Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Musing on Lord Byron and other books

I’ve always had a bit of thing for Lord Byron, being attracted to his bad boy image no doubt. Come to think of it I’ve always been attracted to bad boys; they seemed to have more fun than good boys. When I was a young thing, I used to divide the young males of my acquaintance into cads and sinceres. Not surprisingly I liked the cads best and generally hung out with them.

Anyway back to the topic in hand…

At a loss for something to read a couple of weekends ago, I idly picked up The Memoirs of Lord Byron (1989) by Robert Nye. It proved to be an engrossing read, an interesting fictional version of Byron’s memoirs, which stuck to the facts and was written in a voice I imagine is pretty close to Byron’s own. Byron did indeed write his memoirs, but the manuscript was burned after his death, it being too sensational in content to publish, and to protect the innocent still living.

There have been other fictions featuring Lord Byron, notably John Crowley’s 2005 novel, Lord Byron’s Novel: The Evening Land , a book that very wonderfully imagines the rediscovery of a lost manuscript of Byron’s, a novel titled The Evening Land.

Another is Conversations with Lord Byron on perversion, 163 years after His Lordship’s death (1987) by Amanda Prantera. In this novel a computer program has created a virtual identity for Lord Byron, and the story revolves around the interaction of the Byron expert hired to test the program, and the virtual Byron. A novel with a great deal of charm, it primarily deals with Byron’s relationship with the choir boy John Edleston and posits an alternative version of the story of this friendship.

Anyway, my musing on Lord Byron has to do with his celebrity status. He is of course known as the first person to attract a cult following and become a celebrity; based on his reputation for being extravagant, melancholy, courageous, unconventional, eccentric, flamboyant and controversial.

With a reputation like that he wouldn’t really be out of place in the modern world. I can think of many modern celebrities who share the same characteristics, Ryan Adams for one – the description above would suit him to a T.

On the subject of books I have just ordered the new A S Byatt novel The Children’s Book that sounds fascinating. It is available locally, but I like to collect Byatt in hard cover, so ordered it from Amazon UK. I’m also eagerly anticipating Four Freedoms, John Crowley’s new novel, which I’ve pre-ordered from Amazon US as it certainly won’t be available locally. I don’t even dare hope for the 25th Anniversary Edition of Little, Big to be in my hands by southern winter, but according to recent news, production is nearing completion, so it can’t be all that far away.

I am presently reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers first full length novel. I was inspired to pick up Carson McCullers after reading
an article on her on the Book Slut site. She sounds like she was a pretty wild woman.

Over the last weekend I perused a new novel - The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery which was highly praised by
Michael Dirda in his review of it on Washington Post. It wasn’t a bad read and is a superior quality “best seller”, which it was in France. If all best sellers were like this, I might read more of them.


F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

thanks for that great link.
she died without seeing several of her novels become films.
I would have thought the antiseptic effect of all that whiskey would have cured the strep throat.
The depiction of her in the recent Capote movie, did not do justice to her amazing character - I am seeing Wynone Ryder in the bio-pic.

Anne S said...

F.G - it is a great article. It certainly was eductational for me. I am enjoying The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, I must admit. I haven't seen the Capote movie, so can't comment. And yes you're right, Winona Ryder would be the perfect Carson McCullers - another bad girl.

Kay said...

I must look out for the new Byatt. And Carson McCullers is a writer I keep hearing about ... Thanks for these ideas for reading.
As for Byron, I am not one for bad boys, but I did enjoy learning about him and reading his stuff recently at Uni. (did some Engl. papers.) The lecturers loved him and so their enthusiasm led me to appreciate his writing. I certainly find him preferable to Wordsworth, who I think is a a bit soppy.

Anne S said...

Kay, Actually I don't mind Wordsworth. He was on the syllabus of first or second year English Lit when I was at Uni. I remember being less than enthused that I had to study his poetry, but he finally won me over.

Just remember he was stoned out of his head on opium for a lot of the time.

PS I'm really looking forward to the new A S Byatt novel - it's been getting glowing reviews.

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

Did Wordsy have a sister Dorothy?

and were they 'very best friends' in a Byron-esque sort of way?

opiates should be in the water supply along with fluoride and all the other poisonous additives.
We could save money on the cops for a start.

Anne S said...

I don't believe they had that sort of relationship.

Here's a quote from Angela Carter regarding the Wordsworths from an article she wrote in the New Statesman back in the 70s.

“Ghosts of dead poets don’t walk the Lake District, no – they hike. Fell-walking ghosts as mad as hatters, high as kites…you feel you might surprise them at the rim of Rydal Water, or spot their phantom reflections in the magic mirrors, Grasmere, Windermere – I bet the glassy tarns looked terrific on opium! Although the story goes the Wordsworth sibs, ace pedestrians and compulsive water-viewers, only took laudenum for medicinal purposes, your honour. In Lakeland, among daffodils shuddering in April snow, how easy to imagine the Wordsworths, freaked out as all hell, trudge, trudge, trudging the miles from Dove Cottage to Windermere to check if their connection (probably Humphrey Davy) had delivered.

For surely they must have been smashed out of their skulls all the time. Wordsworth and his sportive sister with her crazy eyes (‘wild and startling eyes’, opined De Quincey, noting, no doubt, and who more knowledgeable, her expanded pupils). Why else should they have gone striding off in all weathers, whirling blizzard, serrating frost, braving the peculiarly wet Cumbrian rain, to take in yet another peak or mere in a different light? How else could they have stood it, had they not been smashed?”

Anne S said...

oops! that should have been New Society NOT New Statesman

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

I must have misinterpreted the Frances Wilson 2008 biog review in The Economist -
"Whether their intimacy was sexual, as was Lord Byron’s with his half-sister Augusta, is not something that can ever be known, though it was scurrilously gossiped about even at the time.
In her journal Dorothy says she “petted” her “darling” William “on the carpet”, sat with his head on her shoulder, and came into his room at night to help him sleep.
Ms Wilson thinks it unlikely that their relationship was incestuous in the full and literal sense.
She is more interested in the emotional texture (which was indeed erotic) of their exclusive brother-sister love, from which William escaped into marriage, breaking Dorothy’s heart."

or got them jumbled with Lord B.

Wish I had been part of their gang - no dull nights!