The Corsair (1814) is a long tale in verse written by Lord Byron (see 1814 in poetry) and published by John Murray in London. It was extremely popular, selling ten thousand copies on its first day of sale, and was influential throughout the following century, inspiring operas, music and ballet.[1] The 180-page work was dedicated to Irish poet Thomas Moore.

First edition title page

Background edit

The poem, divided into cantos (like Dante's Divine Comedy), narrates the story of the corsair or privateer Conrad. It says that in his youth he was rejected by society because of his acts and his later war against humanity (excepting women). In this 180-page tale, the figure of the Byronic hero emerges, "that man of loneliness and mystery" who perceives himself a "villain", an anti-hero.

Many Americans believed the poem was based on the life of the privateer/pirate Jean Lafitte.[2]

Summary edit

The plot focuses on Conrad, a corsair, a kind of pirate or privateer. The first canto recounts Conrad's plan to attack the Pacha Seyd and seize his possessions. Conrad's wife, Medora, however, is determined to convince him to abandon his plan and not to embark on the mission. He sails from his island in the Aegean Sea to attack the pacha on another island.

The second canto describes the attack. Disguised, Conrad and his brigands begin their assault against Pacha Seyd, which goes according to plan. But then Conrad hears the cries of the women in the pacha's harem, so he tries to free them. This change from the original plan enables the pacha's forces to mount a successful counterattack. They kill most of the attackers and imprison Conrad. Gulnare, the pacha's slave, secretly goes to Conrad's cell, where she tells him that, in gratitude for his attempt to save her and the other women, she will try to save him.

In the third and final canto, Gulnare initiates the escape plan by trying to trick Seyd into freeing Conrad. When this fails, the pacha threatens to kill both her and Conrad. Gulnare tries to convince Conrad to kill Seyd and arranges for a knife to be taken to his cell, but Conrad refuses to kill him in cold blood without a fair fight.

Gulnare therefore kills the pacha herself. She and Conrad escape, successfully reaching his island. Conrad learns that his wife, Medora, believing Conrad had died in Seyd's counterattack, has died of grief. In the final scene, Conrad departs from the island alone, without Gulnare: "He left a Corsair's name to other times,/ Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes."

Influence edit

The Corsair was adapted for or inspired numerous other works in a variety of genres, although Byron did not live long enough to know about most of them.

In music, the poem was the basis for the grand opera The Pacha's Bridal (1836), with music by Francis Romer and a libretto by Mark Lemon; the opera Il corsaro (1848) by Giuseppe Verdi; and the ballet Le Corsaire (1856) by Adolphe Adam. The poem inspired the overture Le Corsaire (1845) by Hector Berlioz, and in 1908 Edward Elgar composed the song "Deep in My Soul" in 1908 with lines from The Corsair.

French painter Eugène Delacroix depicted a scene from the work in a watercolor, Episode from The Corsair (1831), which shows Gulnare visiting the imprisoned Conrad in his cell. In 1815, Henry Fuseli sketched Conrad Rescues Gulnare. Henry Singleton and Richard Corbould also produced paintings based on the work.[3]

In 1840, American editor and author N. P. Willis named his new periodical The Corsair after Byron's poem.

References edit

  1. ^ "Literary Daybook, Feb. 1 -". 1 February 2002. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  2. ^ Ramsay (1996), pp. 138–9.
  3. ^ Moore, Grace, ed. Pirates and Mutineers of the Nineteenth Century: Swashbucklers and Swindlers. Routledge, 2011.

Sources edit

  • Drucker, Peter. 'Byron and Ottoman love: Orientalism, Europeanization and same sex sexualities in the early nineteenth-century Levant' (Journal of European Studies, vol. 42 no. 2, June 2012, 140–57).
  • Garrett, Martin: George Gordon, Lord Byron. (British Library Writers' Lives). London: British Library, 2000. ISBN 0-7123-4657-0.
  • Garrett, Martin. Palgrave Literary Dictionary of Byron. Palgrave, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-00897-7.
  • Guiccioli, Teresa, contessa di, Lord Byron's Life in Italy, transl. Michael Rees, ed. Peter Cochran, 2005, ISBN 0-87413-716-0.
  • Grosskurth, Phyllis: Byron: The Flawed Angel. Hodder, 1997. ISBN 0-340-60753-X.
  • McGann, Jerome: Byron and Romanticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-00722-4.
  • Oueijan, Naji B. A Compendium of Eastern Elements in Byron's Oriental Tales. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1999.
  • Ramsay, Jack C. (1996), Jean Laffite: Prince of Pirates, Eakin Press, ISBN 978-1-57168-029-7
  • Rosen, Fred: Bentham, Byron and Greece. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992. ISBN 0-19-820078-1.

External links edit