1980s

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The Fictions of Byron

 

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

1980s

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know. Jane McCulloch. 1980. Derek Jacobi and Isla Blair starred in this RSC/English Chamber Theatre Production. In the May 24, 1992 edition of The London Times, Peter Lewis writes: "On Tuesday at the Ambassadors theatre in London [Jacobi] adds to his portrait gallery of historical enigmasthe ever-fascinating Romantic, Byron. 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know' (Lady Caroline Lamb's description of Byron) is a 'dramatic entertainment with music' compiled by Jane McCullough from his letters, prose and poems, many of them set to music and sung (Jacobi has a light baritone voice). Isla Blair, the only other performer, narrates and takes the parts of all the women in Byron's life, including his half-sister Augusta. It was the scandal of his incestuous passion for her which drove him abroad into lifelong exile. Jacobi scorns attempting impersonation. The aim is to get the essence and feeling of the man through what he wrote and to find the Byronic spirit that made him a hero for his own and subsequent generations.' The show makes no bones about Byron's equally ardent homosexual side, from his affair with John Edlestone at Harrow to the Greek manservant Loukas with whom he ended his life at Missolonghi, at 36.

My Sister, My Love. Lucille Iremonger. 1981. The novel begins with the death of Byron's mother and ends with his own demise in Greece. The text spends considerable time on certain periods: Byron's marriage; his relationships with Augusta, Claire, Mary, Shelley, Trelawny, and Teresa; and his time in Greece. The infamous Byronic secrets, at least in this text, are incest and homosexuality. In Chapter 4, it reads: " Augusta 's letter arrived, telling him she was pregnant. Of course the child was his. They were both sure of that." The male intimacy shares equal billing: Edleston, Robert Rushton (named here as Byron's catamite), Lord Grey de Ruthyn (who attempts to rape Byron as a young man), Nicolo Giraud, and Loukas. The epilogue details what happened to various players in the drama. She emphasizes such individuals as Ada, Annabella, Augusta, Teresa, and Medora. The author stresses that Augusta was Byron's one and only true love.

Childe Byron. Romulus Linsey. 1981. In this play, Ada, dying from cancer, hallucinates the ghost of her father. Once in the same room, they throw accusations at each other until the end, in which Ada, via her Last Will and Testament, desires to be buried in the same vault as her father. The play enacts a catharsis for both father and daughter: Byron, inasmuch as he finally begins to appreciate the daughter he never knew and Ada, inasmuch as she begins to understand the father she only knew through the impure machinations of her distraught mother. Much of Byron's poetry is used throughout, as are Ada's own writings, especially in relation to the "thinking machine" that she and Charles Babbage attempt to create. As for Byron's relationships with other men, Ada flings them at him like the most heinous accusations she could imagine. She also brings his incestual relationship with his sister as proof of Byron's sinfulness. Vampiric images permeate this text.

Blood and Ice. Liz Lochhead. 1982. The fateful summer of 1816 in Switzerland again makes its entrance. The play revolves around Mary and her writing of Frankenstein , which starts to interpose itself on the actions of the play. Mary's characters talk with some of the characters in her novel; Byron, Shelley, Claire, and Elise all play secondary parts: Shelley as Victor, Byron as the monster, Claire as Elizabeth, and Elise as Justine. Shelley likes to shock people, at one point appearing naked in front of older women who visit Mary, who was quite outraged at his behavior. Shelley shrugs it off as nothing more than a prank. Polidori sneaks around spying on people, writing his memoirs for Murray and generally irritating and annoying everyone with whom he comes into contact. The characters constantly quote Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Christabel . Byron flirts with both Mary and Shelley in this text, initiating long, intense moments with both characters.

