Richard Lansdown, “Suicide, Melancholia, and Manic Defense in Byron's Manfred” (pp. 1–32)
This essay presents a literary-critical account of Lord Byron’s verse drama Manfred (1817) from the perspective of Freudian and Object Relations psychological theories, in particular as regards the distinction between melancholia and mourning and the presence of part-objects within the psyche. It argues that whereas it is important to preserve a distinction between the poet and his works, such a distinction can never be total: like Childe Harold, Manfred is clearly in part a personal projection, given Byron’s state of mind at the time of composition. To provide context for these discussions the essay surveys both Byron’s personal views concerning suicide and the history of self-slaughter in Western culture, with Romanticism as a particular focus. The poet’s attitudes were many and various, depending on which cases he had in mind. Furthermore, the Romantic tradition initiated by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) and continued by Byron’s numerous treatments of suicide mark a complication of the attitudes we find voiced by Enlightenment philosophers and, indeed, by Sigmund Freud himself.