The tale of one of the most disastrous marriages in English literary history—and how it reverberated through generations to come.
Prolific novelist and literary biographer Seymour (The Pity of War: England and Germany, Bitter Friends, Beloved Foes, 2014, etc.) returns to the familiar Romantic era ground she covered in her 2001 biography, Mary Shelley, with this wide-ranging dysfunctional family portrait. Raised as a beautiful, pampered, privileged social princess, Annabella Milbanke married the great poet Lord Byron with the most delusional of intentions: She would reform the rake who famously seduced anyone who didn’t seduce him first. However, no sooner were they on their honeymoon than Byron brought his half sister, Augusta Leigh, into the game and all but made love to her under the nose of his naïve and oblivious bride. Annabella, who only dealt with the unthinkable when it became the unavoidable, fled within a year, taking along Ada, her newborn daughter by Byron. Her marriage made her vindictive and cruel; she could wield the unpleasant and unlawful facts as a cudgel against Byron and Augusta as well as their unfortunate daughter Elizabeth Medora. More than that, she raised and molded Ada by herself, with results that went well beyond her control. While she nurtured Ada’s genius—she was the mathematical prodigy who became the explicator and promoter of Charles Babbage’s groundbreaking Analytical Machine, the forerunner of the computer—Ada was every bit her father’s daughter. The self-proclaimed “bride of science,” she supplemented her marriage with affairs and a disastrous interest in racehorse gambling; she also bristled under the restraints of her tightfisted and domineering mother. Seymour’s great achievement is the resourcefulness and diligence she brings to both Annabella and Ada, complex figures who alternately invite and test readers’ sympathies. Their inner and outer lives—along with those of dozens of others who populate this tragic farce—are told with singular narrative skill.
A top-notch biography.