The Anubis Gate. Tim Powers. 1983. This novel romps through history, beginning with the rich Mr. Darrow, who has mathematically proven the existence of holes in the time continuum and has discovered the means by which to move from one hole to another. Darrow charges wealthy, historically-minded customers one million dollars each to view a lecture by Coleridge. Doyle, the Romanticism expert, is detained in the past and doesn't make it back to the present-day. Steerforth Benner, one of Darrow's bodyguards, eventually runs into Doyle, who has become a beggar. Benner and Darrow, back for a second time, want to find Dog Face Joe, who is in reality Amenophis Fikee, a powerful mage who can switch bodies at will. Darrow hopes to replace his older, cancer-ridden body with a younger, healthy one. Fikee eventually switches Doyle into Benner's body, described as a hulking yet well-trained Norse God. The novel ends after Doyle, who narrowly escapes death numerous times, foils all the plans to destroy the monarchy and England in both the 1800s and the 1600s, helped in both periods by the Antaeus Brotherhood, who are sworn to fight magicians and sorcerers hell-bent on taking over the world. Byron plays only a bit part here as one of the sorcerer's pawns. His clone (in the book, it is called making a "ka") appears in both Turkey and England at the same time. The author uses two original letters from Marchand's compilation to validate the ruse. Coleridge not only gives the lecture that everyone pays to see but also appears in one of the segments in Horrabin's maze of tortures. The captors give him a huge dose of laudanum, thinking it will keep him out for a couple of days, not realizing, of course, that Coleridge was a laudanum addict and that his tolerance was very high. He wakes up quite quickly, thinking the maze of horrors to be his subconscious mind. He unleashes monsters, thinking them pent up strengths that his unconscious mind had caged. A brilliant episode, especially when read next to Kubla Khan.

The Missolonghi Manuscript. Frederic Prokosch. 1984. In this novel, Byron's recovered memoirs miraculously appear in the hands of Marchesa del Rosso, who lives in the Piazza Navona. She received her copy on loan from Colonel Eppingham, who had purchased it from a penniless Baron in Missolonghi. The memoirs fill three notebooks, and in them Byron moves in a reverse-linear fashion from Greece back through his past. He spends considerable time on his relationships with Nicolo, Edleston, and Loukas. Byron describes one particular scene in which Lord Ruthven attempts to rape him. Ruthven, hardly the sensitive young Lord as others have described him, is here portrayed as "a bull of a man," and a "ruddy young scoundrel of twenty-three, with apple-green eyes and a boxer's body." Byron also recounts his relationships with the women of his life as well as the many conversations with Teresa and Shelley, with whom he has the most intense philosophical discussions. One of the first texts to emphasize Prince Mavrocordato, a man here who regales Byron with tales of his sexual encounters with young and older men. He constantly baits Byron with questions like: If you had your choice of either a man or a woman, which would you choose? Byron immediately says the woman but then begins to equivocate somewhat towards the end of the paragraph. He says: "A beautiful man as well as a beautiful woman can make my heart skip a beat. And both women and men can be sadly tedious and disillusioning. One must, as you say, recoil from generalities." Earlier in this same conversation, the Prince asks Byron a very pointed question: "Have you ever had a liaison, copulatory or otherwise, with a man?" Byron replies: "To be honest with you, Alex, I must reply in the affirmative. Copulatory, four in number. Non-copulatory, only one." The novel ends with Byron's impending death.

Prisoner of Vampires. Nancy Garden. 1984. Lord Ruthven appears in this children's tale of vampirism, schoolwork, and extracurricular activities. A continuation of the character that both Caroline Lamb and John Polidori created in the early nineteenth century. Suitable for ages 9-12.

Bloody Poetry. Howard Brenton. 1985. The play takes place between the summers of 1816 and 1822 in Switzerland, England, and Italy. The characters spend much time together and the "writing of ghost stories" makes its gratuitous appearance. The play ends when Shelley dies and the body is burned on the beach. Claire deifies Byron in the first act, hoping that he will eventually marry her when his divorce from Annabella becomes a reality. Shelley and Byron have heated arguments about Wordsworth and other subjects that end in friendly embraces. Byron flirts with both Mary and Shelley. In fact, the author portrays Byron as highly sexual, talking of his trysts with boys as if they were commonplace. Mary accuses Claire of having slept with Shelley and Claire admits it. They share everything, and Mary hardly stays angry with Claire because of it. Mary seems worn-down, especially after the death of her children. Byron rather anachronistically talks of the Romantic period and of Romanticism. Polidori once again spies on everyone, writing his memoirs and generally making a nuisance out of himself. He talks of his loneliness, of Shelley having tuberculosis, and of Byron having syphilis. The characters at one point act out Plato's Theory of Forms with the cave, the light behind the man, and the shadows on the wall. They rope Polidori into a chair and tell him not to move his head while Shelley casts the shadows. Mary reads from the book while they relegate to Byron the "yes, Socrates" part. Harriet Westbrook appears as a ghost in the play, who follows Shelley around after she drowns herself.

