Friday, January 22, 2010

Byron in Love: A Short Daring Life by Edna O'Brien

If this were the early nineteenth century and I was living in Great Britain or on the European continent, I would add these admonitions to my Do-Not-Do List:

  • Do not lend money to Lord Byron.
  • Do not sell Lord Byron anything on credit.
  • Do not rile Lord Byron in a drinking establishment.
  • Do not mention Lord Byron's foot in his presence.
  • Do not invite Lord Byron into my house.
  • Do not under any conditions introduce Lord Byron to my wife or daughter or son.

If I were female, I would add:

  • Do not send Lord Byron any confidential letters. (He shares them with gossips and quotes them in poems.)
  • Do not expect any child support from Lord Byron.

I have obviously been reading about poet George Gordon Byron, known as Lord Byron, one of history's most outrageous characters. The book is Byron in Love: A Short Daring Life by novelist Edna O'Brien. I chose to read it after hearing O'Brien discuss her book on the Biography Podcast and getting a recommendation from Annie at the library.

Each reading of a book is a conversation between an author and a reader. I think of this because I do not agree with one of the reviewers' quotes on the back cover of the book. John Banville says that O'Brien's compact biography of Byron is admiring. That is not how I perceive it at all. I felt initially that she was highly critical, though never condemning. A closer look shows that she really just tells the story with all its glorious and sordid details. She lets readers make their own judgments. Banville and I read expecting and seeing a different book.

Readers may want to keep notes to identify all of Byron's romantic affairs and how they reappear in his autobiographical poetry, which is the focus of O'Brien's book. The biography also reveals how strained the poet's relations were with Percy and Mary Shelley and that John Keats and Byron despised each other. How could we have ever imagined that "Bryon, Shelley, Keats" (which I have heard as "Byron, Kelly, and Sheets") was a brotherhood?

Byron in Love is an entertaining introduction to the poet, which should be in most public library collections.

O'Brien, Edna. Byron in Love: A Short Daring Life. W. W. Norton, 2009. ISBN 9780393070118

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