BYRON by Elizabeth Longford


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A neurotic, selfish, lascivious, and thoroughly disagreeable lame Adonis who occasionally indulged in bravery or churned out a canto of Childe Harold or Don Juan--that, alas, is what this short-form (just over 200 pages) biography makes of the quintessential Romantic hero. Some persons of genius (Dr. Johnson lumbers to mind) respond well to blitzkrieg bio: highlighted relationships, bits of letters and journals, a few choice quotations, a dab of literary criticism--teasers that lead readers to primary sources. But Byron resists, no matter how much wit, grace, and savvy Longford lavishes on him. She concentrates on his Mediterranean adventuring (a girl or boy in every port as well as Greek freedom-fighting) and his incestuous longings (apparently fulfilled) for half-sister Augusta Leigh. The vivid images: a nightmare marriage, neglected children, masochistic struggles against obesity, self-consciousness (the clubfoot) channeled into bitterness or narcissism. Candor and a dry detachment fray the idealized silhouette treasured by earlier generations but offer nothing in its place. The Countess of Longford's charmingly aphoristic (""Nothing is so famous as fame"") approach should be a natural for the lord whose charms were such that visitors were warned: ""Beware of being Byroned."" Nonetheless, it's Byron, warts and all--without the all.

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 1976
Publisher: Little, Brown