Celebrated novelist and biographer O'Brien (The Country Girls trilogy) is a keen cicerone to the strange and insatiable love life of "the lame poet with the features of Adonis." Drawing on Marchand's three-volume biography of Lord Byron, while adding to this her immersion in letters and journals, O'Brien presents a figure we can see all-around. With a perennial worry about his weight, not to mention his right clubfoot, Byron, O'Brien says, compensated by indulging in homosexual relationships, most notably with John Edleston, and heterosexual trysts. Indeed, Byron always seemed to be in love and on the run, traversing Europe from Spain and Portugal to Albania and Greece. His travels and his loves inspired Manfred, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and, above all, Don Juan.Of interest as well are Byron's hot-and-cold relations with publisher John Murray, the Shelleys (who were largely appalled by Byron's lifestyle) and Dr. Polidori, whose novel on "the vampyre" would inspire an industry. At times a bit breathless, this compact life sets the emotional background for a poet who today is more famous for his life story than his work. 8 pages of illus. (June 15)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
O'Brien, best known for her stories and novels exploring the condition of women in male-dominated societies (e.g., The Light of Evening; The House of Splendid Isolation), was, perhaps unsurprisingly, "immediately drawn to" Byron. For this biography, she "immersed [her]self in the miraculous tomes of his letters and journals" in order to follow the man on his journey through love and his brief life. Certainly, she has written an accessible account of the famous poet's life, though it is more of a biography on the level of secondary school-aged readers than a scholarly work. Considering the thousands of available works on the life and writings of Byron, libraries with literature collections would be happier with Benita Eisler's Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame or Leslie A. Marchand's Byron and Byron: A Portrait. For libraries interested in Byron's correspondence, Andrew Nicholson's The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron would be a better bet. Worth considering for public and secondary school libraries; optional for academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/1/09.]
Felicity D. Walsh
A concise, humorous analysis of Lord Byron as archetypal lover and "embodiment of Everyman."Novelist O'Brien (The Light of Evening, 2006, etc.) revels in describing the excesses of the poet's larger-than-life personality. The precocious George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) was translating Horace at the age of six, read the entire Old Testament before he was eight and went on to attend Harrow and Cambridge. From an early age he assumed a hedonistic, profligate approach to life that unceasingly attracted both men and women. His early loves included the Earl of Clare at Harrow ("a love interrupted only by distance . . . he could never hear the word ‘Clare' without a murmur of the heart"), Mary Chaworth back home during vacations and the "chiselled and beautiful" choirboy at Cambridge, John Edleston, in whose memory Byron wrote "Thryza," a series of elegies that disguised the subject's gender. O'Brien contends that Byron's continual need to be in love is what propelled his creative genius, allowing him to create the bawdy yet erudite poems "Don Juan" and "Childe Harold," which he composed while traveling through Greece and Turkey. Remarkable amorous conquests followed Byron's success-a swooning, hysterical Caroline Lamb, who stalked Byron once he broke off their relationship; Lady Frances, who Byron seduced in full view of her husband; and his half sister Augusta Leigh, with whom he could not desist from an incestuous love, and which led to his shaming and exile from England. All are described in delicious detail by O'Brien. The key architect of Byron's public infamy was Annabella Milbanke, the fastidious heiress who married Byron to find herself in a love triangle with Augusta. Once separated,she made it her life's mission to destroy his name. Byron sought respite in Italy, finding more lovers, including Countess Teresa Guiccioli, his muse for "Don Juan." He died at the age of 36, amid a "deathbed scene that many an artist would have painted . . . but only Rembrandt would have caught the fear and bewilderment in the eyes of those onlookers, all of whom venerated Byron but in their zeal and their helplessness differed as to what could or should be done."An apt rendering of the life of a charismatic man whose smile Coleridge compared to "the opening of the gate of Heaven."