Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Art of Seduction: Byron's Poetry and Scottish Landscapes



A publication called the Galignani plays an important role in the opening chapters of The Law of Divorce. First Roland decides to send Harriet a Galignani Messenger daily, addressed to her with his own handwriting as he thinks that “the mere sight of his handwriting would cheer her misery and revive her hopes, and yet could not, under any circumstances, compromise him.” (The Law of Divorce, Chapter 2). It is in this periodical, sent by Roland, that Harriet reads the news of Roland’s marriage (The Law of Divorce, Chapter 5).

Galignani’s Messenger was a daily newspaper published in Paris from 1814 onwards by Italian Giovanni Antonio Galignani (1775-1821). After his death it was continued by his sons until 1884, when it changed its name to Daily Messenger. It was discontinued in 1914.

The Galignani family, who had a long history in book publishing in Italy (going back to 1520), settled in Paris in 1801 and expanded from publishing to a circulating library, a reading room and a book shop. They were well known to British expatriates, and many were published by Galignani (Byron, Wordsworth, Thackeray, Scott). Librairie Galigniani advertises itself as “the first English bookshop established on the continent.” In 1856 the business moved to rue du Rivoli and remains there.

When Harriet learns the news of Roland’s marriage, she faints and can only be revived with a significant chemical assistance: “sal volatile, eau-de-cologne, smelling salts and aromatic vinegar” (The Law of Divorce, Chapter 5). Then Roland’s letter brings her hope and she argues that “Roland is married again, it is true, but he laments, his marriage already; and we know that it is utterly invalid, and that he can not, according to the Christian law, have really another wife so long as I live." (ibid.)

The Law of Divorce sets “Christian law” against the man-made law of the state. This was and still is an important question, although today Christian law is more often replaced with ‘natural law,’ the integral moral principles embedded in human nature and society. Harriet’s words express what we can expect to be the central question in The Law of Divorce: does the man-made law of divorce go against the more fundamental natural law of marriage, and how we should deal with this contradiction?

Harriet loses no time in throwing down her gauntlet and, at the same time, firmly places herself on the side of “Divine law”; she replies to Roland’s letter, addressing him as “My Dear Husband”:

“… on maturer consideration and further examination of the question, you will come (God grant it may be shortly) to the conclusion that your present position is untenable, that your second marriage is null, and that, unworthy as I have proved myself, I am still, according to the Divine law, your wedded and only wife.” (The Law of Divorce, Chapter 6)

In the same letter, Harriet goes on to give a detailed report of her own infidelity. The narrative boldly set next to each other Harriet’s claim to remain Roland’s wife, his only ‘legal’ wife,” and the very act that stripped the status of a wife from her. Her seducer Walter Dunraven is, according to Harriet, quite a Victorian super(gentle)man:

“He could do everything, and did everything well. When you were gone, he was always the best horse man, the most dexterous angler, the most graceful dancer, the deadest shot, and the stroke oar. He drew well, sang his own songs, and accompanied himself, had a good memory, and captivating manners, and read aloud to perfection; but he had one vice of which I had not, nor, perhaps, you either, the remotest suspicion — namely that, under the guise of a correct life, he was already practised [sic.] in the art of seduction.” (The Law of Divorce, Chapter 6)

The guilt for initiating the liaison is placed firmly on Walter’s side. Harriet describes how Walter flirts with her. The most important part of his seduction technique is reading romantic literature to Harriet. It looks like Walter carries a veritable library of seduction in his luggage, bulging with voluptuous mediterranean love stories:

 “Having with him a small portmanteau full of books, he read to me very often when we were alone. He no longer selected mere tales and novels, but everything that was most amorous and voluptuous also. I allowed myself to listen in this way to the amours of Eloisa and Abelard, of Romeo and Juliet, of Paolo and Francesca di Rimini, of Medoro and Angelina in Ariosto ; of Hugo and Parasina, of Conrad and Medora, of Juan and Haidee, to ' The Loves of the Angels,' and — worst still — to ' The Decameron' of Boccaccio.” (Ibid.)


Abelard and Heloise by Edmund Leighton (1882)
Eloise and Abelard by Alexander Pope was published in 1717. It is based on a medieval, French love story, which ends unhappily with the lovers entering a convent and a monastery. Pope’s poem picks the story up when Eloise’s feelings for Abelard are reawakened in the convent by a letter from Abelard.