#romanticism – Romanticism and Social Media

John Keats was a brilliant poet and a darling of the Romantic age and whilst his legacy has been somewhat eclipsed by the formidable shadow of Lord Byron, many snippets from his works have slipped into common usage. For example “A thing of beauty is a joy forever’, that was his, it’s from a poem called Endymion. I’m not sure how many people are aware of its origin, I certainly wasn’t until I stumbled across the poem in a collection in my high school library.

 

Today I follow The Keats Letters Project, The Keats Shelley Society and The Keats Foundation on Twitter and daily, depending on the congestion of my feed, I often get a random daily dose of Keats.

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Image: Kate Ter Haar CC BY 2.0

In this post, I’m going to focus on the works of the Romantics and the place they have posthumously found within social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The titular ‘#romanticism’ will immediately bring up results for an ocean of tweets of the work of the great romantic painters, including the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (pictured) generally tweeted by accounts that identify as the artist’s name such as John Everitt Millais @artistmillais.

 

Rebellious and subversive poets such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge & Percy Bysshe Shelley never lived to see their writing form become old hat. There was no possibility that they could comprehend moving from romanticism to modernism, modernism to postmodernism and so on. The likes of Shelley, Byron and Keats have drifted in and out of favour and in this age of social media we might expect that these tired authors might be firmly relegated to history. But then came social media and literature nerds like myself and countless others are consistently brushing off the metaphorical dusty pages, canvasses and plates to not only digitise but memorialise and adapt pieces of the Romantic movement. Below is one of my tweets using the #romaniticism hashtag to share an edited image from a literary annual featuring works of Romanticism for young ladies to promote my podcast that talks about a work of Romanticism by Mary Shelley, one of the great authors of the Romantic movement. And that my friend is convergence.

Vast quantities of books from the Romantic period have been digitised by libraries and archives, they have been transcribed by volunteers at Project Gutenberg and read by volunteers at Librivox. That information or the books they are derived from is then used by others to write blogs, record Youtube videos, make podcasts and create those very pretty and ambiguous inspirational quotes.

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Now it’s your turn… by Michael Coghlan by CC by 2.0

All or most of these creations are shared on social media. But none of this happens without the human desire to make mediums collide and take their experience of a text into a different realm. These sharable, likeable and Tweetable formats that we squeeze these often weighty, sometimes iconic texts and images may have the effect of diminishing the work, but it can also have the effect of adding to rather than subtracting from the narrative of the artefact; that is it can make a static piece of art into something that living, morphing and consistently reimagined. Ross & Sayers (2014) highlight the way that modernist texts can become alive through social media and other internet-mediated discourse and a similar argument could be applied to the preceding Romantic movement.

 

As Wright suggests in ‘Battle of the Books’ (2009) this new digitisation of literature means that ‘the book is becoming a fluid entity that can flow into a number of vessels’ and the same is true of poetry and art. The appeal of these particular works of the Romantic period is surely due in no small measure to their status in the public domain, leaving these iconic works that helped pave the way for western cultural heritage as we know it freely available for anyone to read, dissect and reimagine.

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Ebook by Daniel Sancho by CC by 2.0

As Wright suggests in ‘Battle of the Books’ (2009) this new digitisation of literature means that ‘the book is becoming a fluid entity that can flow into a number of vessels’ and the same is true of poetry and art. The appeal of these particular works of the Romantic period is surely due in no small measure to their status in the public domain, leaving these iconic works that helped pave the way for western cultural heritage as we know it freely available for anyone to read, dissect and reimagine.

Listen to a quick podcast on Romantic Gothic literature, impermanence and Percy Bysshe Shelley

References

Images

  • “Portrait of John Keats” by Joseph Severn, 1821, Retrieved from the National Portrait Gallery.
  • “Laptop” by Bonzo, Open Clip Art under CC BY 1.0.
  • “Joan of Arc” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1882, Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.
  • “Now it’s your turn…” by Michael Coghlan under CC BY 2.0, Flickr.
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty; that is all ye know on earth and all ye need know. – John Keats” by Kate Ter Haar is licensed under CC BY 2.0,
  • “ebook” by Daniel Sancho is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • The “Ozymandias Collossus”, Ramesseum, Luxor, Egypt by Charlie Phillips is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Music

  • Evermore by Kai Engel is licensed under an Attribution License 3.0 License.
  • Kelli’s Number by U.S. Army Blues is licensed under a Public Domain 1.0 License.
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Lord Byron vs. The World – Part 1

Byron was the subject of intense gossip during his lifetime, and as you’ll recall from our Villa Diodati episode, people would pay money to find out about the choicest Bryon gossip. 196 years later people are still researching, writing and reading about the scandalous Lord’s life and the many controversies that surround him. Byron rumours are still a sought-after commodity and with the many notable biographers and scholars who have written extensively on his life, I really didn’t think I would do the wealth of information justice. So here are a few of the more tame Byron stories to get us started

 

The Unlucky Caul ¹

The caul is a membrane sack that some babies still have surrounding them when they are born. There was a superstition which stated that a preserved caul, carried by a seafaring person would prevent them from drowning. Byron was born with a caul and it was sold to a sailor… who drowned. Not baby Byron’s fault obviously but it sets the tone for a lifetime being “dangerous to know” (Lady Caroline Lamb in 1812, maybe²).

