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The Hard Life and Poor Best of Cervantes

Gabriel Josipovici, 20 December 1979

Cervantes 
by William Byron.
Cassell, 583 pp., £9.95
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... but difficult to interpret. ‘Do the two documents refer to the same Miguel de Cervantes?’ asks Byron at one point. ‘Probably they do,’ he replies, but we are left to wonder. Elsewhere he remarks disarmingly: ‘What was Cervantes up to while plague, famine, corruption and literary gloom swirled round him? It depends on which biographer you read. The ...

Little Mania

Ian Gilmour: The disgraceful Lady Caroline Lamb, 19 May 2005

Lady Caroline Lamb 
by Paul Douglass.
Palgrave, 354 pp., £16.99, December 2004, 1 4039 6605 2
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... termagant than ever’. Such disparagement of the woman, who in 1812 had a notorious affair with Byron and was married to a future prime minister, was not confined to the Lamb family. Metternich’s mistress, Princess Lieven, referred to ‘that madwoman Lady Caroline Lamb’, and Lord and Lady Holland compared her to typhus, while within Caroline’s own ...

Gobblebook

Rosemary Hill: Unhappy Ever After, 21 June 2018

In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter 
by Miranda Seymour.
Simon and Schuster, 560 pp., £25, March 2018, 978 1 4711 3857 7
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Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist 
by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin and Adrian Rice.
Bodleian, 128 pp., £20, April 2018, 978 1 85124 488 1
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... to a tragedy. If any couple bore out that maxim it was Annabella Milbanke and George Gordon Byron. The ‘happy’ chapter lasted barely 24 hours, the ‘ever after’ is with us still. Even the clergyman who performed the service was soon disillusioned. The Rev. Thomas Noel had been promised some ‘substantial’ token of the groom’s ...

Death in Greece

Marilyn Butler, 17 September 1981

Byron’s Letter and Journals. Vol. XI: For Freedom’s Battle 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 243 pp., £11.50, April 1981, 0 7195 3792 4
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ByronThe Complete Poetical Works 
edited by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 464 pp., £35, October 1980, 0 19 811890 2
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Red Shelley 
by Paul Foot.
Sidgwick, 293 pp., £12.95, May 1981, 0 283 98679 4
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Ugo Foscolo, Poet of Exile 
by Glauco Cambon.
Princeton, 360 pp., £15, September 1980, 0 691 06424 5
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... We can know Byron better than anyone has ever known him. Leslie Marchand’s edition of the Letters and Journals, which is far more extensive than any previous collection, has now covered Byron’s whole life. J.J. McGann’s complete edition of the poems is proceeding expeditiously: the three volumes to date include all the poems written before Byron left England in 1816, and Volume II has the whole of the masterpiece Childe Harold, including Cantos III and IV, which were written in exile in 1816 and 1818 ...

Excepting the Aristocratical

Ian Gilmour, 23 March 1995

Marriage, Debt and the Estates System: English Landownership 1650-1950 
by John Habakkuk.
Oxford, 786 pp., £65, September 1994, 0 19 820398 5
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... Lawyers have seldom had a good press. According to Shelley’s father-in-law, William Godwin, a lawyer could ‘scarcely fail to be a dishonest man’, though that, he added, was ‘less a subject for censure than regret’. Shelley’s friend and biographer, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, being himself a barrister, could not go quite so far, but his verdict was almost as sweeping: the most profound ignorance is ...

The Man Who Never Glared

John Pemble: Disraeli, 5 December 2013

Disraeli: or, The Two Lives 
by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young.
Orion, 320 pp., £20, July 2013, 978 0 297 86097 6
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The Great Rivalry: Gladstone and Disraeli 
by Dick Leonard.
I.B. Tauris, 226 pp., £22.50, June 2013, 978 1 84885 925 8
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Disraeli: The Romance of Politics 
by Robert O’Kell.
Toronto, 595 pp., £66.99, February 2013, 978 1 4426 4459 5
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... with India. You can’t beat that, it’s better than Wyatt Earp.’ And it’s as good as Lord Byron. Take the life of Disraeli, for ‘novelist’ read ‘poet’, and you’ve got an epic about what happened to Byron after he’d recovered from that deadly fever at Missolonghi. Having fought for Greek independence, he ...

Tantrums

C.K. Stead, 22 February 1996

Letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont and Fanny Imlay Godwin 
edited by Marion Kingston Stocking.
Johns Hopkins, 704 pp., £45, May 1995, 0 8018 4633 1
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... Claire Clairmont was, briefly, Byron’s mistress, and the mother of his child Allegra. But was she also Shelley’s lover? Did she become pregnant by him? Did she give birth to his child? From the journals, edited by Marion Kingston Stocking and published in 1986, it seems clear that she was in love with Shelley at the age of 16 ...

Why edit socially?

