Who Shall Trace the Void?’ The Marginalization of the Modern City in Lord Byron and the Shelleys’ Authoritative Representations of Rome
Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Colby Access Only)
Colby College. English Dept.
Lord Byron and Shelleys' continuing literary legacy makes them necessary targets for any examination of the Romantic era, and their popularity among their contemporary British co-patriots at home and abroad, along with their large portfolio of writing on Rome, makes them even better targets for a study of British Romantic representations of the city. This paper will focus on works that deal primarily with the city of Rome, relying heavily on the Fourth Canto of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1818), as well as Bryon's personal letters to friends and family for added insight. Although the Shelley spent a number of years in Rome and produced many works while living in the city, this paper looks in particular at Mary Shelley's "Valerius: The Reanimated Roman" (1819), Percy Shelley's "The Coliseum" (1833), and Percy Shelley's personal accounts on his travels, because these works deal exclusively with the Shelleys' thoughts and feelings on Rome. When Byron reaches Rome in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, he petitions to the ancient city: "Chaos of ruin! Who shall trace the void, / O'er the dim fragments cast a lunar light, / And say, 'here was, or is, ' where all is doubly night?" (718 -720). With typical Byronic humility, Byron of course infers throughout the rest of the Canto that it is he himself who has the true capability to fill the void, to find the essence of Rome throughout time and capture it in his verse. However, 200 years later, as Byron becomes a shadow among those he exalted in his verses, and his purported immortal presence in Rome continues to be tested by the ongoing passing of time, these lines reveal a new meaning that perhaps suggests a genuine understanding of Rome's shiftless identity. In a city in which everyone – tourists, literati, architects, natives, politicians – has different and contradicting views on the past and the future, "who shall trace the void" between representation and reality? Who is to assume mastery and authority over a city that is chaos of layers in time and space? Perhaps, as Byron might suggest, Rome is shrouded in a double night that shields the viewer from discovering anything beyond their own reflections, whether they be on a personal level as for Bryon or a national level as for Mary Shelley. Rome, with its depth of time and history, perhaps can only offer the viewer snapshots of their choosing, for to embrace all sides of Rome would be too contradictory and chaotic. Therefore, by looking at these British Romantics' various writing endeavors concerned with Rome, this paper demonstrates how their nearly exclusive attention and praise of the ancient Roman layer of the city – and distaste for the modem urban spaces and people – created a gap in their representations that impacts foreign tourists' misplaced view of Rome and begs to be filled by succeeding writers.
ancient, tourism, skewed, representation
Recommended CitationHathaway, Elizabeth A., "Who Shall Trace the Void?’ The Marginalization of the Modern City in Lord Byron and the Shelleys’ Authoritative Representations of Rome" (2011). Honors Theses. Paper 1121.
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