The Sour Fruit: JCU Professor James Schwarten Edits Book on Lord Byron

Journalist and writer Vincenzo Patanè presented his latest book, The Sour Fruit: Lord Byron, Love & Sex (published by John Cabot University Press and co-published by Rowman & Littlefield) edited by JCU Professor James Schwarten, at the prestigious Keats-Shelley Museum at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome on June 14.

Professor James Schwarten

Professor James Schwarten

The Sour Fruit: Lord Byron, Love & Sex looks at the poet’s now generally acknowledged bisexuality in all its aspects, from his fleeting liaisons to his love-affairs, female (his half-sister Augusta, Caroline Lamb and Teresa Guiccioli) and male (John Edleston, Nicolo Giraud and Loukas Chalandritsanos). Both Lord Byron’s poetry and his fame as a seducer enchanted and scandalized his time, when homosexuality was a criminal offence punished with the pillory or even hanging,

The book’s original approach provides unusual and fascinating insights, notably into Byron’s homosexuality, hitherto relatively unexplored, and reveals a more truthful picture of the poet. Byron was strongly attracted to boys, who in his 1819 satiric poem Don Juan are referred to as ‘sour fruit’. In his adolescence he had fallen for aristocratic contemporaries but would later be attracted to boys of a lower social station. He had several same-sex experiences in England, encouraged by the circle he frequented at Cambridge, particularly his friend Matthews. During his “Grand Tour”, a customary voyage of wealthy young men throughout southern Europe, Byron was able to freely live out behaviors frowned on at home.

There are numerous veiled references to the range of his tastes in his works and his letters, which adopt a code aimed at the initiated that we are today better able to decipher. Innuendos abound, pointing to aspects of his submerged life, to adultery, incest and, above all, homosexuality. The final lines of the first stanza of his poem Beppo (1817) is an example of explicit sexual innuendo.

The People take their fill of recreation, […]
However high their rank, or low their station,
With fiddling, feasting, dancing, drinking, masking,
And other things which may be had for asking.

Byron’s emotional and erotic life is a key element in understanding his powerful and passionate personality, as well as the society of his day.

“I am proud to have one of my books published in English by John Cabot University Press. I hope it will be as successful as the original version in Italian, I frutti acerbi. Lord Byron, gli amori & il sesso.” said Professor Patanè.

Professor Schwarten read excerpts from the book’s foreword by Professor Diego Saglia from the “University of Parma” following brief introductions by the museum’s director Giuseppe Albano. Professor Schwarten queried Patanè on several aspects of the book, such as the text’s most important contribution in terms of revealing the homosocial and homosexual complexities of Lord Byron.

James Schwarten, lecturer in Italian and Italian Studies, has research interests in Italian language and literature, translation, and sociology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently teaching Contemporary Italian Narrative, Sociology of Southern Italy, and Contemporary Italian Society.