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Lord Byron - The Major Works Paperback – Nov 1 2008
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About the Author
Jerome J. McGann, Professor of Humanities, California Institute of Technology.
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author of "Poems From My Bleeding Heart"
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Now, granted, perhaps what's available here in the Oxford Edition will be enough for many readers, and it does still provide its usual advantages in paper, printing, font, notes, and intros. Byron was incredibly prolific, but like most prolific poets he tended to produce more bad poetry than good/great poetry. It's just a numbers thing; writing great poetry takes time and attention to small details. It's why it took Milton years to write Paradise Lost at a rate of 40-or-so lines a day. Every detail had to be worked out. At Byron's best he was as good as anybody, and his skill combined with his unique philosophical worldview makes him endlessly provocative, compelling, and readable, even at his worst. Byron didn't believe in Pope's maxim about how the real art of poetry was in rewriting and perfecting what one had written. He rarely tried to better his drafts, preferring to move on to the next project. I think this approach works best in his longer works where minor imperfections in the verse--be they occasionally bland, prose-like formulations, awkward meter, et al.--were less noticeable when set against the macro vision of the narrative and characters.
But, in light of realizing that Byron was at his best in the longer pieces, it's precisely those that are hurt most in The Oxford Edition. Lara and The Corsair are essential Byron, even if they're not as great as Don Juan or Child Harold's Pilgrimage, and they're almost non-existent here. And lesser (but still quality) works like The Siege of Corinth and The Prisoner of Chillon are gone entirely. So, I'll leave it up to each individual customer to decide if the Oxford's usual strengths compensate for the loss of these works. Another option is the Norton Critical Edition, which is more valuable for its critical apparatus than for the poetry itself.
This book claims to contain most of Lord Byron's major works and it certainly is a full volume, weighing in at over 1000 pages in paperback format. The larger works include the above-mentioned Pilgrimage and Don Juan. These take up at least 700 pages themselves. The remaining space is occupied by Manfred - a rather Nietzschean work about a magician; the Giaour - a tale of unrepentant love and loss; Mazeppa - a story of a man whose fortunes fall and rise dramatically; Beppo - a Venetian affaire de cour; Cain - an intense retelling of the biblical tale with Manichean overtones, and assorted shorter poems. There are also fifty pages of assorted correspondence with various individuals. The book comes equipped with a very short introduction (for a book of 1000 pages), a chronology of Byron's life, an index and end notes. There is very little in the way of explanation of why pieces are included and the end notes are mostly helpful but often explain the obvious while leaving the obscure, obscure. If you like books that contain no analysis, this is for you, but if you want things explained you will do better with something else.
Personally, I preferred the intensity and vision of Childe Harold, Cain and the Giaour to the more sarcastic and occasionally contrived style of Don Juan. Byron is at his best describing beauty - be it nature, art or woman. And much, if not all, of what he writes about is related to the fairer sex. You should write what you know about, they say, and Byron certainly knew women - in both the intellectual and biblical sense. His love affairs raged across all of Europe and brought him condemnation from his peers - particularly his dalliance with his half-sister. His books are full of the worship of the beauty of women and he objectifies them in a way that is entirely politically incorrect in our day and age and likely was then as well. If you can get past the fact that he seems like a teenage boy in rut most of the time, his descriptive powers, characterization, wit, sheer beauty and nobility of expression are sure to please.
author of "Poems From My Bleeding Heart"