Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Late Lord Byron by Doris Langley Moore

As a change from horse racing, with which I appear to be obsessed at the moment, I feel inclined to post a review of the book that has occupied my reading time for the past week.


My attention was drawn to Moore’s The Late Lord Byron, by a passing mention to it by Jessa Crispin at the Bookslut blog, in reference to an article on the destructive power of  literary heirs published in the Independent on January 6 2012.

Having always had a fascination for Lord Byron, this  piqued my interest, and I ordered a copy of The Late Lord Byron from Book Depository.

It was first published in 1961, but had been out of print for many years until it was picked up by independent publisher, Melville House for inclusion in their Neversink Library in 2011.

Doris Langley Moore is chiefly known for two accomplishments. She was a noted fashion historian and founded The Costume Museum in Bath in 1963 . She designed Katherine Hepburn’s wardrobe for The African Queen.

She was also a respected Byron scholar.

The Late Lord Byron is acknowledged as one of the best biographies on the famous poet and presents as a gripping literary detective investigation.  As the title indicates, it concentrates on what happened after Byron’s death. 

Drawing on previously unpublished letters, journals and news items as well as the plethora of Byron literature that was published after his Lordship’s death, Doris Langley Moore develops a picture of the period, and the people, both friends and enemies of Byron who contribute to his notoriety or fame as the case may be. The scholarship is formidable, with Moore backing up her commentary with many quotations and footnotes.

Despite the formidable scholarship, The Late Lord Byron is a delight to read, no doubt due to the tone – somewhat tart and ironic – that Moore adopts in laying out her case.  Her sharp observations and logical approach make her argument very convincing. 

One is appalled by the hypocrisy and mendacity of  such Byron contemporaries as Leigh Hunt who was one of many who published a biography or memoir of the poet with scant regard for truth, and upon little acquaintance with the subject.

It certainly seems unfortunate that Byron attracted so many unpleasant and dishonest persons to himself, who after his death went on vilify him in prose for profit or self promotion.

His friends, chiefly John Hobhouse (a close friend from his student days)  Augusta Leigh (his sister)  Thomas Moore (to whom he entrusted his Memoirs) and Teresa Guicccioli (his mistress in Italy) are seen to protest, but are hardly heard. 

Langley Moore’s theory is that having summarily burned Byron’s memoirs shortly after his death, Hobhouse who was Byron’s literary executor, ever after regretted the act and couldn’t bear to release any of the material he had in his possession, which might show his friend in a better light.  

What emerges from this study of Byron, is a picture of a man very much misunderstood by the period in which he lived. His virtues outweighed his faults – he was a charming, kind, considerate person and generous with money and was well known as a witty and entertaining conversationalist. He loved animals and laughter. So, he had a temper and was over emotional, but you get the feeling that he certainly had to tolerate many fools.  Overall he sounds like a guy you’d like to meet.

Next, still being in the mood for some Lord Byron, I might reread John Crowley’s Lord Byron’s Novel - The Evening Land, a fictional account of the discovery of an unknown novel by the said Lord which includes the novel itself.

And just because I cannot resist a mention of horse racing, I noted a remark by Langley Moore regarding Ada Lovelace, Byron’s daughter, that she “contrived a system for betting on horses that would have been infallible had it not been for the  interference of horses and jockeys”.


Marshall Stacks said...

' a system for betting on horses that would have been infallible had it not been for the interference of horses and jockeys”.'

comedy gold.

Anne S said...

Yes, that passage amused me as well - how too true it is.