1990s

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The Fictions of Byron

 

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

1990s

Frankenstein Unbound. Directed by Roger Corman. 1990.
Buchanan: John Hurt
Victor: Raul Julia
Monster: Nick Brimble
Mary: Bridget Fonda
Lord Byron: Jason Patric
Shelley: Michael Hutchence

Based on the novel by Brian Aldiss, the film delves into time travel and the mixture of fiction with reality. This movie opens in 2031 as Dr. Buchanan discovers time-slips and the ability to move between backward and forward in time, resembling somewhat The Anubis Gate by Tim Powers. Buchanan visits the late nineteenth century, where he becomes embroiled in Justine's court case and meets Victor Frankenstein. Mary Shelley's novel comes to life as the monster demands a mate, and Buchanan does everything in his power to prevent that from occurring. Byron and Shelley play only bit parts here. Mary Shelley, in an act of seduction directed towards Buchanan, says that while Shelley and Byron profess free love, she practices it. Eventually, Buchanan, Victor, and the monster end up traveling to the far future, a wasteland decimated by Buchanan's time traveling machine. Buchanan kills the monster, but not before the monster cries: "You don't understand. You cannot kill me. You think you have killed me but I am with you forever. I am unbound."

The Difference Engine. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. 1990. A novel that embraces alternate realities, using as a premise the creation of computers (which the characters call "Engines") almost one hundred years before their time. A number of changes have occurred with the time line: Byron is now Prime Minister and has imprisoned Shelley as a radical leader; Coleridge and Wordsworth govern their own religion and commune; and Keats has become a Kinotropy expert (rather like an expert in Power Point presentations). The plot line revolves around three main characters: Sybil Gerard (daughter of a Luddite agitator), Edward Mallory (paleontologist and savant), and Laurence Oliphant (diplomat, mystic, and spy). They each have a piece of a larger puzzle that only seems to come together at the end of the novel: a modus (superficially a gambling method, but more importantly, an equation that will destroy the "Engines" with its inherent implications). Ada Byron appears as a lost woman, deep in gambling debts yet stunningly brilliant in mathematics, who effectively engineered the code that allowed Babbage to create the computers well before their time. She, like Byron, has her curse as well as her genius.

Wall, Stone, Craft. Walter Jon Williams. 1993. Yet another alternate reality text, in which Byron, Shelley, Mary, and Claire never met while traveling in Switzerland. Instead, Byron becomes a soldier, captures Napoleon, stays married to Lady Byron, and is made the Marquess of Newstead by the Prince Regent. The story picks up later when the four do meet at an inn . They speak of war, and the story of Frankenstein turns out very different as a result. In this world, Mary takes a dislike to Byron almost immediately. She taunts and baits him, waiting for him to announce his misogyny to the world and especially to her. He speaks like a soldier and she despises war. He relates his savage exploits and she finds him arrogant and egotistical. Eventually, he saves her life, which she resents. Byron has full use of both legs, even creating a new set of footwear called "the byron" to accentuate his legs and calves. However, in the duel that he fights to save Mary, Percy, Claire, and the aristocratic woman with whom he has fallen in love, he kills the other man but the horse falls on the wet grass, rolls over his foot, and cripples him. The surgeon amputates the foot and he becomes lame. In the end, Byron leaves for South America to fight there for independence. He remains a soldier and dies unknown. The last paragraph is particularly telling: "They never saw him again, but Mary thought of him oftenthe great, famed figure, limping painfully through battle after battle, crippled, ever-restless, and in his breast the arctic waste of the soul, the franked and steely creator with his heart of stone."

Byron. Sigrid Combuchen. 1993. Translated by Joan Tate. An extraordinarily long work with pretentious and affected writing. The interweaving of two periods remains not only erratic but quite often confusing. One was never quite sure who was talking, how they knew Byron, and what dramatic relevance it had to the narrative whole. The fictional accounts within the text run together and intertwine with the narrative of the main voices indiscriminately. The author describes only Byron's intimate relationships with women, never with other men. Even in Greece, Loukas becomes merely a page and errand boy.

Lord of the Dead. Tom Holland. 1995. In this novel, Byron becomes a powerful vampire after being created by the Vakhel Pasha and then killing him, standing under the shower of blood that jets from the Pasha's heart. He becomes the emperor of the vampires and revels in his power. The individuals who are most attractive to Byron, in a blood sense, are those of his own family, especially his sister and his children. He has to send Augusta away for fear that he will kill her. Annabella has to take Ada away from him for the same reason, but eventually he succumbs and kills Allegrathe blood will keep him forever young. In order to regain his stunning good looks and youthfulness after waiting too long to drink from a family member, he has to consume the heart and brains of the Pasha, who is still alive after having been shot and buried. Haidée makes an appearance in this text, appearing initially as a boy named Nikos, with whom Byron falls madly in lust. Later, he discovers her secret gender. Their child takes the name of Ruthven, whose line descends to the present-day narrator Rebecca. Here, both Polidori and Lady Melbourne are vampires. Polidori becomes Byron's arch-nemesis, putting Rebecca on Byron's trail in the present day.

