Lord Byron

Tom Mole

in British and Irish Literature

ISBN: 9780199846719
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
Lord Byron

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George Gordon Byron, sixth Lord Byron (b. 1788–d. 1824), was one of the most important poets of the British romantic period and one of the most prominent public figures in Regency England. His poetry is wide-ranging and accomplished, from lyrics and couplet satires to narrative poems and plays and the masterful satirical epic Don Juan. His life was often controversial and unconventional, and the whiff of scandal surrounding him was part of his appeal to his first admirers as well as to subsequent readers. Born in 1788 in London, the son of Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, who died in Byron’s infancy, Byron moved with his mother, Catherine Byron (née Gordon), to Aberdeen until, aged ten, he inherited the title of Baron Byron of Rochdale when his uncle (the “Wicked Lord Byron”) died without a legitimate male heir. Byron was educated at Harrow School and Cambridge, where he reportedly kept a bear in his rooms. He traveled widely in Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Albania in 1809–1811 and wrote about his experiences in his first major poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812). This poem and the series of verse tales that followed it made Byron a celebrity in Regency society. In 1815 he married Annabella Milbanke, and soon after the couple had a daughter, Ada. The marriage rapidly and acrimoniously deteriorated, however, and they separated in 1816. Byron would never see his daughter again. Amid rumors that some dark transgression on his part had precipitated the separation—modern scholars disagree about whether the cause lay in adultery, homosexuality, incest with his half sister Augusta Leigh, or some more prosaic explanation—Byron was ostracized from English society and left the country in 1816, never to return. He settled in Switzerland and then in Italy, adding two more cantos to Childe Harold and writing his first drama, Manfred. In Italy he began the most stable and rewarding sexual relationship of his life with Theresa Guiciolli. He also discovered the ottava rima stanza form, in which he wrote the short comic tale Beppo and the long comic epic Don Juan. This latter poem, a retelling of the legend in which Juan is more passive victim than active seducer, allowed Byron a wide canvas for his thoughts and opinions, expressed in a conversational style that belies very considerable technical mastery of the verse form. Having long been a supporter of Greek independence from Turkish rule, Byron in 1823 traveled to Greece, where he took an active part in the Greek struggle. He died at Messolonghi on 19 April 1824 as a result of a fever and the incompetence of his doctors. His body was returned to England.

Article.  13680 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (British and Irish)

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