Happy Birthday, Lord Byron!


Lord Byron—the Rapscallion of Romanticism, the Hunk of Heptameter, the Cad of the Cantos (sorry)—was born 288 years ago on this day. We can celebrate him by writing a classic satirical poem, becoming a new kind of celebrity, or starting an affair with a deeply unstable married person and / or one of our siblings. Since all of these options sound exhausting, why not pick up one of these excellent books instead? (I’ve linked each title to its excerpted Booklist review.)


 Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame, by Benita Eisler

Lord Byron’s tempestuous life has never lacked for chroniclers, but most have consigned his poetry to the literary critic. The strength of Eisler’s masterful biography lies in her rare insight into how the embattled poet distilled from his life of scandal and betrayal a literary art of soaring power. When probing Byron’s callous abandonment of his lovers (male and female) and his illegitimate children, investigating his incestuous liaison with his half-sister, or detailing his abuse of his wife, Eisler shreds the self-pitying rationalizations Byron manufactured to minimize his guilt. But when analyzing his poetry, she marvels at how “the lava of imagination” burned away the dross of a heedless life and so freed an explosive genius.



Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron, by Stephanie Barron

In her tenth Jane Austen Mystery, Barron introduces her novelist heroine to the poet Lord Byron, who is famously regarded as being “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” Not surprisingly, then, when a beautiful young woman, who has rejected the poet’s unwanted advances, is murdered, the Romantic rakehell is the chief suspect. Ah, but could he have, in truth, perpetrated the foul deed? Fans of the series will not be a bit surprised to learn that Jane is determined to find out.



Lady Caroline Lamb, by Paul Douglass

Douglass has painted a more balanced and sympathetic portrait of the infamous Lady Caroline Lamb than have her previous biographers, most of whom tended to dwell on the more sensationalistic aspects of her personality. Primarily recognized as Lord Byron’s onetime lover, Lady Caroline has often been characterized as an emotionally unstable, drug-dependent nymphomaniac. Douglass, however, prefers to explore the childhood traumas that contributed to Caroline’s often erratic adult behavior and to analyze the major role she played in “changing the possibilities for women of the nineteenth century.” He also pays long-overdue tribute to her considerable literary talents and aspirations.




Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land, by John Crowley

Did Byron leave behind a novel? That’s the premise of this one, which posits that the manuscript ended up in the hands of his brilliant daughter, Ada. Around 150 years later, Ada’s notes on the text, a tantalizing single page of the manuscript, and several pages of numbers are discovered by another brainy daughter, Alexandra Novak, an American who is in London researching the lives of British women of science for a Web site called Strong Woman Story. Alexandra (or Smith, as she is called) enlists the help of her lover Thea, a mathematician, and her estranged father, Lee, once a professor of Byron studies, to unravel the mystery of the novel, which Ada claimed was destroyed.



Lord of the Dead: The Secret History of Byron, by Tom Holland

The modern figure of the vampire—aristocratically domineering, supersensitive, accursed, fatally attractive, simultaneously loving and hating life—is based so much on the Romantic literary figure of the damned hero that is called, after its most famous popularizer, Byronic, that this contemporary gothic shocker in which Byron himself is a vampire had to be written sooner or later. Holland has very little to do creatively; he just projects the incidents, attitudes, and methods of vampire yarns, from Dracula to Interview with the Vampire, upon the tenor and themes of Byron’s writings (which are liberally excerpted for epigraphs to this book’s chapters), and—voila!—he has a thoroughly marketable piece of pop lit.



About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

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