chapter  2
25 Pages

Lord Byron’s Twin Opposites of Truth [Don Juan] *

WithJerome J. McGann

Hypocrisy may be seen as the measure of the importance of Lord Byron’s work. It is the dark double of Romantic sincerity the one ‘truth’ of Romanticism which it appeared unable to imagine. It fell to Byron, however, to reveal through his own work the larger truth of Romanticism: that its ‘sincerity’, its ‘imagination’, its ‘true voice of feeling’ are all constructs erected for various particular purposes and reasons. At the heart of the Romantic ideal of sincerity are two related problems, the one a contradiction, the other an illusion. Byron’s work is significant precisely to the extent that it deploys its rhetoric of sincerity in highly resistant poetic forms. A critical review of the state of poetry and British culture generally, the poem mounts for Byron both a self-justification and a self-critique. The exchange structure is especially interesting when Byron is reflecting upon or responding to criticisms directed at his work by contemporary readers.