Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land

Lord Byron's Novel: The Evening Land

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by John Crowley

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One of our most accomplished literary artists, John Crowley imagines the novel the haunted Romantic poet Lord Byron never penned ...but very well might have. Saved from destruction, read, and annotated by Byron's own abandoned daughter, Ada, the manuscript is rediscovered in our time — and almost not recognized. Lord Byron's Novel is the story of a


One of our most accomplished literary artists, John Crowley imagines the novel the haunted Romantic poet Lord Byron never penned ...but very well might have. Saved from destruction, read, and annotated by Byron's own abandoned daughter, Ada, the manuscript is rediscovered in our time — and almost not recognized. Lord Byron's Novel is the story of a dying daughter's attempt to understand the famous father she longed for — and the young woman who, by learning the secret of Byron's manuscript and Ada's devotion, reconnects with her own father, driven from her life by a crime as terrible as any of which Byron himself was accused.

Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World
“An astounding display of scholarship and imagination . . . remarkable.”
Seattle Times
“Though it’s an impertinent undertaking, it’s also a beautiful success . . . Both charmingly romantic and stoically realistic.”
Vancouver Sun
“A complex, nested novel of literary and biographical reconstruction . . . A stunning, rewarding work.”
Boston Globe
“An eerily authentic simulation of Romantic literature . . . beautiful.”
Toronto Star
“Remarkable and convincing . . . Despite its Romantic trappings, LORD BYRON’S NOVEL pulses with contemporary vitality.”
New York Times Book Review
“[An] intricate and stylish romp . . . both a Gothic extravaganza and a picaresque adventure.”
Washington Times
“One of 2005’s most accomplished novels.”
Christopher Benfey
Crowley's real achievement in Lord Byron's Novel is not a convincing imitation of Byron -- not even Byron, who was pudgy and pale and walked with a limp, could always pull that off. More persuasive by far is the suffocating world of encryption and code, coincidence and conspiracy, paranoia and parapsychology that Crowley summons from his 19th-century documents and 21st-century decoders. His fatherless daughters and daughterless fathers search for one another across this uncannily familiar terrain, longing for a unity that seems just beyond their grasp. ''Happy endings are all alike,'' Ada Byron slyly observes in one of her annotations, but ''disasters may be unique.''
— The New York Times
Ron Charles
In an astounding display of scholarship and imagination, John Crowley has stitched together pieces of biography, literary history, textual criticism, computer science and cryptography to produce a novel about Byron's lost masterpiece. In the words of Dr. Frankenstein: "It's alive!"
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
On a stormy night at Lord Byron's Swiss villa, Mary Shelley challenged her host, her husband and herself to write a ghost story. Mary's, of course, became Frankenstein. Byron supposedly soon gave up his-but, Crowley asks, what if he didn't? The result is this brilliant gothic novel of manners enclosed in two frames. In one, Byron's manuscript comes into the hands of Ada, his daughter by his estranged wife. Ada, in reality, became famous as a proto-cyberneticist, having collaborated on mathematician Charles Babbage's "difference engine." In Crowley's novel, Ada ciphers Byron's work into a kind of code in order to keep it from her mother. The second frame consists of the contemporary discovery of Ada's notes on Byron's story by Alexandra Novak, who's researching Ada for a Web site dedicated to the history of women in science. Alex is, a little too conveniently (this novel's one structural flaw), the estranged daughter of a Byron scholar and filmmaker; her interest in Ada dovetails with her father's interest in Byron, and she's fascinated by the notes and the code both. By applying Byron's scintillating epistolary style to the novel he should have written, Crowley creates a pseudo-Byronic masterpiece. The plot follows Ali, the bastard son of Lord "Satan" Sane and an unfortunate minor wife of a minor Albanian "Bey." Sane finds and takes the boy, aged 12, back to Regency England. Ali's life is filled with gothic events, from the murder of his father (of which he is accused) to his escape from England with the help of a "zombi," the fortuitous and critical aid he gives the English army at the Battle of Salamanca and his love affair with a married woman. The myth of Byron's lost papers has a catalyzing effect on American literary genius, giving us James's Aspern Papers and now Crowley's best novel. Agent, Ralph Vicinanza. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Crowley's (Daemonomania) magnificent new novel is multilayered and convoluted, a story within a story within a story that spans three centuries. It opens with the discovery of a fictitious and somewhat biographical manuscript by Lord Byron. The manuscript itself is a kick, complete with pashas and privateers, fortunes and loves won and lost, sexual ambiguity, and locations spanning from Albania to the Scottish Highlands, all written in prose as flowery as Byron's poetry. This manuscript then mysteriously falls into the hands of Byron's daughter, Ada, known today as one of the first mathematicians to understand the possibilities of computer programming. She encodes the manuscript and adds long, often rambling annotations, pondering her own life as well as her father's. Finally, the reader sees Byron's novel and Ada's notes through the eyes of Alexandra, a 21st-century computer wiz who decodes the notes and ponders her own relationship with her distant father. This book will appeal to sophisticated readers and is highly recommended for medium and large public libraries.-Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, OR Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A lost novel by Lord Byron-yes, that Lord Byron-surfaces in present-day London and unfolds here, in a multilayered meditation on the nature of the self and of father-daughter relationships, all bound up in a ripping good story. Alexandra "Smith" Novak had little interest in Lord Byron when she began researching his estranged daughter, Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, for strongwomanstory.org, a Web site about significant women in history. However, while going through Ada's papers, acquired from a mysterious character in a shady interaction, Smith comes across a manuscript consisting entirely of tables of numbers; with the help of her mathematician girlfriend and her own estranged father, the entire thing is translated back into its original form: a roman a clef of Byron's own life-they think. There's no way of being certain that Byron wrote the thing, but the theory is that Ada, a mathematician and arguably author of the first computer program (for her friend Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine), coded the entirety of her father's novel before burning it at her mother's behest. Crowley, known for spinning complex fantasies (Novelties and Souvenirs, 2004, etc.), here goes himself one better and inhabits the persona of another writer (himself a pioneer of the gothic and romantic) to create the heart of the work. Byron writes of Ali, a lost Albanian son of a dissipated Scottish nobleman. Ali is suddenly plucked up from his country and dumped into a foreign world, one of the English noble classes, and begins his peregrinations through wars, murders, dark and stormy nights-all swirled together in an ornate, darkly humorous tale. These episodes are sandwiched between notes made by Byron'sdaughter on the text and lengthy e-mail correspondence between Smith, Lee, Thea and Smith's mother, all about the progress of the translation and their views of Ada and Byron almost 200 years later. Complex and satisfying, pleasurably dizzying in its layers and self-references, and addictively readable.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

