Manfred, by George Byron and Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen Essay

Manfred, by George Byron and Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen Essay

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Historically, the Romantic era has come to symbolise an age of change and desire in the social and political sense. In a time of revolution abroad and domestic reform, one can see the importance of desire as a vehicle for change. By examining Byron, Austen and Edgeworth in a new historicist style, one is presented with differing viewpoints on desire, its effect on the narrative and its inferred comments on society.

In Byron’s ‘Manfred’, the theme of desire primarily concerns knowledge and in the latter acts, a need for forgiveness. In the initial scene, Manfred is exposed as a Freudian character who seeks knowledge from supernatural forces. From this first scene, one could ‘accuse Byron of writing Manfred with Faust open
Before him’ . However, Manfred’s quest for Faustian knowledge becomes subverted into a desire to forget, which is ultimately fulfilled in Manfred’s death.

MANFRED. The spirits I have raised abandon me,
The spells which I have studied baffle me,
The remedy I recked of tortured me;
I lean no more on supernatural aid,
It hath no power upon the past, and for
The future, till the past be gulfed in darkness, […]
If it be life to wear within myself
This barrenness of spirit and to be
My own sepulchre, for I have ceased
To justify my deeds unto myself.

This illustrates Manfred’s turn from a Faustian character into the Byronic hero. By sacrificing his desire for knowledge, Manfred questions himself resulting in his character becoming detached from nature and desiring death. If one applies Byron’s own life to this analysis we find parallels between Byron and his protagonist. In the context of exile and suspected incest, one could suggest that Manfred’s desire to be forgiv...


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...er supposedly representing 'probable' characters and incidents in contemporary life, especially 'fashionable' or courtly society, while the latter was thought to present eccentric characters in improbable circumstances and exotic or unusual locations. […] Since 'romances' were widely believed to inspire a taste for the improbable and sensational, some blamed them for exposing gullible readers to the appeal of Revolutionary 'speculation' and violence.

Thus, from Kelly’s criticism we can see that ‘Romanticism’ is seen to be inciting violence and rebellion against the established orders, much as Byron’s would have hoped. However, it also allows us to prove that Austen’s conservatism shows desire as negative, Romantic and Un-British thus the importance of desire in ‘Sense and Sensibility is that it allows an allusion to the ideological differences of the time.

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