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The Fictions of Byron

 

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

1960s

The Bitches' Brew. Myra Butler. 1960. A play with numerous characters, from three witches with vile tempers and a congress of naysayers to Jupiter, Juno, and Mercury. The action in this play doesn't progress linearly. In fact, the narrator says that it was a dream she had, which she wrote down almost immediately upon waking (à la Coleridge's Kubla Khan). Consequently, it remains rather surreal. The witches, almost identical to what one might imagine from Macbeth, dance around and prepare noxious drinks. The Congress attempts to block anything that doesn't conform to tradition, secrecy, and dullness. They are particularly peeved at Bertrand Russell for his philosophy and his skill at mathematics, and call him the greatest enemy of authority. In the end, Jupiter replaces the drinks with nectar and everyone, including the witches, has an immediate change of heart (even though the effect is temporary), which scares them tremendously. They discern mistrust, deceit, and egotism, thereby overturning the plot against Bertrand Russell. In the middle of the play, three Romantic poets speak as ghosts: Shelley, Blake, and Byron. Shelley lauds revolution; Byron sees the benefit in progress but denigrates the modern poets; and Blake talks of curses and humor for kings. Myra Buttle, according to the front flap of the script, is a pseudonym for Victor William Williams Saunders Purcell.

Lord Byron at the Opera. Sir Herbert Edward Read. 1963. A brief play that takes place in October of 1816 within the Marquis de Brême's box in Milan, with most of the conversation between Byron and Stendhal. They talk of poetry, music, passion, and Napoleon. Byron says that the only passion he has cared to pursue is indifference. Nothing, he says, "in Nature nor in Beauty, can ever for a moment lighten the burden upon my heart, nor enable me to lose my wretched identity." Somewhat later, Byron says that he wants to evade his passions: "I want to escape from myself, which is why I scribble verses. 'Tis a distraction." In the preface, the author defends the use of dialogue as a literary form. He agrees with Landor that "the best writers in every age have written in dialogue." He also insists that he has done his research and that "There is hardly a sentiment or even an expression in this dialogue for which chapter and verse could not be quoted. The art lies partly in disguising this homework: in giving a dramatic wholeness to so many minute particulars." This was originally intended for production on the radio. It was "the last of Sir Herbert Read's plays to be published and was first produced by Rayner Heppenstall for the B.B.C. on March 11, 1953 with Robert Eddison as Lord Byron."

This for Caroline. Doris Leslie. 1964. The life of Caroline Lamb, from 1795-1828, as told through third person narrative. The two years with Byron seem to have particular appeal for numerous authors. This text should be compared to The Marriage of William Ashe, as it spends much time detailing the idiosyncrasies of both Caroline and William Lamb, while also detailing an intimate connection between Caroline and her first cousin "Hart." As for Byron, he fills Caroline's life with a grandeur unknown to her before that time. She cannot stop thinking about him. Much conversation ensues regarding the resemblance of madness to genius and the difficulty of determining which more accurately describes Byron. He is impetuous, has a nasty temper, and wears his heart on his sleeve. A long synopsis of Glenarvon occupies a central portion of the text. The novel also characterizes Caroline's reaction to Byron and the way she deflects the anger of those she so blithely caricatured.

The Fatal Gift of Beauty. A. B. C. Whipple. 1964. A novel, in only the loosest sense, that begins in Venice, 1818, with the reunion of Shelley and Byron on Italian soil. Shelley has come to plead the cause of Allegra's return to her mother, Claire. The novel ends four years later with the widowed Mary Shelley watching from her London window as Byron's funeral cortege rolls past. The author uses numerous sources, including letters, journals, and poetic writings to supplement the third person narrative. The cover calls it a "dramatic re-creation of the tempestuous final years of Byron and Shelley," but it hardly counts as dramatic. The prose remains sedate and calm with nary a change in tone or narrative style.

The Absorbing Fire. F. W. Kenyon. 1966. A biographical novel written in third person with George Byron as the protagonist. It begins with Byron's life as a small child under the care of May Gray and his tempestuous, extremely fat mother. It ends with Byron's death in Greece, and the footnote even tells the reader of the autopsy performed on Byron's body, complete with the size of his brain, the degeneration of his liver and kidneys, and other pertinent information. Many of the episodes are particularly brief, and Byron's trip to the East with Hobhouse is completely excised. The author portrays Byron as a lover extraordinaire, providing every detail about his relationships with various women, while blithely denying any intimacy with men. Byron is known for his "bamming," which describes his ability to lie with distinction and exaggerate the truth beyond what might normally be believed. This "bamming" gets Byron into particular trouble, especially when Lady Melbourne assumes he speaks of Augusta when he actually refers to Frances Webster. Byron likes the thought of scandal so much he allows Lady Melbourne to believe it. However, the rumor mill works overtime, spearheaded by Caroline Lamb, and the incest charges become so extraordinary that even Lady Byron begins to believe them. She then, after the separation, begins to dismantle Augusta's defenses until even Augusta believes she did something wrong when nothing happened at all. The author represents Byron as childish and mischievous, often pouting as would a maligned infant. Byron longs for women to laugh with him, which prevents him from loving the far-too-serious Annabella.

 

Published @ RC

January 2006

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