Byron Bits 8: Juan & Older Women

Anne-Louise Ger­maine Neck­er (Mme. de Staël) in her ear­ly ’40s’ Por­trait by Marie-Éléonore Gode­froid

She was not old, nor young, nor at the years
Which cer­tain peo­ple call a ‘cer­tain Age,‘
Which yet the most uncer­tain age appears…

Lord Byron, Bep­po xxii (1817)

Byron’s verse brought many expres­sions into com­mon use. Although “a woman of a cer­tain age” (from the French expres­sion “une femme d’un cer­tain âge”) is cit­ed first in the 1760s, it was Byron’s use here and in Don Juan itself, when he describes the seraglio in Con­stan­tino­ple in Can­to VI, that seems to have made this cir­cum­lo­cu­tion pop­u­lar. Dick­ens lat­er picked it up, too.

Byron gave him­self a license to make jokes out of almost any­thing; but there is lit­tle doubt that some of his best friends and truest lovers were old­er women. So, I argue in this short record­ed talk, it’s per­haps no sur­prise that Juan, too, is often in their expe­ri­enced hands.

Of course, I treat the issue with the seri­ous­ness due to any lit­er­ary crit­i­cism.

May I add, while you’re here, that if you don’t know much of Mme de Staël, it will repay your effort to do some research. She was the bril­liant daugh­ter of bril­liant par­ents: Suzanne Chur­chod — a famous host­ess and phil­an­thropist — and Jacques Neck­er, the bril­liant but twice(!)-mistreated Direc­tor-Gen­er­al (Finance Min­is­ter) of Louis XVI and a hero of good gov­er­nance. She was a strong, opin­ion­at­ed woman whose clever rid­dles Byron pre­tend­ed not to under­stand — such as her remark that Napoleon was ‘not so much a man as a sys­tem’ — but he admired her intel­lec­tu­al ener­gy and her forth­right­ness and was grate­ful for her kind­ness to him, and con­tin­u­ing sup­port, dur­ing and after his messy sep­a­ra­tion and exile.

As usu­al, please lis­ten to the record­ing below and/ or fol­low along with the text that you can also down­load (below).

BB8.MP3 (about 11Mb) — Click to lis­ten or down­load

Please let me know in the com­ments if you enjoyed — or did not enjoy — this brief talk. As Byron remarks at the end of Can­to I of Don Juan, whether I make any more of these is up to your approval entire­ly.

Byron fan (not fanatic); poetry lover (not tragic); doctor of melancholia (not gloom).

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