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The Fictions of Byron

 

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

1970s

A Single Summer with Lord B. Derek Marlowe. 1970. The novel describes the infamous summer of 1816 in Switzerland at the Village Diodati, following Polidori's perspective most often, although the narrator/author frequently and intrusively inserts himself into the narrative with interesting side notes and digressions. The narrative begins with the hiring of Polidori as Byron's doctor and ends with his eventual dismissal. This text prefigures the movies that would follow in the late 1980s. The relationship between Polidori and Byron seems both tempestuous and gentle. Byron often apologizes to Polidori for his actions or his words, yet subsequently acts vindictive and hurtful. The reader often hears from Polidori himself, in the form of fictitious letters written to his sister Florence. Many of the other letters and journal entries are taken from Byron's, Mary's, and Claire's letters and journals. The author represents Shelley and Byron's relationship in a positive light, although Byron does get restless if Shelley spends too much time with him. Byron needs time alone, especially when writing, getting angry and spiteful if interrupted. Both Shelley and Byron appear here as vegetarians as well as laudanum users.

Tyger. Adrian Mitchel. 1971. A veritable romp through the life and times of William Blake, this play is set one hundred years after his death, even though Blake is very much a part of the narrative. The story begins during the late eighteenth century, but fights anachronism with Blake's full knowledge of the next hundred years. Very surreal, the dramatization remains ironic and tongue-in-cheek. Byron is only one of many poets who pays homage to the great Blake every year on a particular day. Also included in the mix: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Whitman, Kipling, and Allen Ginsberg. Blake shines as the poet who, one thousand years ahead of his time, talks to his dead brother, hates slavery in any form, and tries to work while being buffeted by a barrage of outside details and pressures. Much of his philosophy comes through in his dialogue. Music remains integral to this play, as many of the players' parts are sung. Thames Television produced this play on the 150th anniversary of Blake's death.

Lady Caroline Lamb. Directed by Robert Bolt. 1972. Richard Chamberlain: Byron Laurence Olivier: Wellington Sarah Miles: Lady Caroline Lamb Margaret Leighton: Lady Melbourne The movie begins with the marriage proposal of William Lamb to Lady Caroline and ends with her death. It spends an inordinate amount of time on Caroline's whimsical and tempestuous behavior, especially where it concerns Byron. The movie captures Lady Caroline's erratic behavior beautifully. The casting runs a bit askew, though, as she was supposed to be boyish and elflike but appears here as voluptuous and stunning. The movie does, however, capture the madness and capriciousness quite well. Not only does she dress as a page, but also during a costume party, she appears as a Nubian slave. The portrayal of Byron conflicts heartily with biography. Caroline meets Byron while he boxes for his supper. Abjectly poor, he fights dirty only to be scorned by the boxing community. They throw his money to the ground, where he picks it up like a pauper. Caroline then goes to his rooms, which are Spartan and dark. He offers her old sherry and she reads some lines that will eventually become Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. When he does publish, he makes a point of getting as much money from Murray as possible. He bargains for every last penny. William Lamb, a cold and law-abiding, law-invoking prig, loves Caroline but has great difficulty showing it. She dominates every scene with William, often coming off as nothing more than a floozy, who sleeps not only with Byron but with the Duke of Wellington as well. Her death, like her life, is melodramatic.

Secret Memoirs of Lord Byron. Christopher Nicole. 1978. This novel purports to be the lost memoirs of Lord Byron as given to the author by a descendant of Loukas—a detailed account of the years from Byron's birth to just before his death in Greece. One of the first books to detail the homosexual liaisons that Byron shared with John Edleston and Nicolo Giraud. In fact, the latter is quite a passionate and sympathetic account of his love for the young man and the physical relationship that they shared. The novel recounts all of Byron's relationships and activities from a first person narrative. Byron writes to the reader, allowing him/her to see into the private thoughts and emotions that were behind many of the decisions he made.

Count Manfred. Miranda Seymour. 1979. Miranda Seymour portrays Lord Ruthven as a malicious character who both loves Byron and ruins his life. Whereas she never explicitly uses the term "vampire," the resemblance is unmistakable. Ruthven exhibits supernatural qualities, irresistible magnetism, mind-control, and a love for dark, gloomy places. His face is thin, with the "cultivated pallor of a hothouse lily." He cannot die: "Simple people say that the Ruthvens do not die, that they cannot unless [. . .] they can find a man of similar, what can one say, psyche, to take their place." Most importantly, a blood bond exists between Ruthven and Byron: Byron grimly remarks that he committed this act before he "knew what the 'consequences' were." This bond binds their "souls in brotherly love." Ruthven, as master, and Byron, as protégé, develop a blood bond that explicitly implies a vampiric connection. Ruthven's white face, supernatural influences, and eternal life allude to the traditional aspects of Polidori's vampire. Byron is effectively being initiated into the vampiric realm by a more experienced, more ruthless being. Ruthven does marry, but only to advance his homosexual interests in Byron. Ruthven "dislikes feminine company," and his wife's crime "lay in being a woman." She finds love letters that he had written to Byron, complete with drawings. At one point in the text, Byron dresses up his paramour like a boy in order to take her to a boxing match. The woman balks, believing that Byron likes her better as a boy than as a girl. Byron furiously retorts: "Do you think I'm like Ruthven?" The blatant homosexual overtones allow Seymour to emphasize the relationship in order to heighten the bond between the vampire and the victim. As a result, she can extend the underlying homoeroticism, escalating and intensifying them into a complex and intricate homosexual relationship between Ruthven and Byron. Ruthven's objective entails the complete subjugation and utter manipulation of Byron, who is described as a "slave." Even at the end of the novel, as Byron dies from a fever in Missolonghi, he fears that he has lost the battle to Ruthven and that he will become that which he fears most: Ruthven's pawn and vessel. Ruthven wants Byron to succeed him,—a physical, psychical, and spiritual heir.

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Published @ RC

January 2006

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