Lord Byron's Novel

The Evening Land
By John Crowley

William Morrow

ISBN: 0-06-055658-7

Chapter One

Observe - but no! No one may observe, save the unfeeling Moon, who sails without progress through the clouds - a young Lord, who on the ramparts of his half-ruined habitation keeps a late watch. Wrapt in a Scotch mantle little different from that worn in all times by his ancestors - and not on the Scotch side alone - he has a light sword buckled on, a curved and bejewelled one not of this northern land's manufacture. He has two pocket pistols as well, made by Mantons - for this is a year in the present century, tho' what the youth may see in the moon's light is much as it has been for these past seven or eight. There is the old battlement that faces to the North, whereon he stands, whose stones he rests his hand upon. Beyond, he sees the stony cliff, bearded in gorse and heather, that builds toward the mountains, and - for his eye is preternaturally sharp - the thread of a track that for aye has ascended it. Black against the tumbled sky is the top of a farther watchtower, reached by that selfsame track. Farther on, in the darkness, lie a thousand acres of Caledonian wilds and habitations: to which this outwatching youth is heir. His name, the reader will perhaps not expect to hear, is Ali.

Against what enemy does he go armed? In truth he knows of none - not his servants asleep in the hall below - not bandits, or rivals of his clan and the Laird his father, such as might once have threatened from the dark.

The Laird his father! The reader will remember the man, if the reader be one who listens to tales in London theatre-boxes, or frequents race-courses, or hells; if he have haunted Supper-clubs, or places with less euphuistical names; known Courts, or Law-courts. John Porteous - who inherited, on the death of his own amazed and helpless sire, the singularly inappropriate title Lord Sane - was a catalogue of sins, not only the lesser ones of Lust and Gluttony but the greater ones of Pride, Anger and Envy. He wasted his own substance, and when it was gone wasted that of his wife and tenants, and then borrowed, or coerced, more from his terrified acquaintanceship, who knew well enough that the Lord would stint at nothing in revealing their own indiscretions, to which often as not he had tempted them in decades past. 'Black-mail' was a word he professed to shudder at: he never, he said, employed the mails. What he spent these gains upon, however got, seemed less of interest to him than the expenditure itself; he was always ready to tear down what he contrived to possess, just in the moment of possession. It was just such an outrageous act of destruction that had earned him the sobriquet, in a time that liked to bestow such, of 'Satan'. He was a wicked man, and he took a devilish delight in it - when he was not in his rage, or maddened by some obstacle to his desire; indeed a fine fellow, in his way, and of a large circle. He had travelled extensively, seen the Porte, walked beneath the Pyramids, sired (it was said without proof) litters of dark-skinned pups in various corners of the South and East.

