Annabella Milbanke and the Destruction of the Byrons
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A disappointing biography of the two most significant women in Byron’s life: wife Annabella and half-sister Augusta, who was also his lover.

Crane (Lord Byron’s Jackal, 1999) argues that Lady Byron and Augusta Leigh were bitter enemies because each made the mistake of loving the poster child for English Romanticism’s destructive tendencies. Byron seduced them both, then left both high and dry. In a sense, he married Annabella in 1815 to escape his incestuous passion for Augusta, but in fact he was happier flouting convention than living the married life, especially when that life involved responsibility for children and the mountain of debt he’d accumulated as a bachelor. Annabella realized early in their marriage that she was doomed to unhappiness, while Augusta distanced herself from the love of her life. Rumors of Byron’s affair with Augusta circulated at around the same time he left England for the continent, ruining both their reputations. Crane’s account of all this is competent enough until the narrative comes to a screeching and improbable halt smack in the middle with a fictional account of a meeting between the two women more than 25 years after Byron’s death. Although it serves the author’s purpose of clearly presenting Annabella and Augusta’s relationship of mingled animosity, love, and respect, this character development comes too late and offers too little. Written in an irritating script format composed only of dialogue and notes approximating stage directions, the interlude is stylistically intrusive and psychologically incredible. The restrained emotion and deep insights Crane attributes to both women are more annoying than persuasive, their dialogue is absurd: “You knew that, knew that even if he could escape your malice . . . then you could enjoy all the satisfaction of virtuous revenge,” intones Augusta. It’s hard to believe anyone ever talked in such a manner, even in the mid-19th century.

For die-hard Byron fans only.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-40648-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2002