Lord Byron's Wife

Lord Byron's Wife

Lord Byron's Wife

Lord Byron's Wife

Excerpt

On the publication of Childe Harold in 1812, Lord Byron became the lion of London society. He was only twenty-four, of great personal beauty, and the holder of an ancient title--incredibly a fitting hero for his own romantic poem. Immediately he became a subject of scandal when Lady Caroline Lamb, daughter-in-law of the celebrated Lady Melbourne, fell so desperately in love with him that she visited his rooms in disguise, paraded her passion at public assemblies, once attempted suicide as an emotional gesture. When her family succeeded in removing her, Byron drifted into other amours only less notorious till in 1815 he married Annabella Milbanke.

Their married life lasted almost exactly one year; after the birth of a daughter, Annabella returned to her parents and demanded a legal separation. Husband and wife never met again; Byron left England never to return, living scandalously in Italy with a series of mistresses till he died at Missolonghi in 1824 as a martyred hero in the cause of Greek independence. Within a few weeks of his death his friend and executor, John Cam Hobhouse, met representatives of his wife and his half-sister at the office of his publisher, John Murray, and allowed the manuscript of his autobiography to be burnt.

The truth of his marriage and separation has remained ever since a subject of speculation for his many biographers. Nine years after Annabella's death in 1860, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, asserted that the cause of separation was Annabella's discovery of an incestuous relationship between Byron and his half-sister, Augusta Leigh--a charge that seemed substantiated when Byron's grandson, the 2nd Earl of Lovelace, published Astarte in 1905. But Byron's partisans found proofs wanting; more theories and speculations were evolved, and as recently as 1957 Professor G. Wilson Knight, in Lord Byron's Marriage, argued that the story of incest was merely a mask to screen the true cause of the separation--that Byron's wife discovered his practice of homosexuality. In 1958 Professor Leslie A. Marchand published a three-volume biography of Byron, imposing a lasting debt on all students of Byron by assembling the known documentary facts of his life, and many critics assumed somewhat impetuously that the last word had been written on the Byron mystery.

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