The media firestorm that followed Harriet Beecher Stowe's exposé of Lord Byron's supposed incest (which she first detailed in an 1869 Atlantic Monthly article and later in the book Lady ByronVindicated ) provides an apt cultural site for analyzing the intersections among notions of authorship, moral authority, and literary value in the second half of the nineteenth century. Noting that a significant strain of commentary on the scandal sought to separate Byron's literary genius from the matter of his personal behavior, Ryan argues that this case study allows us to situate the declining relevance of authorial character to the question of literary valuation rather earlier in the century than scholars have typically claimed. Further, the Stowe-Byron scandal prefigures the unevenness and contestation that would accompany that development as well as the degree to which it would be complicated by the very identity categories and political investments that such a text-centered approach seems intent on eliding. Ryan notes that book advertisements and other archival sources support the view—advanced by both nineteenth-century commentators and twentieth-century scholars—that the scandal enhanced Byron's status and sales. The ensuing damage to Stowe's career, on the other hand, has been much exaggerated. The article concludes by exploring the critical and pedagogical tensions that authorship's reputational economies still engender.
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Susan M. Ryan; Stowe, Byron, and the Art of Scandal. American Literature 1 March 2011; 83 (1): 59–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2010-063
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