In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

HUMANITIES 475 Phyllis Grosskurth. Byron: The Flawed Angel Macfarlane, Walter and Ross. xviii, 510.$39.95 cloth, $24.95 paper Back in 1957, Leslie A. Marchand began his 1546-page Byron: A Biography by asking: 'What need is there for another biography of Byron?' (In reply, he quoted Byron himself: 'the more the merrier, say I.') After the prodigious labours of Marchand, and more specialized biographical studies by Louis Crompton, Michael Foot, and Doris Langley Moore, the guestion seems even more pressing. The biographer's usual answers have to do with new materials or a new interpretation; Phyllis Grosskurth lays claim to both. Grosskurth's new material is drawn from the Lovelace Papers, a mass of letters and other documents by and about (among others) 'those closest to [Byron] -his wife ... and his sister'; studying them, Grosskurth 'began to feel that [she] was meeting Byron for the first time.' Marchand did not have direct access to the Lovelace Papers, but he drew on books by Lord Lovelace, Ethel C. Mayne, and Andre Maurois, who did; Grosskurth's new material is interesting and often moving but does not substantially alter our understanding of Byron's disastrous relations with his sister and wife. Grosskurth's claim to a new interpretation is more convincing, in at least three areas. Firstly, she shows that Byron's sense of himself as an outsider was not just a neurotic response to his deformity or a consequence of his committing incest, but a basic fact of his social position. He was never more than a marginal aristocrat; he did not have the income to Live like a lord; his guardian did not bother to sponsor his admission to the House of Lords; when a scandal broke, he was easy to ostracize. Secondly, though Grosskurth agrees with Marchand about Byron's 'basically sterling nature/ she is less indulgent about his behaviour, especially towards women and particularly towards his wife. Sometimes this seems a consequence of compression. To take a trivial but typical example: one second-hand account of Byron's wedding night (that of Washington Irving, who read Byron's memoirs before they were burned) says he awoke, saw the firelight through the bed-curtains, and thought 'that he was fairly in hell with Proserpine lying beside him~' Another (that of the notoriously malicious Samuel Rogers, who also read the memoirs) says he exclaimed, 'in a voice so loud that he wakened Lady B., "Good God, I am surely in hell!"' Marchand quotes both versions but considers Rogers's 'garbled or dramatized' and relegates it to the endnotes. Grosskurth quotes Rogers's, does not cite her source, and does not mention Irving's. I prefer Marchand's sifting of the evidence, but in this context, it may look like hair-splitting. Thirdly, and most interestingly, Grosskurth draws on Kay Redfield Jam~son's Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (1993), which argues that Byron's rages and melancholias, his drinking and promiscuity, his irresponsibility with money, and his family history suggest that he suffered from manic-depressive illness. Grosskurth 476 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 does not however, adhere exclusively to Jamison's thesis. For example, she says that during his marriage ~Byron was almost driven mad by money worries,' but Jamison argues that the onset of manic-depressive symptoms is 'usually tmrelated to events'; Byron's money problems may have been an effect rather than a cause of his illness. Grosskurth, like Marchand, assumes that his last lover, Teresa Guiccioli, eventually bored him; Jamison argues that he was sinking ever deeper into depression. Unforrunately, Grosskurth's book contains dozens of errors, including at least ten misprints (e.g., 'Portugyuese'; 'aware' for 'unaware'); eleven misquotations (e.g., omitting 'I' from 'He had no rest at sea, nor I on shore' ['Epistle to Augusta/]/ thus losing the comparison between Byron and his grandfather, ~Foul-weather Jack'; adding 'should' to ~we are not what we have been' [Childe Harold 3.111L thus turning a lament for lost youth into a confession- and in both cases, spoiling the metre); fifteen mistakes of fact (e.g., M.G. Lewis did not commit suicide~ he died of yellow fever; the...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 475-476
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.