Gothic. Directed by Ken Russell. 1986. Byron: Gabriel Byrne Shelley: Julian Sands Mary: Natasha Richardson In a particularly compelling review from Romantic Circles, Rick Albright writes: "Russell subjects his audience to 96 minutes of his peculiarly excessive vision of the events of Villa Diodati in June of 1816. In Russell's hands, the events become a nightmare of drugs, sex, horror and (at least in Dr. Polidori's case), self-immolation. Admittedly, Byrne does a far better job of portraying Byron than does Hugh Grant in Rowing With the Wind or Richard Chamberlain in Lady Caroline Lamb. At the minimum, Byrne captures the wild abandon and aristocratic veneer that so impels the Byronic pose. As with most of Ken Russell's films, the supernatural takes center-stage here, allowing the participants to raise some horrific and monstrous entity that haunts them mercilessly.

Rowing With the Wind. Directed by Gonazlo Suarez. 1987. Percy Bysshe Shelley: Valentine Pelka Mary: Lizzy McInnerny Claire: Elizabeth Hurley Lord Byron: Hugh Grant In yet another manifestation of the infamous summer of 1816, this film enacts the ghost story challenge and its inevitable end. In this movie, however, Mary's monster takes on startlingly real characteristics and haunts the characters themselves. Hugh Grant's portrayal of Byron is not only generally disconcerting but in places patently absurd.

Conversations with Lord Byron on Perversion, 163 Years after his Lordship's Death. Amanda Prantera. 1987. A science fiction text that resembles nothing so much as Star Trek, where created mainframes retain extensive Byroniana, connected to an artificial intelligence the researchers call LB. After a while, the artificial intelligence takes on Byron's persona, memories, wit, and sense of humor and then begins to ruminate on his past. It can even access information and actions that occurred after his death, such as the promotion of William Lamb to Prime Minister. Anna, the Byron scholar, becomes infatuated with the Byron persona and starts to ask it questions about Byronic history that have been weighing on her mind, such as, "Who was Thyrza?" "Was it Edleston?" "Did you have sexual intercourse with him?" The artificial intelligence, too smart for her however, answers these questions with caginess and subtlety. It even gets huffy and turns itself off a few times. As a result, the graduate assistants find it necessary to manipulate the parameters for social anxiety and homosexuality. The Byron computer then ruminates on his relationship to Edleston without revealing anything to the scholars or academics. We, as readers, read what the computer is thinking, but the participants cannot and receive only cryptic messages from the printer. Byron reluctantly contemplates a relationship with Edleston, saying to himself: "This is a boy, this is a boy." After much thinking and soul-searching, however, Byron goes back to Cambridge (after his dieting and exercising) ready to embrace a fully sexualized relationship with him. After more tinkering with the parameters, because Anna believes the computer program has become too gay, we read about Byron and Edleston swimming to a remote spot, where Byron has to save the young chorister from drowning. While Edleston remains unconscious, Byron peeks, only to discover that Edleston is actually a woman, whom he later finds out attends Harrow as a boy to receive a proper education. The author never divulges her last name (her first name is Alba) but insinuates that she is a princess from a foreign country whose parents would never allow her to demean herself by marrying someone of Byron's station. They fall in love but to no avail. The parents attempt to assassinate Byron, prompting him to leave England quickly. The novel ends with the artificial intelligence writing poetry.

Haunted Summer. Directed by Ivan Passer. 1988. Lord Byron: Philip Anglim Mary Godwin: Alice Krige Percy Shelley: Eric Stoltz Polidori: Alex Winter Claire: Laura Dern Based on Anne Edwards's novel, the film continues the tradition of focusing on the infamous summer of 1816. Actually filmed on location at Lake Geneva, the movie throughout remains visually appealing. The film pays much attention to drug use, especially laudanum and opium, as well as emphasizing the relationships between the characters, which seem to involve sexual attraction on almost every front. Mary, in particular, remains both intrigued and appalled by Byron. Finally, the film casts Polidori as a quite handsome young man, whom Byron finds irresistible yet annoying. One scene in particular shows them kissing and embracing as a prelude to a sexual encounter.