Marilyn Butler, 20 October 1994

Lord ByronThe Complete Poetical Works, Vol. VII 
edited by Byron.
Oxford, 445 pp., £52.50, March 1993, 0 19 812328 0
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The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse 
edited by Jerome McGann.
Oxford, 832 pp., £25, April 1993, 0 19 214158 9
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... Jerome McGann’s seven-volume edition of Byron’s Poems has concluded with a magnificent index compiled by Carol Pearson. As columns to browse in, these are in the same league as the DNB or OED. Old Romantic hands might be tempted to look up ‘Rousseau’ or ‘Wordsworth’, but to test this edition with the name of another established writer would be to show you didn’t know what McGann stands for ...

Sprawson makes a splash

John Bayley, 23 July 1992

Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero 
by Charles Sprawson.
Cape, 307 pp., £15.99, June 1992, 0 224 02730 1
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... more depth than if it were just a marathon competition in sex and swimming. The highly competitive Byron saw it in that light. After he had swum the Hellespont (‘Leander, Mr Ekenhead, and I did’), he noted that Leander’s ‘conjugal powers’ must have been a trifle exhausted, because the tide was so rapid and strong. He found it easier to swim all the ...

You Have Never Written Better

Benjamin Markovits: Byron’s Editor, 20 March 2008

The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron 
edited by Andrew Nicholson.
Liverpool, 576 pp., £25, June 2007, 978 1 84631 069 0
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... The relationship between Byron and his editor John Murray lasted a little over ten years. It began in March 1812 with the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which made Byron’s name. (‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous,’ he famously wrote, or is said to have written ...

Suicidal Piston Device

Susan Eilenberg: Being Lord Byron, 5 April 2007

Imposture 
by Benjamin Markovits.
Faber, 200 pp., £10.99, January 2007, 978 0 571 23332 8
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... error and Will has his credit again. Describe all possible values for that credit. Let Tom be Lord Byron. Let Will be Dr Polidori. Let the deed of errant authorship be the writing of The Vampyre (1819). Do the values for Polidori converge or diverge? If the sum of those values exists, is it real, irrational, imaginary? In April 1819 there arrived in London a ...

Success

Marilyn Butler, 18 November 1982

The Trouble of an Index: Byron’s Letters and Journals, Vol. XII 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 166 pp., £15, May 1982, 0 7195 3885 8
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Lord ByronSelected Letters and Journals 
edited by Leslie Marchand.
Murray, 404 pp., £12.50, October 1982, 0 7195 3974 9
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Byron 
by Frederic Raphael.
Thames and Hudson, 224 pp., £8.95, July 1982, 0 500 01278 4
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Byron’s Political and Cultural Influence in 19th-Century Europe: A Symposium 
edited by Paul Graham Trueblood.
Macmillan, 210 pp., £15, April 1981, 0 333 29389 4
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Byron and Joyce through Homer 
by Hermione de Almeida.
Macmillan, 233 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 333 30072 6
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ByronA Poet Before His Public 
by Philip Martin.
Cambridge, 253 pp., £18.50, July 1982, 0 521 24186 3
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... Byron is one of the first international successes of the literature industry. From the Renaissance on, sculptors and painters could get into the big money in any of the richer economies of Europe; throughout the 18th century, musicians poured out of Germany, Austria and Italy. But writers, because of the language barrier, had to wait for a large leisured readership, as well as for the late 18th-century boom in the printed word, which included among its manifestations the rise of the literary review ...

A Mile or Two outside Worthing

Richard Jenkyns: Edward Trelawny, 26 November 1998

Lord Byron’s Jackal: A Life of Trelawny 
by David Crane.
HarperCollins, 398 pp., £19.99, July 1998, 0 00 255631 6
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... amiable artist whose kindness sweetened Keats’s last months, who referred to Trelawny as ‘Lord Byron’s jackal’. The phrase was less harsh than it may seem to a modern ear, since a jackal, in the parlance of the time, was someone who busied himself on another’s behalf; but for Crane the metaphor has both a keener and a darker edge. He calls his first ...

Hidden Consequences

John Mullan: Byron, 6 November 2003

ByronLife and Legend 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Faber, 674 pp., £9.99, November 2003, 0 571 17997 5
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... The trailer for the recent BBC dramatisation of Byron’s life made no bones about the poet’s appeal. ‘Everything you’ve ever heard about him is true,’ the husky female voice-over promised. Here was a story that would excite us because of what we already thought we knew. Judging by the immediate critical response to Fiona MacCarthy’s biography, the appetite for Byron’s life is indeed sharpened by all the stories we already have ...

Menagerie of Live Authors

Francesca Wade: Marys Shelley and Wollstonecraft, 7 October 2015

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley 
by Charlotte Gordon.
Hutchinson, 649 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 09 195894 7
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... There were​ high hopes for the son of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, the grandson of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, but the boy told his mother that all he wanted was a quiet life and a sailing boat. She wasn’t wholly disappointed at his failure to distinguish himself. When it was suggested at school that he needed to learn to think for himself, Mary Shelley said: ‘Oh God, teach him to think like other people!’ Percy Florence was unusual in a uniformly cerebral family ...

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