The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley

The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley

By Madeleine Callaghan

Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

‘The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley’ explores the poetic heroism developed in Byron and Shelley’s poetry and drama. The book traces how the heroism of the poet, as an idea, an ideal and an illusion, undergoes many different incarnations and definitions as both poets shape distinctive and changing conceptions of the hero throughout their careers.

Hardback, 240 Pages


February 2019

£70.00, $115.00

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About This Book

Byron’s and Shelley’s experimentation with the possibilities and pitfalls of poetic heroism unites their work. ‘The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley’ traces the evolution of the poet-hero in the work of both poets, revealing that the struggle to find words adequate to the poet’s imaginative vision and historical circumstance is their central poetic preoccupation. This area has never received monograph-length treatment. It has only been hinted at in scholarly work, with recent publications choosing to focus on genre, or instead, emphasize the collective, anti-individualist context of Romantic writing. But such attention to the collaborative realities of Romantic poetic production has overshadowed the poetry’s own claims for its status as made by a unique individual and, most significantly, by an individual distinguished by his power over language. This study performs a close analysis of two major poets who have never been linked together in this context.

‘The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley’ uncovers Byron’s and Shelley’s shift from presenting the hero as a supernaturally gifted individual to a poet-hero, whose language becomes the key locus and site of anxiety of his authority, viewing this as the vital innovation of their work. More than wanting a hero, Byron’s and Shelley’s attempts to create and critique a version of the poet-hero distinguishes their poetry. Though they share a preoccupation with the poet-hero, this volume dwells on the distinctive differences between the poets, dividing the study into two parts so as to spotlight their separate though corresponding artistic concerns and achievements. For Byron, poetic heroism is both an aspiration and an apprehension, where the poet longs to be the answer to the agonised question of ‘The Giaour’, ‘When shall such Hero live again?’ even as he fears and ironizes its potentially illusory quality. Shelley requires the poet-hero to turn prophet and legislator, and the demand to balance both roles tips the poet-hero into defeat after defeat rather than guaranteeing his success. The tensions and desires inherent in their different though complementary versions of the poet-hero gain prominence in their powerfully ambiguous poetry and drama.

‘The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley’ explores the different types of poetic heroism that evolve in Byron’s and Shelley’s poetry and drama. Both poets experiment with, challenge and embrace a variety of poetic forms and genres, and this book discusses such generic exploration in the light of their changing versions of the poet-hero. The heroism of the poet, as an idea, an ideal and an illusion, undergoes many different incarnations and definitions as each poet shapes distinctive and changing conceptions of the hero throughout their careers.


Callaghan has hit upon an interesting point of convergence between Byron and Shelley with her discussion of the poet-hero. She is a great reader of poetry, and I learned a lot from her analyses of specific stanzas and lines in both Byron’s and Shelley’s works. — Alexander Grammatikos, Langara College, Vancouver, BC, Canada, European Romantic Review (2021)

"Callaghan's reading of the complexities that inhabit Byron and Shelley's conception of the poet-hero provides a compelling conceptual work of Byronic and Shelleyan aspiration, although often anxious, to render poetic language as deed. Such a study reconfigures our understanding of Romantic poetry and will exert a lasting influence on generations of students and scholars of Romantic literature. — Review by Francesco Marchionni, Madeleine Callaghan, The Poet-Hero in the Work of Byron and Shelley. London: Anthem Press, 2019. pp. 240. ISBN 9781783088973."

‘Recognising the Romantic Period’s fascination with heroism, Madeleine Callaghan’s strikingly original account explores the imaginative interchanges between Byron and Shelley over their aspirations and anxieties about casting the poet as hero. Paying close critical attention to questions of genre, Callaghan’s study significantly revises our understanding of the poet-hero within Romanticism.’
—Mark Sandy, Professor, Department of English Studies, Durham University, UK

‘Dr Callaghan’s [...] study will be the first examination of the formal ramifications of combative creative energy in the works of Lord Byron and P. B. Shelley for over four decades, tracing the ways in which their allied but opposed poetic voices responded to traditional and contemporary constructions of heroism.’
—Jane Stabler, Professor, School of English, University of St Andrews, UK

Author Information

Madeleine Callaghan is a senior lecturer in Romantic Literature at the University of Sheffield, UK. She has published various articles and chapters on Romantic and post-Romantic poetry. Callaghan is the author of Shelley’s Living Artistry: Letters, Poems, Plays (2017), co-author of The Romantic Poetry Handbook (2018) and co-editor of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry: Hardy to Mahon (2011).


Anthem Nineteenth-Century Series

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; Note on Texts and Abbreviations; Introduction: The Poet- Hero: ‘Who shall trace the void?’; Part I Byron; Chapter One ‘A tyrant- spell’: The Byronic (Poet- )Hero in Manfred , Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Beppo; Chapter Two ‘Degraded to a Doge’: Inappropriate Poetic Heroism in Marino Faliero; Chapter Three ‘Thoughts unspeakable’: Poetic Heroism under Pressure in Cain and The Deformed Transformed; Chapter Four Poetic Heroism and Authority: Don Juan and ‘Epistle to Augusta’; Interchapter: Chapter Five ‘As we wish our souls to be’: Julian and Maddalo and The Island; Part II Shelley; Chapter Six ‘The Highest Idealism of Passion and of Power’: Shelley’s Heroic Poetics in A Defence of Poetry, The Mask of Anarchy and Prometheus Unbound; Chapter Seven ‘Holy and Heroic Verse’: The Revolutionary Poet- Heroes of Laon and Cythna; Chapter Eight ‘This soul out of my soul’: The Trial of the Poet- Hero in Shelley’s Epipsychidion; Chapter Nine ‘His mute voice’: The Two Heroes of Adonais; Conclusion; The Byronic and the Shelleyan Poet- Hero; Bibliography; Index.


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