Manfred, a confessional.

Lord Byron lived one of the more interesting lives of the romantic poets. He has been recognized as the most flamboyant and notorious of the romantic poets. His work Manfred is one of his most famous and believed by many critics to be autobiographical, even possibly confessional. James Twitchell comments on Manfred saying “ With the other Romantic poets, it is not always necessary to understand precisely how their supernatural worlds operate, for their poems can be read and appreciated in spite of the supernatural machinery. But in Manfred this is no the case”(Twitchell 1)
Manfred paints a surreal image of grieve, self loathing, and a deep sorrowful regret. One could argue Manfred here a typical Byronic hero, is indeed Byron himself. George Gordon Byron was a name amongst scandals for majority of his life. In an New York Times article, Miriam Lang explains this tribulation By stating : “It was his one sincere attachment (1813-16), to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, that led to his downfall in London society. That dangerous liaison, confirmed by Leslie Marchand’s biography, destroyed Byron’s brief marriage (1815-16) to Annabella Milbanke. While incest was not illegal in England, it was considered beyond the pale even in that licentious era. Thus, when rumors surfaced, Byron found himself ostracized.”(Lang)
This was a huge turning point for Byron, who had become quite famous by the time. It was equivalent to the likes of a Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong celebrity scandal. Manfred was used as a direct confessional for the guilt Byron exhibited regarding the incestuous affair. Loren Glass examines the character more throughly when describg Manfred by saying “This leads critics to claim that “the theme of incest … reveals the narcissism of the Romantic hero,”(Stein 2) or “if brother-sister incestuous love … symbolizes perfectly the Romantic hero’s narcissistic sensibility, it also symbolizes his intellectual solipsism.”(Thorslev, 3) This mode of argument always reduces, implicitly or explicitly, to the conclusion that Astarte is “ultimately … a projection of [Manfred’s] own mind.”(Hoevler) For in the dialectic of narcissism, the other is always simply a reflection of the self.(Glass) The author would go on to conclude “ but also the causal links between the consummation of incestuous love and the violent act which destroyed that love. They would appear to be discrete events in Manfred’s past which have become entangled in his memory.” (Glass)


Works Cited

Glass, Loren. “Blood And Affection: The Poetics Of Incest In Manfred And Parisina.” Studies In Romanticism 34.(1995): 211-226. Art Full Text (H.W.  Wilson). Web. 8 Nov. 2013.

Hoeveler,Diane Long. “Romantic Androgyny: The Women Within” (University Park: Penn State UP, 1990) 109.

Manning, Peter. “Byron and His Fictions “(Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1978) 79.

Stein, Atara “‘I Loved Her, and Destroyed Her: Love and Narcissism in Byron’s Manfred,” Philological Quarterly.

Thorslev, Jr., Peter L. “Incest as Romantic Symbol,” Comparative Literature Studies 2 (1965): 54.

Twitchell, James. “The Supernatural Structure Of Byron’s Manfred.” Studies In English Literature (Rice) 15.4 (1975): 601. Academic Search Complete. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.

Image: Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall, 1813