Byron’s ‘Beauties’
National heroines and defenders of liberty
in Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’
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Like many Victorians, Cameron knew Lord Byron’s Turkish Tales, his Hebrew Melodies, and his advocacy for the cause of Greek liberation. What has been undiscovered until now is the extent to which she drew subjects and meaning from Byron, both in terms of his Romantic subject matter and in connection to the political context of his poetry. This chapter examines how Cameron made Byron modern, interpreting narrative scenes in relation to national political debates, such as Britain’s controversial return of the Ionian Islands to Greece, but also in relation to contemporary graphic art, such as the Finden’s engraved portfolio, known as ‘Byron’s Beauties’. This title referred to the graphic portrayal of desirable women, but also to the re-publication of Byron’s poetic excerpts, known as ‘beauties’. The chapter confronts the questionable popularity of Byron in the 1860s by investigating Cameron’s dialogue with Henry Taylor and Alfred Tennyson on the role of rationality and the imagination in literature and the use of Byron’s imagery to comment on British colonial activities.

Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’

Photographic allegories of Victorian identity and empire

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