people lie people lie people lie
almost everything i thought i knew about byron is now revealed to have been apocryphal. all the lurid menages à trois, all the haughty declarations – all no more real than that story about thomas hardy and the cat.
i don’t know what to think anymore. this is like a soap opera with no possibility of summer reruns for me to see for myself what “actually” happened – infuriating!
doris langley moore is my hero. she did what most people would never do – research the shit out of this life and its aftermath – – citing citing citing all the way, catching everybody’s lies and deceptions. if this were an hour-long weekly procedural: litcops, i would watch it with popcorn.
what she did was consult everything: the journals both published and unpublished, of every major and minor player, every authorized and unauthorized biography – everyone’s letters, and she just went through and fact-checked. remember fact-checking?? it is such a wonderful thing to do for other people. for posterity. because what happened, see, is that after byron’s death, the gloves came off and every motherfucker who had known him or known someone who had known him, just went ahead and published whatever “reminiscences” they could about him. for fame, for cash, for revenge, or just to feel close to the legend, like groupies hounding a tour bus. and over time, some of these biographies were accepted as fact, including some forged letter and poems. and later biographies used them as trusted source material which only exacerbated the situation and the picture became muddled for way too long.
the people publishing these lies knew what they were doing, and were called out at what they were doing, and said “nyah nyah, i can do what i waaant!!!” and they absolutely could. and did.
everyone wanted inclusion: biographers rushed to the presses with tons of inaccuracies which just perpetuated the mythology, taking massive liberties with the truth and losing the man within the myth. so why should i believe moore? i’m not going to track down all the primary sources myself for comparison to make sure she isn’t just doing it better than the other liars!but the pages and pages of works consulted and her measured tone of revelation that is neither fanboy nor apologist, but historian leads me to believe that this time, i will not be misled.
some of the worst stories about byron have been shown in this book to have been entirely fabricated. this is in no way an apology for byron – he still did some careless and cruel shit. but this book shows unequivocally that some of the most overblown tales are just that: mythology. people using the poetic reputation of byron to construct circumstances which could never have happened because either the eyewitnesses were proven to not have been where they said they were to witness the event, or giving byron powers of foreign language mastery he just did not have, or facts of his financial situation, etc etc etc.
hobhouse remains one of the few who never once lied. he isn’t a great guy, he still let that manuscript be burned and all (never gonna get over that), but he was the one shining example, other than that, of someone who wanted the truth to be known and worked tirelessly for a long time to preserve that truth, until it just broke him down and he let the floodgates… flood. he’s like a boring uncle you can trust.
this is not a biography of byron, i should make that perfectly clear here and now – this book chronicles everything that happened after byron died. to his works, to his estate, to his reputation, to his corpse. this is about unpacking what happened in the wake of byron that gives us our sense of him and how the facts were so manipulated…
let’s see – who would stand to gain from lying about byron? who would have incentive to suppress?
the abandoned wife?
the mad ex-lover?
the man who would be seen as a hero?
yes and all of the above.
trelawny – we knew he was lying. the nyrb version i have of Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author says either in the introduction or the back cover itself that most of what he claims within has been disproved. he was never as close to byron as he claimed, and he had fashioned himself after one of byron’s characters, so he was basically some early comicon geek writing fanfic. mostly harmlessly. he did cause a couple of untruths to be accepted as fact in future biographies, but he was not a major threat, because most people who met him knew within a few minutes that he was just a compulsive liar and self-promoter, and smiled indulgently until he left the room.
dear caro. well, obviously she was going to lie a bit, right?? she was a freaking lunatic prone to
public displays of self-humiliation in the wake of their totally catastrophic and brief affair. i have read Glenarvon (Everyman’s Library, the exaggerations are clear. however, not only did she extend the duration of their relationship, which is a harmless untruth,she sent letters to lady b and others full of lies and insinuations that were taken as fact… hers are fantastic to read. fantastic in an itchy way that makes you want to sit down with her and give her some sassy gay friend advice. what what what are you thinking. for real.
stendahl – like us magazine – atrocious.i had no idea he was such a dreadful and grasping person. i can’t even get into it here.
