1810s

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The Fictions of Byron

 

Fictions of Byron: An Annotated Bibliography
by G. Todd Davis

1810s

Glenarvon. Lady Caroline Lamb. 1816. This thinly-veiled roman à clef was one of the most famous fictions written with Byron in mind as the antagonist. Byron serves as material for both the suave, aristocratic Glenarvon and the depraved, murderous Viviani, with Caroline Lamb as Calantha and her husband, William Lamb, sentimentalized as Lord Avondale. Byron read the text and quipped: "If the authoress had written the truth, and nothing but the truththe whole truththe romance would not only have been more romantic, but more entertaining. As for the likeness, the picture can't be goodI did not sit long enough" (Letter to Thomas More, BLJ Dec. 5 th, 1816 [V, 131]). James L. Ruff, the editor of the 1972 edition, says the antagonist "tends to incarnate the more extreme elements of Byronism, and is a melancholy, brooding, guilt-haunted, self-dramatizing villain. Missing are all the manly qualities of Byron, his warmth, generosity, and especially the marvelous sense of humor which balanced his darker side" (vii-viii).

Six Weeks at Long's By a Late Resident. Eaton Stannard Barrett. 1817. Superficially, a love story complete with star-crossed lovers, catastrophes, and villains. Beneath this florid exterior, however, lies the author's attempt to chastise and rebuke ostensible friends who have betrayed and disappointed him, calling them "false friends and deluding smilers" (ix). Lord Leander represents Byron, with Beau Brummell as Mr. Bellair, and Thomas Moore as Mr. Little.

Three Weeks at Fladong's By a Late Visitant. Anonymous. 1817. A droll and entertaining imitation of Six Weeks at Long's By a Late Resident. Lord Stanza is the Byron character and The Hon. Douglas Kincat is Douglas Kinnaird.

Prodigious!!! or Childe Paddie in London. Anonymous. 1818. The novel resembles not only Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (which it satirizes and parodies) but also Lamb's Glenarvon. Here, Byron is Lord Woeful and Lamb becomes Lady Glenarvon, an immediate allusion to Lamb's text and its eponymous male protagonist.

Nightmare Abbey. Thomas Love Peacock. 1818. A satire, not only of the Gothic genre in general but of the various Romantic authors, many of whom Peacock knew intimately. He caricatures the Shelley circle: ScythropShelley; MarionettaHarriet Shelley; StellaMary Shelley; FloskyS. T. Coleridge; CypressLord Byron; Mr. ToobadJ. F. Newton; Mr. ListlessSir Lumley Skeffington. Most of the information upon which Peacock based his view of Byron as an individual was gleaned through correspondence with Percy B. Shelley and through his reading of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Consequently, Mr. Cypress is a compilation of Shelley's representation of Byron's temperament and personality and Peacock's reductionism of Byron's poetry in prose form. Peacock characterizes Cypress as suffering from a pronounced melancholy strain, rendering him pervasively gloomy and unhappy. His portrayal of Coleridge as Flosky stands as one of the most humorous caricatures in Romantic literature.

Florence Macarthy: An Irish Tale. Lady Morgan. 1818. Upon finishing this book, Maria Edgeworth, in a letter to Mrs. Frances Edgeworth on 28 January 1819, wrote: "My general feelings in closing this book are shame and disgust, and the wish never more to be classed with novel writers when the highest talents in the land have been so disgraced. Oh that I could prevent people from ever naming me along with hereither for praise or for blame. Comparisons are indeed odious. God forbid, as my dear father said, I should ever be such a thing as that. It was for want of such a father she has come to this" (Maria Edgeworth: Letters from England 18131844, ed. by Christina Colvin [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971], pp. 16667). A Gothic novel about Ireland , similar in plot structure to Glenarvon in that both the hero (Fitzwalter) and the heroine (Florence Macarthy) remain concealed and mysterious until the fourth volume. One of four novels Lady Morgan wrote about Ireland and the insistence on heroic valor and liberation. Byron appears in the novel as Mr. De Vere.