The Stress of Her Regard. Tim Powers. 1989. The novel spins a tale about two separate races inhabiting the earth: humans and lamia, the latter a vampiric race whose chemical structure is based on silicone (they are similar to stone creatures who can morph into flying dragons as well as humans). This race had grown quiescent until a man decided to awaken them by sewing up a statue inside his stomach. This melded the two races and allowed the lamia to awaken and start to feed on humans again. This man, Michael Crawford, is 800 years old when the story begins and rues the day he unwittingly married a lamia. The lamia also inspire poetic verse, which prompts both Keats and Byron to marry lamia as well, although they are desperately trying to get rid of them, as they are particularly jealous and keep killing off family members. Shelley remains unique in that his mother was married to a lamia (they can take either gender). His twin sister, born a lamia, haunts and seduces him for the rest of his life. He eventually drowns himself to keep the rest of his family from dying. The main portion of the book details the attempts of Crawford and Josephine, his dead wife's sister, to avoid the vampiric creatures. Mythological references abound, for example, to the three sisters (Graiae) with only one eye, garlic, holy water, and the like. Eventually, Byron, Crawford and Josephine put the lamia back to sleep by cutting the statue out of the 800-year-old man. The Carbonari play an important role as the group who secretly work against the lamia, or as they are also known, the Siliconari. This works for Powers historically because he places the Austrians firmly in the lamia camp. Lord Grey de Ruthyn, as a lamia, seduces Byron and then reappears in various forms throughout Byron's later life.

The Memoirs of Lord Byron. Robert Nye. 1989. The author gives no indication as to how these memoirs were found or in what way they are related to the memoirs that were burned in Murray 's office. The novel simply begins with Byron speaking to his audience in Chapter 1. The opening lines are: "My passions were developed very early—so early, that few will believe me, now I am to state the period, and the facts which accompanied it. Still, I, George Gordon, sixth Lord Byron, am a plain man, and my way is to begin with the beginning, so here goes." The novel ends with two postscripts, in which Byron breaks the seal of his journals to add more material. Then an epilogue in which the "editor" relates Byron's death and the burning of the memoirs. This novel represents biography as autobiography with explicit sexual escapades and a bawdy, freewheeling prose. For instance, Byron mentions that while at Cambridge, he used to get an erection when caned. He also relates incidents regarding obscene orgies with naked boys, Lord Grey's attempted rape, the sexual advances of the Pasha, and his confessions to Caroline Lamb of the various exploits with boys in the East. He speaks of being Le Diable Boiteux (the lame devil), a reference to Alain-René Lesage's book of the same name, which Jerome Mc Gann cites as one of Byron's favorites.

Lord Byron's Doctor. Paul West. 1989. Polidori narrates this autobiographical sketch that takes place both during his employ with Byron and after. Polidori adds depth and breadth to his somewhat brief diary entries. The omniscient narrator knows events and emotions, however, that Polidori wouldn't or couldn't have known. Polidori details not only the homoerotic connection between Byron and himself, although Polidori always adds that he was somewhat uncomfortable with the affection that Byron gives to him, but also the love/hate relationship he shared with Byron most of the time. As long as Byron treated him as an equal, reading and laughing with him, Polidori adored him. Relegated to a mere doctor or even worse, servant status, Polidori hated Byron and his arrogance. Polidori also talks about his intimate relationship with Claire while she was pregnant with Byron's child. He was not only her doctor (as he was with Mary as well) but he had sex repeatedly with her. They discuss running away together, although Claire knows that she will never be able to live without Mary and Shelley. Polidori recounts his dislike for Shelley, not so much for Shelley's actions or personality, but because Shelley receives from Byron that for which Polidori longs: intellectual stimulation and respect. He yearns for Shelley to depart so that he could share that kind of relationship with Byron himself.

Published @ RC

January 2006

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