Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816

Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816

Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816

Byron in Geneva: That Summer of 1816

Excerpt

The details of Byron’s extraordinary life will always attract interest, yet there are already a sufficient number of biographical studies for this new one to require an explanation. The incentive for it came from reading what are still the most recent, large-scale cradle-to-grave lives of Byron, all of which have strong features. In Byron: The Flawed Angel, Phyllis Grosskurth makes excellent use of the numerous documents Lady Byron left behind – the so-called Lovelace papers now in the Bodleian library in Oxford – and as a result writes one of the best of the many accounts of his disastrous marriage and separation. But she dislikes her subject, or at least thoroughly disapproves of him. According to her, Byron ‘frequently lied or insinuated something dire in order to heighten the drama of a situation’; he had ‘a propensity all his life for assigning blame to other people’; and he tended to make friends ‘with those towards whom he might have some slight reason for feeling superior’. ‘An impoverished aristocrat who strutted about as though he were the Duke of Devonshire’, Byron resented the waltz, she claims, ‘not only because he could not participate in it, but because it detracted from the attention that might have been concentrated exclusively on him’ (the list goes on).

Benita Eisler, in Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame, is not as overtly hostile as Grosskurth, and she pays more careful and intelligent attention to Byron’s writing than most of his other biographers. But she accepts every discreditable rumour about him she can find, regardless of its source, and ignores the efforts Doris Langley Moore made in The Late Lord Byron to distinguish between those witnesses who could be trusted and those with an axe to grind. The result is that the Byron she presents is something of a moral monster, forcing himself on the 11-year-old daughter of his mistress, Lady Oxford, and repeatedly . . .

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