Magazine article The New Yorker

The Man Behind Don Juan

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Man Behind Don Juan

Article excerpt

In the summer of 1938, a hundred and fourteen years after Lord Byron's nearly mythic death at Missolonghi, an intrepid vicar at the parish church of Hucknall Torkard and a small band of stalwarts decided to pay a visit to the poet of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" and "Don Juan" where he lay in the Byron family vault. The vicar and his crew were pleased to find, upon gingerly raising the coffin lid, that Byron had weathered the intervening years remarkably well. "The slightly protruding lip and curly hair were easily recognizable," reported an awestruck church caretaker. The incident--perhaps the most literal in a long line of Byronic exhumations and reassessments--turns up in Fiona MacCarthy's whopping BYRON: LIFE AND LEGEND (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), an appropriately sprawling volume devoted to the "first European cultural celebrity of the modern age." Like his twentieth-century counterpart, Elvis Presley, Byron continues to exert a necrophilic hold on the imagination, with his colossal and contradictory public image. …

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