Of late 'Satan' Porteous has kept much to his wife's Scotch estates, which he has improved and despoiled in equal measure. Onto the ancient towers and battlements and the ruined chapel a former Laird added a Palladian wing of great size and bleak aspect, ruining himself in the process; there the present Laird kept Lady Sane, well out of the fashionable world and indeed out of the world entire. She is rumoured to have gone mad, and as far as Lord Sane's heir knew of her, she is not all of sound mind. The lady's fortune 'Satan' ran through long before - then when he had need of funds, he squeezed his tenants, and sold the timber on his parks and grounds to be cut, which increased the melancholy sense of ruination there far more than did the windowless chapel open to the owl and the fox. The trees grew a hundred years; the money's already spent. He keeps a tame bear, and an American lynx, and he stands them by him when he calls his son before him.

Yes, it is he, his father, Lord Sane, of whom Ali is afraid, though the man is this night nowhere nearby - with his own eyes Ali saw his Lordship's coach depart for the South, four blacks pulling with all their strength as the coachman lashed them. Yet he is afraid, as afraid as he is brave; his very being seems to him but a candle- flame, and as easily put out.

The Moon was past midheaven when, shivering tho' not from cold, Ali retired. His great Newfoundland dog Warden lay by his bed, so fast asleep he hardly roused at his master's familiar tread. Oldest, and only true, friend! Ali pressed for a moment his face into the dog's neck. He then drank the last of a cup of wine, into which a minim of Kendals drops were dropt. Nevertheless he did not undress - only wrapt his mantle close about him, his pistols within reach - propped his watchful head upon cold pillows - and - believing he would not sleep - he slept.

In deep darkness he woke, feeling upon him a heavy hand. He was one quick to wake, and might have leapt up, taking up the pistol near at hand - but he did not - he lay as motionless as though still asleep, for the face that looked into his, tho' known to him, was not a man's. A black face, the eyes small and yellow, and the little light shone upon teeth as long as daggers. It was his father's tame bear, the hand upon him its hand!


Excerpted from Lord Byron's Novel by John Crowley Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

John Crowley lives in the hills of northern Massachusetts with his wife and twin daughters. He is the author of ten previous novels as well as the short fiction collection, Novelties & Souvenirs.

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and Percy Bysche Shelley were enjoying each other¿s company in Byron's Swiss villa while it stormed outside. Pondering the writing talent and the gloomy weather, Mary challenges her host and her spouse to ¿compete¿ with her in writing a ghost story. Everyone knows that Mary wrote Frankenstein while assuming that Byron, feeling out of his ¿romantic¿ lane, gave up the ghost..................... Instead Byron's cryptographic genius daughter Ada finds her father¿s manuscript and re-scribes it in code so her mother who loathes her father does not destroy it. Over a century later, working on a web site that focuses on women in the sciences, Alexandra Novak conducts research into Ada, who worked with renowned nineteenth century mathematician Charles Babbage, when she finds the code book of Byron¿s novel, The Evening Land. Knowing her estrange father, a Byron expert, would delight in her find, Alexandra breaks the code to read the tale of Ali, illegitimate offspring of Lord 'Satan' Sane and a wife of a Bey whose father found him as a preteen and took him back to England where the kid¿s adventures in a gothic environs begin............... John Crowley provides a brilliant tale told in two major parts in the nineteenth century and today. The genius of the novel is the novel within, The Evening Land in which Mr. Crowley uses Byron's writing style to create the work that the late author most likely never completed in spite of the myth of lost manuscripts. Unique, refreshing and entertaining, readers will appreciate this fabulous fictionalized account to include the inner novel that many will believe is the genuine article....................... Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
Crowley's skill definitely shines in his latest novel. Crisscrossing narrators and centuries, he weaves together a series of interconnected tales that come together into a single powerful story. Many other authors wouldn't even attempt something so complex and daring, and few who did try it could make it work as well as Crowley does. The book is not for reading while the baseball game is on the radio, it requires the reader¿s full attention ¿ but the reader will be rewarded.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago