A lively story of an aggrieved wife fleeing an impulsive Regency romance, which became a massive scandal in 19th-century England.
Author of previous Victorian biographies and also novels, Markus (English/Hofstra Univ.; J. Anthony Froude: The Last Undiscovered Great Victorian, 2005, etc.) finds in Lady Byron a protofeminist wife who refused to be humiliated by the famous, pathological philanderer who scorned her after a year of marriage that produced a child, Ada. The author has scoured the archives for evidence of rich nuance to the life of Lady Byron, nee Annabella Milbanke, English aristocrat and only child to a set of middle-age progressives who recognized and cultivated their daughter’s precocious mathematical bent. Markus tracks how Annabella was manipulated by her influential aunt, Lady Melbourne, into marriage with the famous, unstable poet Lord Byron, who was actually in love with his half sister, Augusta Leigh. Indeed, the crux of the scandal involved the daughter of Augusta Leigh by Byron, Medora, born shortly before his marriage to Annabella. Soon enough, Annabella discovered the sadistic narcissism of her gloomy new husband, who delighted in crushing her will and playing the two women off each other. Markus wades deeply into the legal measures Annabella took (with her ample means) to separate from her abusive husband when divorce was out of the question and also to protect her daughter, Ada, who became a brilliant disciple of scientific savant Charles Babbage. The author portrays the magnanimity of Annabella in sheltering the abused Medora, caught in the familial trauma of her mother (Medora was raped and became a teenage mother), and shows how Lady Byron’s own victimization prompted her philanthropic work, specifically in establishing education opportunities for girls.
A literary biographer with a light, mellifluous touch underscores the precarious position of women in 19th-century English society.