but the winner of the day. the lady byron; annabella milbanke. wow. for all of her casting herself in the role of abandoned and abused bride?? she was a wolverine. her letters… they are something else. truly. and when they are all collected from far and wide and laid out together, a very different portrait of the woman emerges. manipulative, self-promoting, flat out lying and puppeteering as she makes people do her bidding while she assumes the features of a woman wronged, who would be loath to speak out against byron. oh, she is chilling. i feel like she may have been a pretty good match for byron after all, but in no way easy to live with. she falsifies nearly everything; from the facts of their courtship, to what she may or may not have known about augusta or his turkish boys, to communications she had with her and with others.
augusta – sweet and dumb – vapid and easily manipulated – she pretty much comes across the way she always has. but much of the her-and-byron-in lurrrve stuff seems less factual than previously. moore’s was the first biography to talk openly about homosexuality. homosexuality was a much greater crime than incest during byron’s lifetime. this is england, after all…so a lot of the insinuations that caro dropped about “bigg terrible seeecrets and if you only knew them, lady b, you would have something over his head forever!” were more likely to do with his other inclinations than the purported sister-love.
for example: that favorite “bad byron” example of wedding night shenanigans: untrue. and any situation in which he made lady b participate in or observe his sexual relationship with augusta?? untrue. the paternity of medora, augusta’s daughter, has been disproved as well. that all came straight from caro and is biologically impossible, timing wise.
so the whole affair with augusta itself is kind of called into question. possible? yeah. probable?? maybe. hard to say. the relationship between lady b and augusta has always troubled me. how could they have been so close after knowing what they knew – after he had forced lady b to watch him have the relations with augusta. that had always struck me as bizarre, but i accepted it because who knows what those poets get themselves up to behind closed doors and who am i to judge. but then that negates any power caro was sneaking to lady b in the form of information, because if those stories were true, it wouldn’t have worked as blackmail. so her information must indeed have been about homosexual affairs. and so what grew up out of a cultural unwillingness to talk about homosexuality (the horror) was this sister-affair. it is mind-boggling. but he was indeed overly fond of the little goose.
all of lady b’s letters to augusta have counter-letters to other people where she talks shit about augusta and misrepresents their relationship to make herself appear oh-so-charitable when in fact she is a horrible human being. i have no facts to prove that dickens based miss havisham on her, but he did base harold skimpole from bleak house on leigh hunt (another byron-faker) (because moore is not content with only reading the letters of the major players in the byron story – that nosy lady reads everyone’s mail) so it is indeed possible, right? shutting herself away after an unhappy love-affair, casting out evil nets like a spider, spreading so much inaccuracy, so many falsehoods…
we call that a havisham.
and AAARRGGHH – so caro got to read the memoirs before they were burned – that’s fair play -she always was a determined girl, but washington irving?? how does he get to read them? god, i wish there was just one freaking copy floating around. for me. also – i want a collection of just byron’s letters to lady melbourne, the merteuil to his valmont. i have some collections of his letters here, but i want a single volume, elegantly bound, of just their correspondence. and i also want a copy of the biography of byron by thomas moore. but not some lame-ass kessinger edition or an e-book. does anyone know where to find either of these?? i am too exhausted to look right now, and it is just on my mind so i am using my book review to request that someone be less lazy than me all for my benefit. i am such a jerk.
back to book – i have to admit – it took me a while to get into this. the print is so small and the book is so long, i would find myself squinting to read it, and at that point, my eyes are halfway to closed already and i would just doze off with all the facts and names and information, because this book just rams you hard and fast with information – it is tough to take it all in. (enjoy!!) but then after i realized this was more of a literary detective story, in a way, i was riveted. i was dog-earing pages all over!! (it’s my book, i can do that if i wanna) and i actually felt my jaw drop a couple of times with the revelations and the things i had always taken for granted being shown to be lies! the amount of research she did just destroys me – i love it so much. how was this book allowed to go out of print for so long?? i adore melville house for bringing this back to light. in a way, it makes byron less interesting to know the “truth”, but it paints such an astonishingly vivid picture of the satellites and the hangers-on that it actually had the power to anger me…
i know it’s a tough sell – a long book with tiny print about someone a lot of you might be all “who cares?” about. but once you get going, there is no stopping.
i wanted to quote so many parts of this book, but i don’t know if i should. all my dog ears and scrawls – i kind of like that they were just my excitement spilling over into the real world. it has been a while since i have gotten so worked up over a book that wasn’t some silly teen dystopian novel.but just know that i am prepared to quote at great length if requested.