Monday, March 02, 2009

Byron in Love
Nicholas Shakespeare, Sydney Morning Herald, February 27, 2009. Originally published in The Telegraph.

Byron in Love
Edna O'Brien
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
RRP A$35.0

MY GRANDFATHER, a published poet, believed in his cups that he was the reincarnation of Lord Byron. I thought he had it bad until, during a visit to Albania after the fall of Enver Hoxha, I met a man who had spent 16 years writing a book about Byron's few weeks in his country (the communist censors slashed it to pieces).

Books on Byron tend to resemble the contraptions clamped to the poet's deformed right foot by a long line of questionable doctors: they twist him into shapes that must make his spirit hobble. The "terrible step" his wife would hear from her bed, clomping into his half-sister's bedroom below, has reverberated from the moment of his death in a dismal Greek swamp, covered in leeches and bandages. I

n Edna O'Brien's words: "Books of gossip, smut, malice, lies and 'intrinsic nothings', as Thomas Love Peacock called them, were soon to proliferate." Even his friends, as Byron put it, "Boswellised" him, his last true (female) love, the Countess Guiccioli, communicating with him in a seance so that she might write her account of their life together in Italy.
"So why another book on Byron?"
To O'Brien, answering her own question, he was "the first and ongoing celebrity" with "a mystery and a magnetism that defy time". Byron In Love is the Irish author's response to the remark that first attracted her to him, made by Lady Blessington, that Byron was "the most extraordinary and terrifying person" she had met.
Reading this compact and hugely enjoyable retelling of his life, one feels the inevitability of the biographer and her subject.
Read the full piece here.
And for a review from The Guardian link here.

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