Arcadia. Tom Stoppard. 1995. The narrative alternates between 1809 and the late twentieth century. Hannah Jarvis, a Caroline Lamb scholar, investigates the Hermit of a Derbyshire Manor. Bernard Nightingale, a Byron scholar, remains hot on the trail of Byron's lost memoirs. The synopsis on the back dust cover reads as follows: "In a large country house in Derbyshire in April 1809 sits Lady Thomasina Coverly, aged Thirteen, and her tutor, Septimus Hodge. Through the window may be seen some of the '500 acres inclusive of lake' where Capability Brown's idealized landscape is about to give way to the 'picturesque' Gothic style: 'everything but vampires,' as the garden historian Hannah Jarvis remarks to Bernard Nightingale when they stand in the same room 180 years later. Bernard has arrived to uncover the scandal which is said to have taken place when Lord Byron stayed at Sidley Park." Byron appears only in absentia, but the ends to which Bernard will go to uncover any scandal related to him are humorous and satirical. Bernard will eventually ruin his scholarly career because of these leaps of logic, made without the necessary scholarship to support them. Hannah, whose book on Caroline Lamb he had given a bad review in the press, takes great pleasure in bringing out the information that he lacked in order to somewhat even the score.

Don Juan DeMarco. Directed by Jeremy Leven. 1995.
Don Juan: Johnny Depp
Dr. Jack Mickler/Don Octavio: Marlon Brando
Doña Ana: Geraldine Pailhas
The movie satirizes not only the seductive qualities of the Romantic myth but also the chimeric utopia. As a result, we, as audience members, see both the enticingly beautiful illusion and the responsive mechanism that creates the illusion. The protagonist, a delightfully mad Lothario, persuades those around him to detach themselves from reality, thereby seducing them into his utopia. His palpable magnetism woos men and women, drawing individuals to him through the act of telling his implausible yet poignantly evocative story. The protagonist believes himself to be the legendary Don Juan and has decided to commit suicide because of Doña Ana's rejection. Dr. Jack Mickler saves the young man by pretending to be Don Octavio de Flores, a seventeenth-century Spanish nobleman, uncle to Don Francisco de Silva, the famous swordsman that Don Juan has summoned. The young man arrives at the Woodhaven State Hospital for a ten-day stay. During this time, the young man tells his story, after which he is medicated, at which point a judge determines that he is not a danger to society or himself and frees him. Within an elaborate fantasy, Don Juan DeMarco creates his past from two texts: The Original Tale of Don Juan and Don Juan by Byron. The sequences are: the seduction of Donna Julia and the cuckolding of Don Alfonso; the abduction of Don Juan by pirates, who eventually sell him into slavery; and the shipwreck, which washes him onto the shore of an island, to be rescued by Doña Ana, a stand-in for the original Haidée. By using both the original Don Juan and Byron's Don Juan, the film emphasizes the seductive quality of the Romantic myth while at the same time satirizing those individuals who believe the illusion to be reality.

Byrne. Anthony Burgess. 1995. A long poem patterned after both Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan, in which Byrne, an anti-hero, attempts to be Byronic but fails utterly, coming across as nothing more than arrogant and narcissistic. He is satirical and lacks the passion, the mystery, and the inner flame of spirit that makes a hero like Manfred or Cain so intense, while also lacking the dispassion, the laissez-faire attitude that makes Don Juan so antithetical to the former heroes. The Times Literary Supplement claims that Burgess's poem is Rabelaisian in its bawdiness and Nabokovian in its complexity. The first claim is definitely closer to the mark than the second. The allusions are there but hardly complex in their origin or meaning. Burgess uses both ottava rima and Spenserian sonnet rhymes to tell this tale. His rhymes are imaginative but sometimes ludicrous, while his meter occasionally misses the mark.

Death and Deconstruction. Ann Fleming. 1995. The Byron memoirs make their elusive and yet pronounced appearance yet again as something unattainable yet highly desired. This time they are a hoax and forgery pawned off on an academic for lots of money. They become the center of this mystery, though, over which numerous people are murdered. The novel is set in the present day with a group much like the Keats-Shelley Society or the Byron Society. In fact, Fleming is a member of the Byron Society so presumably has much experience with nuance and intrigue—the tongue-in-cheek book hints at darker truths. Byron makes an appearance via the missing yet desired memoirs.

The Modern Prometheus. (Episode on Highlander: The Series) Directed by Adrian Paul. 1997.
Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod)
Jonathan Firth (Lord Byron)
Jeffrey Ribier (Mike)
Tracy Keating (Mary Shelley)
In this television episode, Byron, pale with dark eyes and crimson lips, becomes a rock star extraordinaire and immortal sword wielder. He has become famous again as a musician with an astonishing following. The segment switches between the present-day and 1816, where the immortal cast meet Claire, Shelley, and Mary Shelley. In the present-day, Byron seduces Mike, the young musician who adores him. This annoys and maddens MacLeod, who finds it necessary to rid the planet of yet another immortal. During the episode, Byron recites numerous lines of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.

The Darkling. (Episode on Star Trek: Voyager ) Directed by Alex Singer. 1997.
Christopher Clarke as Lord Byron
In this television show, the ship's Doctor, a sentient holographic computer program seeking to improve his personality subroutines, downloads various personality types into his artificial intelligence matrix, of which Lord Byron is one. However, these aberrant characteristics lead the doctor into an abyss from which he finds it difficult to ascend. The changes result in a schizophrenic break for the doctor resembling a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde routine.

Published @ RC

January 2006

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