- L’estate Di Un Ghiro: Il Mito Di Lord Byron Attraverso La Vita, I Viaggi, Gli Amori, Le Opere by Vincenzo Patanè
In his introduction to Patanè’s new study of Byron – The Summer of a Dormouse: The Myth of Lord Byron through his Life, Travels, Loves and Works – Masolino d’Amico writes (in Italian, like the study itself; all the translations here are mine):
Vincenzo Patanè’s book is an unusual and important one, because it reviews the case of Byron by tying together all – really all! – of its threads with patience and competence, and not without humour. To relate Byron seems easy, to explain Byron is less so. The method adopted by Patanè is comprehensive but, at the same time, light. In an ordered and entertaining way, it deals with all, or at least nearly all, the possible Byrons […]. From this intelligent and informed ‘deconstruction’ […] emerges a portrait more satisfying, really more satisfying, than many known from an immense number of biographies, and I don’t just mean in Italian, that from now on no-one will be able to ignore.
Patanè’s book is certainly ‘unusual’, ‘comprehensive’ but ‘light’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘informed’. It is divided into sixteen chapters and an appendix, which are then followed by chronologies of Byron’s life and works. The chapters are broken down into short sub-sections, each dealing with one particular aspect of Byron’s life, work or reputation. The opening chapters deal with such things as Byron’s family, his early life and some of his closest friendships (with Hobhouse, Scrope Berdmore Davies and Charles Skinner Matthews), his foot, dieting, sport, dandyism, money, animals and religion. The fourth chapter covers Byron’s travels, especially in Greece and Italy. Chapters then follow on ‘The Women: Augusta, Caro and Teresa’, ‘Annabella Milbanke Byron’, ‘The Daughters: Ada, Medora e Allegra’ and ‘The Boys: John, Nicolò and Lukas’.
The study then turns to Byron’s writing career in five chapters on, in turn, Byron’s literary influences and contemporaries, his ‘Romantic’ works (Childe Harold, the Tales, Manfred, Cain and The Island, for example), his ironic and satirical works (English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, Beppo, Don Juan, The Vision of Judgment), his diaries, detached thoughts and letters, and his memoirs. The next two chapters cover ‘The Love of Liberty’ – with sub-sections ranging through Byron’s speeches in the Lords, his possibly political trip to Albania, his feelings about Napoleon, his reaction to the Elgin marbles controversy, his involvement with the Carbonari and in the Greek War of Independence, his death and the return of (some of) his body to England – and ‘The “Byron myth”’ (discussing biographies of Byron, Byronic iconography and the cult of Byron).
The final chapter is a coda on Byron’s attractiveness to twentieth-century writers such as Auden and Isherwood, ending on a personal note from Patanè: ‘It was at the age of eleven that I casually bumped into him: from then he has positively coloured my life, finally giving a precise meaning to the lacklustre banality of the everyday’. The appendix discusses, with extensive quotations in Italian, the two famous, scandalous, anonymous (but written as if by Byron) [End Page 65] poems that appeared in the decades after his death: ‘Don Leon’ and ‘Leon to Annabella’.
This ‘deconstruction’ of Byron into bite-size chunks has its advantages. It allows Patanè to focus our attention on specifics and to gather all the available biographical information on those specifics in one place. This will be extremely useful for readers new to Byron. It also means, however, that Patanè’s study does not ‘tie together’ all the ‘threads’ he gathers into a single ‘satisfying’ portrait of Byron. Multiple Byrons are placed alongside each other. Indeed, it is by no means clear that Patanè set out to present a single, coherent portrait of his subject – there is no introduction by the author stating as much, while the book’s title does not suggest...