It seems to me that great gifts are often balanced by immoderate weaknesses. An example is George Lord Byron, a poet of extraordinary talent and a man of excessive sexual appetites that acknowledged no taboos. Abramson’s story is divided into three parts and the narrative is cleverly interwoven between them, often breaking off at a critical point to keep the reader enthralled.
One part deals with the years after Byron’s huge success with Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, his turbulent affair with Caroline Lamb and the scandal of his relationship with his half-sister, Augusta. The author portrays him as I have always imagined him: wickedly witty, bitingly outspoken, egotistical, yet passionate, romantic and eloquent. His friends are present, Hobhouse and Moore, and his enemies, Robert Southey and the Earl of Castlereagh, all painted in vivid colours. I have to say that the portrait of Castlereagh is one of the most sympathetic I have ever read for an antagonist.
The second part begins with the author’s suggestion that Byron wasn’t driven from England because of the scandals and debts that were hounding him, but by a plot concocted by his enemies in parliament because he was inserting himself in Irish affairs – at the time a crucial concern of the government. In Greece, he becomes involved in the Greek War of Independence, and while these chapters depart from the historical record, they reveal Byron’s big-heartedness, his courage and humanity, as well as juxtaposing London’s drawing rooms with the war-torn landscapes of Greece.
The third parts deal with the rollicking adventures of Don Juan, the hero of Byron’s narrative poem.
At the end of my reading, I felt as if I knew Byron better than I did before, and I applaud the author for breathing life into him. He is such a complex character that it can’t have been an easy task.