The Vampyre. John Polidori. 1819. Most editions begin with a letter to the Editor, presumably from Polidori, about the infamous meetings in Geneva of Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Polidori, and the writing of ghost stories. Byron as Lord Ruthven, an allusion to Lamb's Glenarvon, is a suave, awe-inspiring Lothario. Polidori as an orphaned Aubrey, retains a beloved sister and great wealth. Ruthven and Aubrey travel together until Aubrey's guardians prevail upon him to disengage himself from Ruthven, which he does. Alone, Aubrey travels to Greece where he meets a young girl named Ianthe. Aubrey goes out on an excursion, gets caught by a storm and has to return through the infamous woods in the dark. Unknown forces attack him, but the villagers save him at the last minute. Ianthe, however, loses her life to "a vampyre." Aubrey becomes feverish and is attended by Lord Ruthven, who miraculously finds him in the village. They again travel together through Greece. Suddenly, bandits mortally wound Ruthven during a gun battle. While dying, he extracts from Aubrey a promise not to tell of his crimes or his death for one year and one day in England. The same bandits who shot him now take the body to the summit to bathe it in the first cold rays of the moon. His body cannot be found the next day. When Aubrey gets back to England, Ruthven is there, courting his sister. Aubrey realizes that he cannot, even though he tries, break his oath. Aubrey gets sick and stays sick for months. Finally, the year ends but his sister marries and is found dead while Ruthven disappears once again. The somewhat predictable plot includes unsurprising narrative twists. Polidori used Byron's unpublished fragment and expanded upon it. The public considered this tale to have been written by Byron, and his name even appeared upon the original cover as the author. An interesting connection exists between the main character and Lord Grey de Ruthyn, Byron's childhood friend and later enemy.

Julian and Maddalo. Percy Bysshe Shelley. 1819. Shelley describes the Byron character as follows: "Count Maddalo is a Venetian nobleman of ancient family, and a great fortune, who without mixing much in the society of his countrymen, resides chiefly at his magnificent palace in that city. He is a person of the most consummate genius, and capable, if he would direct his energies to such an end, of becoming the redeemer of his degraded country. But it is his weakness to be proud. He derives, from a comparison of his own extraordinary mind with the dwarfish intellects that surround him, an intense apprehension of the nothingness of human life. His passions and his powers are incomparably greater than those of other men; and, instead of the latter having been employed in curbing the former, they have mutually lent each other strength. His ambition preys upon itself, for want of objects which it can consider worthy of exertion. He is cheerful, frank and witty. His more serious conversation is a sort of intoxication; men are held by it as by a spell." Shelley describes his own characterization as follows: "Julian is an Englishman of good family, passionately attached to those philosophical notions which assert the power of man over his own mind, in the immense improvements of which, by the extinction of certain moral superstitions, human society may yet be susceptible. Without concealing the evil in the world he is forever speculating how good may be made superior. He is a complete infidel and a scoffer of all things reputed holy; Maddalo takes a wicked pleasure in drawing out his taunts against religion. What Maddalo thinks on these matters is not exactly known. Julian, in spite of his heterodox opinions, is conjectured by his friends to possess some good qualities. How far this is possible the pious reader will determine. Julian is rather serious." The poem relates the events of an excursion during which Julian and Maddalo visit an asylum. Maddalo tells the story of the madman, who came to Venice a dejected and poverty-stricken man. He returned to Venice with a young woman who subsequently leaves him, provoking madness. Maddalo pities him and elegantly decorates his room within the madhouse. When they first meet him, he is playing the piano. He stops and speaks, as if to himself, of his great despair and disappointment, longing for death. He stops only to sleep. The two visitors leave. Julian eventually leaves Venice for London but returns at a later date. Maddalo is traveling far away but his daughter (an allusion perhaps to a grown Allegra) kindly receives him. Julian asks about the madman only to find that the lady who had left had returned; once arrogant, she was now submissive. The madman had returned to sanity whereupon the lady left him once again. Maddalo's daughter stops. Julian presses her for more information. She humbly tells him, but Julian swears that the cold world shall not know the answer.

Harold the Exile. Anonymous. 1819. Alicia W. and Lady G. are introduced to a man named Delamere, who later turns out to be Lord Harold, the infamous exile from England. He tells Alicia his story of woe. He falls in love with Gabrielle, but both of them were then duped by the evil machinations of Berrington, who eventually marries Gabrielle and treats her horribly. Harold is also duped by the malicious Lady Marchmont, the siren who lures men to their ultimate demise and ruin. Gabrielle eventually dies from heartache, but not until she and Harold finally profess undying love for one another. Harold later marries Lady Emily, whom he respects but does not love. Once again, Lady Marchmont sees to it that Harold remains unhappy and creates this elaborate scheme to separate Lady Emily and Lord Harold. They are never reunited, and Harold ultimately exiles himself from the scandal and dishonor wreaked upon his head by Lady Marchmont, who gets her just desserts when Lord Marchmont finds Harold and Lady Marchmont together. After having told this elaborate story to Alicia W. and Lady G., Harold leaves again to wander—seemingly forever. Not only do we have Harold's utter lack of agency in this text but also Byron's connection to his own literary constructions. Everything happens to him, much like it does to Byron's Don Juan. He has blinders on throughout the entire text, always getting himself into scrapes that a simple word or action could alleviate, yet he never takes those actions or says those words. His misery is brought upon him by those malicious individuals, Berrington and Lady Marchmont, for whom he finds an utter fascination, like a moth to a flame. The Byron connection, tenuous at best, tries to explain his profligate lifestyle through a lack of agency and malevolent influences. Very little from Byron's biography corresponds to this text.

Published @ RC

January 2006

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