 

 

He kept a bear at Cambridge³

This well-documented fact is less of a scandal these days and more of an oddity, provided you don’t think about it too hard. In protestation of the university’s rules against keeping animals, Byron acquired a bear and kept it in his rooms. The quality of life that the bear experienced is the part that is less funny and more tragic.

 

Lord Byron’s orthopaedic boot, England, 1781-1810
Lord Byron’s orthopaedic boot, England, 1781-1810 http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/objects/display?id=92636

His Club Foot¹

Much has been made of Byron’s clubfoot, perhaps because it is one of the few solid facts we have in a sea of speculation about the Lord’s physical condition. His reaction to it as a child was to periodically overcompensate for the impairment with intense physical exercise, referred to as “violent”. This is not the last time that we will encounter the word violent in relation to the Lord’s life. It is speculated that perhaps the club foot and other medical issues may stem from infantile asphyxia caused by that cursed caul.

 

Part 2 Coming Soon

 

 

Citations

  1. Celestin, Roger. “Pathos and Pathology in the Life of Lord Byron.” West of England Medical Journal 106.4 (1991): 105–106. Print.
  2. David, Stenhouse. “Just Nuts about Byron.” Sunday Times, the, n.d. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.deakin.edu.au/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=n5h&AN=7EH3316029372&authtype=sso&custid=deakin&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  3. University of Cambridge. (2018). Lord Byron and the bears beneath Cambridge. [online] Available at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/features/lord-byron-and-the-bears-beneath-cambridge [Accessed 25 Feb. 2018].

Just a Phase – Claire Clairemont

This article was written as part of The FrankenPod’s exploration of Mary Shelley and the events at The Villa Diodati.

Claire Clairmont

Born: 27th April 1798 near Bristol

Died: 19th March 1879 in Florence

Published works: none

“But in our family, if you cannot write an epic or novel, that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head, you are a despicable creature, not worth acknowledging”

Claire Clairmont to Jane Williams

 

Curran, Amelia, 1775-1847; Claire Clairmont (1798-1879)
Curran, Amelia, 1775-1847; Claire Clairmont (1798-1879)

Claire was born Clara, was nicknamed Jane as a child, and then adopted Claire in her teenage years. She was a wild teenager, and it sounds like she would have been a lot of fun until she got bogged down by Byron and all his drama.

It is quite possible she had some kind of affair with Percy Bysshe Shelley who was married to Harriet and already having an affair with Mary. Some of his poems are thought to be about her and their affair may have resulted in a baby called Elena. A baby by that name was registered as being born to Shelley and “Maria” but Mary could not have been the mother. If Claire was the mother she went up Mount Vesuvius just before she gave birth which is a weird call.

Whoever Elena was, she had a short life in foster care and died age one.

This brings us to Byron.

See Villa Diodati for more details on that mess. After her affair with Byron, she realized she was pregnant with his child. She wrote lengthy letters to the poet beseeching him to help her, financially and emotionally. But we’ve discussed how awful Byron was so you can probably guess how that went.

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Allegra Byron

Allegra

She had a daughter Allegra with no support whatsoever from Byron. Then in an effort to provide the best possible opportunities for her daughter, she sent Allegra to him in Italy.

I get it, a single mother, in Regency England, she didn’t have many options. She also had no way of knowing how little the poet would have to do with little Allegra once she arrived in Italy. Allegra was placed in a convent, alone. Byron never visited her.

Claire was furious! Byron had promised her that Allegra would at least be able to see him, not directly under his care, but at least in his house. Byron was unresponsive to her letters and requests to get Allegra back. So she formed a cunning plan.

The Kidnap Plot

Claire was intensely unhappy and worried about her daughter’s wellbeing in the convent. Her living conditions were unknown to Claire, but she did not hold out much hope for the suitability and safety of her accommodations. She was just a little kid, and if her father was going to neglect her she should be with her mother. Claire began to plan to get her daughter back. She tried to convince Percy Bysshe Shelley to forge a letter from Byron allowing Claire to remove Allegra from the convent. But before she could put her plan into action little Allegra died of typhus or a malarial like fever aged just 5. The only person to visit Allegra during her time in the Italian convent was Percy. Claire blamed Byron, understandably so, and ferociously hated the poet beyond his death saying that he had ‘given her only a few minutes of pleasure but a lifetime of trouble’.

