She was not old, nor young, nor at the yearsLord Byron, Beppo xxii (1817)
Which certain people call a ‘certain Age,‘
Which yet the most uncertain age appears…
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).
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.