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The Fictions of Byron

 

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

1940s

The Honor of the House of Murray. Mrs. Isabel Cummings. 1941. This one-act play depicts the burning of Byron's memoirs. The author gives a detailed view of Murray's offices as well as the characters. The memoirs were priceless to Moore, although the author sets a price of 8,000 pounds. Hobhouse says the memoirs were written with "the greatest candor and with complete details." Murray sees Byron as the whipping boy of England. Lady Byron, pious yet cold, completely cuts-off Augusta, even when Augusta flies to her for comfort and reassurance. Augusta worries that her affair with Byron, which is covered with perfect detail in the memoirs, will ruin her and her children. She wants the memoirs burned, as do Murray and Hobhouse. Annabella seems not to care either way since everything that could be said about her has been, and Moore desperately wants them published. In the end, Murray and Hobhouse simply start throwing the papers into the fire. Moore cries and tries to prevent them, saving a few but most of them burn. Murray and Hobhouse congratulate each other on a job well done and for having saved Augusta's honor. The play ends with Moore, head in his hands, in tears.

Poor Caro! Helen Foy. 1941. This brief one-act play focuses on the relationship between Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb at a party given by Lady Heathcote, where Caroline tries to stab both herself and Lord Byron. Byron shows both sides of his passion: his antipathy and indifference on one side, which he shows to Lady Caroline, and his passion and his vehemence on the other side, which he expresses to Lady Melbourne. The author gives Caroline an interesting lisp, which according to biography, Caroline affected on more than one occasion. In one part, Byron makes an effort to distance himself from his poetic characters. In another part, Lady Melbourne implies that Byron has something of the feminine about him, which allows him such insight into feminine behavior. Towards the end, Byron prophesies that his life will be short.

For Thee the Best. Mark A. Landau. 1945. A distinctly disjointed novel, which resembles a collection of small vignettes rather than a novel. In the opening scene, a new Carbonari member is initiated, the rites in which Byron participated. Several scenes follow involving Castlereagh and the Prince Regent. Interspersed throughout is the tale of the Master of the Moon, a mysterious man thrown out of the Carbonari for being a spy. He was sent to Missolonghi to spy on the war effort of the Greeks against the Turks. Then we have a brief chapter about Alexander I. Then back to Byron, writing Don Juan and deciding to leave Teresa to join the Greek fight for independence. We are treated to more Master of the Moon intrigue and then more Byron and his efforts in Missolonghi. Finally, the novel ends with Byron's death. The author distinguishes between two Byrons: one, the outer Byron, seen by all; two, the inner Byron, kept hidden from outside view but seen by the reading audience through interior monologues. Byron feels constrained and bored by his life. He searches for the key that will unlock the door of happiness for him, which he believes resides in Greece.

Byron in Piccadilly. Anthony Ireland. 1945. The play runs from 1811 to 1816: Act I encompasses the period just after Byron has returned from the East; Act II details Byron's relationship with Lamb; Act III describes Byron's marriage, both before and after the separation. According to the author's own admission, he moves dates and activities around to suit his feelings for the importance of the events. He hopes his explanation will excuse the liberties he has taken with the facts and dates. One of the first plays to include Robert Rushton in any meaningful role, although here he is nothing more than a sparring partner and rather dimwitted. Hobhouse and Byron have a close relationship, and in the first act the intimacy appears sexualized. Byron has been taking laudanum to help him with his digestive pains and his mental anguish. Fletcher, the loyal valet, remains present in almost every scene. In this play, Byron sends Annabella packing after he finds out that Mrs. Clermont has been stealing and spying. He catches her in the act and brandishes a pistol, as if he would murder her immediately.

Teresa; or, Her Demon Lover. Austin K. Gray. 1945. The novel focuses predominantly on Byron and Teresa's relationship. It does illuminate, however, Teresa's life before and after Byron. Of particular importance are her relationships with Lamartine and Henry Fox, Lord Holland, as well as her second marriage to the Marquis. This text resembles a biography more than a fiction, although the author uses the facts from various histories and fills in the gaps with a plot line, complete with emotional and intellectual material. Numerous letters and journals are also used. The author states: "This is the story, not a biography, of Teresa." A number of insights into various characters are particularly exciting. Don Juan figures widely in this text, especially Teresa's adamant refusal to allow Byron to continue publishing it. The author also documents Teresa's friendship with Lamartine and his incessant quest for knowledge about Byron. The novel also includes two portraits, one of Lamartine and one of Henry Fox, both of whom, the author suggests, resemble Byron in one way or another. He implies, rather overtly, that both of them longed to be Byron. In the appendices, the author examines Lamartine's La Vie de Byron in some detail as well as Teresa's Life of Lord Byron in Italy.

Bad Lord Byron. Directed by David MacDonald. 1949. The movie begins with Byron in Greece just before his death. Feverish from a ride in the rain, he tosses and turns on his bed. The scene then dissolves into a courtroom, where Byron is on trial for his life. Five witnesses are called: Caroline, Annabella, Augusta, Hobhouse, and Teresa. The first two are called by the prosecuting attorney to show Byron's tempestuous and wicked side. Caroline, tempestuous as usual, describes how she showed up at Byron's rooms dressed as a page. Annabella comes off as cold and prudish. Augusta, both stylish and poised, also seems somewhat naïve and unaware. She rebuts and denies, under oath, that she was Byron's lover. Her staunch denial of the incest charge was quite vehement. In fact, she says that she was surprised by Annabella's testimony on the witness stand. Then the defense attorney calls Hobhouse and Teresa, both excellently cast, to show Byron's loving, compassionate, and revolutionary side. The movie ends with the judge asking the movie audience to act as jury and determine whether Byron would be remembered as a poet and a liberator or as a seducer and a libertine. Peter Quennell functioned as an advisor to the movie, which adds more of a scholarly resonance to the proceedings.

Byron, A Play. Gertrude Stein. 1949. In this work, Stein deconstructs play writing itself and makes the acts and the scenes into characters who speak. At one point, Act I says, "Byron is a queen." In the introduction, Bonnie Marranca writes that Stein decided, "a play didn't have to tell a story. What happened was the theater experience itself. In other words, the creation of an experience was more important than the representation of an event." She further argues that Stein shifts the attention from the "text to the reader. In every sense, the perceiving intelligence took precedence over the art object whose status as an autonomous, self-contained totality was diminished." Later, Marranca says Byron, A Play is a "play about writing plays."

Published @ RC

January 2006

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