

Byron, not as good, I don't think. Although I do enjoy She walks in beauty, like the night quite a lot. I find myself distracted by the facts (or so-called facts) about his life--his poetry, to me, is overshadowed by all the other stuff. And that's not how it should be--I'm not saying that poets have to lead really boring lives (because what fun would that be for anyone?), but it's not a good sign when people are more interested in giggling over your sexual conquests than looking at your body of work.
posted by eilatan at 8:16 AM on November 8, 2002


Rimbaud is the subject of Total Eclipse
Hmm... must see this...
Leonardo DiCaprio (as Rimbaud)
Aaagh! Run away!
Rimbaud is the subject of Total Eclipse
Hmm... must see this...
(Rinse, repeat...)
Scorcese, Day Lewis
Hmm, must see this
DiCaprio
Aaagh! Run away!

posted by Shane at 8:40 AM on November 8, 2002


Le Poete Assassine.

what a great model to use for bad boy writers.
posted by clavdivs at 8:52 AM on November 8, 2002


Quality of work.
Quality of life.
Nothing to do with each other.
posted by languagehat at 8:53 AM on November 8, 2002


I'm having no luck getting this link to function.

For better or for worse, Byron has worn the least well of the Romantic "Big Six." Much of Byron's major output is now hard going. This is particularly the case with Don Juan, a hilarious poem with jokes so grounded in contemporary historical allusions that most readers have to spend all of their time checking the footnotes. ("Who is this Castlereagh, and why is Byron saying nasty things about him?") The closet dramas are so over the top by modern standards that they've lost much of their original effect. (To let Byron off the hook, however, I should point out that that's true for just about all of Romantic closet drama, with the notable exception of Shelley's The Cenci.) Childe Harold works better, as do the shorter lyrics.

Byron's affinity for neoclassicism makes him difficult to fit into "traditional" courses on Romantic poetry--or even poetry in general--which means that many people have to come to Byron all on their lonesome. For a generation of faculty whose understanding of Romanticism was guided by M. H. Abrams' Natural Supernaturalism, Byron doesn't "fit"; he certainly didn't fit for Abrams, who left Byron out of the book. Byron isn't a Romantic expressivist, he isn't into the religion of nature, and he isn't particularly interested in the relationship between self-consciousness and perception. He's certainly not all that excited about Wordsworthian or Coleridgean theories of the imagination or of "organic unity." Although I certainly read some Byron on my own as an undergraduate, I didn't encounter him in a classroom setting until graduate school. (My attempt to teach Don Juan to undergrads at Michigan was pretty unfortunate: they got too frustrated by the poem's in-jokiness.)

The interest in Byron's personal life as opposed to his poetry really goes back to the nineteenth century; I'd hardly blame it on the modern tell-all biography. Andrew Elfenbein discusses this point in Byron and the Victorians, which is interesting but uneven. Leslie Marchand told a good deal of the all in his standard two-volume biography, which came out years and years ago.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:08 AM on November 8, 2002


Quality of work.
Quality of life.
Nothing to do with each other.


Maybe not for you. But for me, at least when it comes to Byron, it does. I don't know why and I can't explain it, but it makes a difference to me when I'm reading him. Other poets, not so much.
posted by eilatan at 9:47 AM on November 8, 2002


Shane - Wilde was clearly the hero of the film Wilde.

Lorca on the other hand is the subject of one of my favourite Pogues songs, Lorca's Novena.
posted by Summer at 12:33 PM on November 8, 2002


Pogues songs...
I probably like Night Train to Lorca better, although Federico doesn't put in an appearance.

posted by Shane at 1:31 PM on November 8, 2002


A Byron Filmography. Shane, looks like you can have Hugh Grant as an alternative to Leonardo diCaprio. (I will never see his name again without thinking run away!)

Summer, thanks for bringing the Pogues into this (madam happily kicking back to some pogues cds that hadn't been played in far too long.)
posted by madamjujujive at 4:13 PM on November 9, 2002


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