After Allegra, then Shelley’s death, Claire’s desire in life seemed to be finding some semblance of peace and normalcy. It seems a though the rollercoaster of Claire’s early adult years had quenched whatever desire for turbulent romantic entanglements she had had. She spent time as a music teacher, a governess and a few other respectable and consistent jobs. She kept in touch with her stepsister Mary, and while their old rivalry and competitiveness occasionally caused a ripple, they stayed in correspondence until Mary’s death. Mary for her part said that she thought that is was impossible that Percy and Claire had a physical relationship. No matter what the truth is in regard to the nature of their relationship, it is clear they cared a great deal for each other.

Claire never married, an unusual choice at the time, but when taken in the context of what she endured at the hands of Lord Byron, it is not surprising. She had her fair share of suitors, including Trelawny who was part of the Shelley circle towards the end of Shelley and Byron’s lives. But Claire was fine without the drama.

She outlived all of her companions who were there at the Villa Diodati on the fateful night of the ghost story challenge. I find Claire the most relatable out of the bunch. Her life didn’t go exactly how she planned and she was not some inaccessible gothic romantic heroine.

She was Claire, and nevertheless, she persisted.

 

The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati

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Lord Byron in Greek dress

This article was written to accompany The FrankenPod episode “The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati” and our continuing exploration of Frankenstein, Or the Modern Day Prometheus and it’s author Mary Shelley.

In 1816 the after-effects of a devastating eruption of Mount Tambora the year beforehand were seriously messing with weather patterns and consequently the harvest. Farmers across the globe were struggling to make ends meet and cost of food and produce skyrocketed. Byron was still travelling. He left England in disgrace and he would never go back until they transported his cold lifeless corpse back to England against his wishes. Mary, her husband Percy and her stepsister Claire were travelling too. Referred to as the Shelley Party, or Shelley and his two little wives. The two parties would cross paths between 10 June to 1 November 1816 at Lake Geneva that would be intensely documented and scrutinised.

 

Whilst Mary and her novel may be our primary point of interest, she is not the driving force behind the gathering of these remarkable people. No, it is her persistent and enamoured 18-year-old step sister, who had organised for the two parties to meet up using the kind of Machiavellian manipulation that only a strong-willed 18-year-old woman can orchestrate. Claire Clairmont had, through written correspondence, pursued Lord Byron and, he, exhausted from the constant scandal was absolutely willing to have an affair with a pretty, chaperone-less young lady who was the stepdaughter of one of the most esteemed thinkers of his age.

Their affair was short-lived and Byron unceremoniously ditched her. Claire, however, was not done with him and she began to utilize all the social capital she had at her disposal. If you haven’t caught on yet Byron is an arse. He was accused of all sorts of adulterous and licentious behaviour including a rumoured affair with his half-sister. He spent his time hopping from scandal to scandal, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. His behaviour was particularly devastating to the women he had affairs with as the scandal could ruin their lives. He was very assured of his own genius and place in the world and he thought nothing of dismissing the affections of this young woman until she introduced Percy and Mary into the mix.

Byron, like Percy and numerous other young writers of the time, was fascinated by Mary. This daughter of two literary greats must be special indeed. And Percy had previously sent Byron a copy of Queen Mab in which the older poet saw a budding poetic voice emerging. Plus Byron had dealt with his fair share of public scandal so he felt a certain affinity with the young unwed couple.

However, Byron was leaving for Geneva and Claire was not going to give up just yet. She asked for the address.

He said no.

She asked again but this time she offered to bring Mary and Percy along.

This idea appealed to Byron and an invitation was extended to the Shelley party who by this stage was essentially on the run from Percy’s creditors and the scandalous reputation they had acquired in England.

Byron was not travelling alone, his laudanum addiction provoked him to retain the services of a doctor to accompany him in his travels, one Doctor John Polidori. Literary lore and Polidori’s own account of his time with the genius poet depicts a Byron as a potential sociopath who would constantly berate and belittle his paid companion, whilst demonstrating an easy charm and playfulness with others. He enjoyed toying with the young doctor, delighting in his failures and missteps. But Polidori had a secret; he had been paid quite a large sum of money by publisher John Murray to document the trip for publication. Byron gossip was a high priced commodity, and though his motives were far from pure, it is Polidori’s notes to which we owe a large portion of what we know of the events that transpired at the on the holiday…

Listen to The FrankenPod League of Incense – The Villa Diodati now.

Or keep reading… Or both

Continue reading The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati