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  1. In declaring Satan the hero of Paradise Lost and the prototype for their own dark heroes, Blake, Byron, and the other Romantics were not only espousing the cause of rebellion against patriarchal authority in society, but were themselves engaged in a kind of rebellion against their literary father: Milton. In a similar way, the second generation of major Romantic poets rebelled against the increasing political and aesthetic conservatism of the first. How do the Romantics balance their rebellion against Milton with the awareness of his influence and a desire to emulate him? What signs do you find in these texts of the “anxiety of influence”? And what parallels do you see between these Romantic reactions to Milton and the criticisms of Wordsworth by Shelley in “To Wordsworth” (NAEL 8, 2.744), Keats’s in his letter from the Lake District, and Browning in “The Lost Leader” (NAEL 8, 1.1256)?
  2. As (in the words of the minor poet Thomas Campbell) the “sworn foe of our nation and, if you will, of the whole human race,” Napoleon was a figure of detestation for many British Romantic writers. But do these writers also betray signs of an awareness that, as with Milton’s Satan, another account of Napoleon might be possible? Are there moments in Romantic writings about the French Emperor in which moral condemnation gets mixed with something more personal, something more suggestive of identification, like disappointment? In Byron’s “Ode” of 1814 and in Canto 3 of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (NAEL 8, 2.617–19), are there suggestions that, under certain different conditions, Byron might find Napoleon a figure to admire or emulate? How do the scenes in which Byron, and Wordsworth too, position Napoleon resemble the scenes that these writers create when they portray themselves?
  3. In the course of her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft drops hints that she, as much as William Blake, is capable of giving a devilishly perverse reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In a footnote to chapter 2 (NAEL 8, 2.174), for instance, she describes her inability to experience any sort of elevated emotion when she contemplates Milton’s beautiful portrait of the domestic happiness of Adam and Eve: “instead of envying the lovely pair, I have, with conscious dignity, or Satanic pride, turned to hell for sublimer objects.” At such moments Wollstonecraft raises an interesting question: is it possible for a woman writer to play the Satanic or the Byronic role? What do you make, for instance, of the echoes of Milton’s account of Satan’s flight from Hell to Earth that can be heard in Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s “A Summer Evening’s Meditation”?  How does the example of Byron’s persona shape the psychological explorations that Letitia Elizabeth Landon stages in her lyrics? Which elements of the Byronic hero’s characterization must be discarded as one moves from a hero to a heroine? Which elements can be preserved?
  4. Is Byron able to trade on the appeal of this protagonist for his entire career, or do you see his strategies of characterization changing as times goes by? How would you compare Don Juan to earlier heroes such as Childe Harold, Lara, or Manfred? Does Byron’s narrative voice alter over time as well? Is there any trait that all his personae share?
  5. Byron’s account of Lara, as well as his presentation of the Giaour, are in some ways as much about others’ reactions to these individuals, indeed, about others’ baffled attempts to read them and decipher their mysteries, as they are about these figures in and of themselves. Why might Byron have chosen this approach? Similarly, when Polidori and Lady Caroline Lamb introduce their Byronic heroes, each begins by assessing the spellbinding effects that these individuals have on their beholders. Ruthven and Glenarvon are antisocial but have a huge social impact.

    If we consider such figures as not only Byronic but as versions of Byron himself, what might this pattern suggest about the relationship between that author and the new vastly expanded reading public that consumed his work? (Somewhat unflattering portraits of that new kind of reading public are given in William Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads [NAEL 8, 2.263–74] and in the footnote that Coleridge appended to his Biographia Literaria and that is reproduced as the conclusion to the cluster on “The Gothic and the Development of a Mass Readership” [NAEL 8, 2.577–79].) What conclusions do you draw about the Byronic hero if you decide to see his creation as a commentary on modern author-reader relations and on modern literary fame?
  6. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a Satanic/Promethean hero who appropriates to himself the power of creation and then allows that creation to undo him. The author’s introduction to the third edition of Frankenstein gives her account of the origins of the story, an account that allows for the influence of her parents, the weather, translated German ghost stories, Percy Shelley, Byron, and other literary companions, as well as contemporary scientific investigations. How does this diffuse web of sources make Mary Shelley’s identification with Satanic rebellion different from those of Shelley, Byron, and others?

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