‘frequent turn to linger as you go’: Byron plays Guide

Friday, April 26, 2024 - 17:00

‘frequent turn to linger as you go’: Byron plays Guide, a talk

Friday 26 April at 5 pm

Byron was born in the age of the cicerone, one of personal tours led by experts around the Colosseum or the Vatican, and died at the birth of mass tourism, in which travellers had expertise at their fingertips in the shape of Murray and Baedeker. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is based in part on guided tours taken by Byron of famed sights, and it was the initial success of this poem which led him to announce that ‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous’. It was Childe Harold, and not Don Juan, that was the basis of Byron’s contemporary renown, and the poem enjoyed a remarkable afterlife as a guidebook for generations of British and European tourists. This talk will look at how the poem tells its story, or, to put it another way, how Byron guides his readers, before considering one specific mode of narration: the second person. Thomas Hardy has spoken of Childe Harold’s ‘straight-forward expression of good feeling’ and, through a reading of first some of the Portuguese stanzas, and then of the Roman stanzas in detail, Bowers would like to consider how this feeling is achieved through direct addresses to the reader. The talk will conclude with some thoughts on our present moment— when the printed guide has largely been replaced by individual travel “influencers” and mass-democratic review websites—and how Byron’s narrators offer ways to scrutinise the purposes of tourism and its guiding principles.  

Will Bowers is Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Thought at Queen Mary, University of London. His first monograph, The Italian Idea,  was published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press, and won the European Society for the Study of English Prize for a first book in 2022. He is an editor on final two volumes of the Longman Annotated Poems of Shelley, which will be published in May, and he is currently editing the works of William Cowper for Oxford World’s Classics and thinking about a book about Naples.