CARO, THE FATAL PASSION: The Life of Lady Caroline Lamb by Henry Blyth

CARO, THE FATAL PASSION: The Life of Lady Caroline Lamb

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A precipitous and mildly rakish recap of the polar attractions and repulsions between Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of William Lamb (later Victoria's dear Lord Melbourne) -- the poet's first socially prestigious affair after the onset of fame. Blyth's Caroline is both an engaging, peripherally talented gamine (some of her wistful sketches are included here) and an enervating nit (""Mad as a March hare,"" commented the Duke of Wellington after a dinner punctuated by Cafe's sharp little screams). Blyth steadies his thesis -- the sometime lovers were really ""children"" -- with their letters and some contemporary gibes among their acquaintances; and he records their antics with mock-exasperated affection and a rash of quipping one-liners. Caroline's childhood was dominated by the muddled, if quite thrilling, amours of her mother and aunt (Lady Besborough and the Duchess of Devonshire) all of which involved inordinate travel and travail. Byron's childhood, needless to say, was dreadful and his troubles were of a darker nature. Caroline, beginning to be bored by good, loyal William, met the Childe, the hero her bursting fantasy life demanded, and was overwhelmed; Byron gave full play to his famous sultry ""under look,"" and tried to ""make every effort to be in love."" But eventually Byron moved on and down, via numerous affairs and dissipations -- his innocent half-sister Augusta and his wife, Annabella, cool, righteous and put upon. But Caroline, fired up for a lifetime, never let go, and broadcast her obsession through bizarre public exercises, a volatile correspondence, and a novel which praised with loud damns the demon lover. Like Byron she died in middle age, mentally and physically consumed. This is not really a complete portrait of the relationship -- Byron's intellectual and aesthetic muscle is not allowed to show, and the evidence that he could never pull himself away from the impact of Caroline in his later life is rather thin. However, this is an enormously entertaining and incidentally informative biography. Taken on his own light-hearted terms, Blyth does convince one that the pair were fascinating, impossible -- and sometimes downright dangerous -- to know.

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 1972
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan