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3 - Nihilism in English Romanticism

Byron and Shelley

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2023

Jon Stewart
Affiliation:
Slovak Academy of Sciences
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Summary

Chapter 3 represents a brief foray into the broad topic of nihilism in English Romanticism. It begins with a close reading of Lord Byron’s poem Manfred, which tells the story of a man who is tormented by knowledge and in a sense dies as a result of it. Manfred is a kind of Faustian figure zealous for learning. He pursues his occult studies alone in a tower in the Alps. Over time he attains powers of magic that allow him to evoke supernatural spirits. Manfred is haunted by a memory in the past that leaves him no rest. This is read as an autobiographical reference to Byron’s incestuous relations with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, which resulted in such a scandal that he felt obliged to leave England forever. Manfred seeks in vain for help from the different spirits of nature, who are unable to oblige him in his request to make him forget his past completely. Manfred heroically rejects that even the most powerful spirit can stand in the way of his freedom, and he insists on dying on his own terms. The chapter concludes with a brief analysis of Shelley’s famous poem “Ozymandias,” which is read as a call for self-reflection on the fleetingness of our existence and all human accomplishment.

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A History of Nihilism in the Nineteenth Century
Confrontations with Nothingness
, pp. 99 - 125
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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  • Nihilism in English Romanticism
  • Jon Stewart, Slovak Academy of Sciences
  • Book: A History of Nihilism in the Nineteenth Century
  • Online publication: 10 March 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009266734.005
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  • Nihilism in English Romanticism
  • Jon Stewart, Slovak Academy of Sciences
  • Book: A History of Nihilism in the Nineteenth Century
  • Online publication: 10 March 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009266734.005
Available formats
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  • Nihilism in English Romanticism
  • Jon Stewart, Slovak Academy of Sciences
  • Book: A History of Nihilism in the Nineteenth Century
  • Online publication: 10 March 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781009266734.005
Available formats
×