Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Advent Calendar, box no. 6 - Byron in Love by Edna O'Brien

Love is a theme of Christmas, and I thought it would be suitable to read a book about love. Maybe this is not the right book about love since Lord Byron's attitude towards love is somewhat different from most peoples. However, there are a few people in the world like Lord Byron. He has gone down in history with an everlasting fascination for later generations. Lord Byron was worshipped, by both men and women, already during his life time. A life that has fascinated people ever since.


Edna O'Brien's biography is a vivid account of his life, in beautifully written prose. She has been concentrating on his countless love affairs, but we have enough of background information to give us an idea of his rather nomadic life. Fascinating is to say the least. From a rather unhappy childhood, wild years of university studies and into adulthood and poetry, there was no stopping him. At the age of ten he inherited the Barony of Byron on Rochdale, and from then on used the name of Lord Byron.

His first adult love was a cousin, Mary Chaworth, but she later married someone else. Sixteen years after loosing her he wrote:
I saw two beings in the hues of youth

Standing upon a hill, a gentle hill,
Green and of mild declivity
During his student years he had a relationship with John Edleston. "John Edleston, two years younger than Byron and an orphan of low birth, was one for whom he formed the purest and most intense passion, a mystic thread joining them both." Their relationship broke after some time, but some years later when Edleston had died of consumption he wrote:
Yet did I love thee to the lastAs fervently as thou,Who didst not change through all the past,And canst not alter now
Claire Clairmont, the sister of Mary Shelley, was quite obsessed with Lord Byron and managed to enter into a love affair with him. It resulted in a child, Allegra, who Byron acknowledged and raised. In this relationship, both to the mother and the child the brutal nature of Byron is shown.

Byron was used to scandals along his way. His love affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, might be the most famous and passionate. Even long after he left her, she haunted him. However, his greatest love was for his half-sister Augusta. They had a relationship for many years. When Byron married Anna Isabella Milbanke in 1815, he spent more time with Augusta than with his wife. They separated early and he treated her very cruelly. It was a devastating love triangle, and this scandal together with a huge debt, forced Lord Byron to leave England for the Continent in 1816, never to return as it turned out. Until he was dead.

He was a famous man already in his lifetime and was welcomed everywhere, and there were no shortages of women either. He must have been a very charismatic person, and as I read along, I wonder how it would be to actually meet such a person. Nobody was indifferent to him. As he grew older, his lifestyle took its toll, and he got bored with how he was living. He thus involved himself in the Greek movement of independence and left for Greece to fight. He died there in the aftermaths of flue like fever symptoms.

In 1819, he wrote a letter to Augusta from Venice:
"My dearest Love - I have been negligent in not writing, but what can I say. Three years absence - & the total change of scene and habit make such a difference - that we have now nothing in common but our affections & our relationship. - But I have never ceased nor can cease to feel for a moment that perfect & boundless attachment which bound & binds me to you - which renders me utterly incapable of real love for any other human being - what could they be to me after you? …We may have been very wrong - but I repent of nothing except that cursed marriage - & your refusing to continue to love me as you had loved me - I can neither forget nor quite forgive you for that precious piece of reformation - but I can never be other than I have been  and whenever I love anything it is because it reminds me in some way or other of yourself."
Not only his poetry is beautiful, his letter writing as well. Lord Byron was a complicated man, and it takes a lot more to get to know the man. Or, maybe it is not even possible. Having read this excellent biography, at least one can form an idea of him. It might not be a very positive one. I think he had difficulties loving other people, he was often rude to people, even those close to him and did not care for them. However, a fascinating character. Edna O'Brien has complemented her writing with extracts from his poems, which are really beautiful. Now it is time to read them.

Have you read any biography of Lord Byron? His poems? What do you think?

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