LORD ELGIN'S LADY by Theodore Vrettos
Kirkus Star


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Lushly atmospheric, with a cutting undercurrent of hortatory outrage, Vrettos' reconstruction of the Parthenon pillage campaigns of Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, is a near-allegorical study of corruption. Elgin's mission--to ""save"" the beauty of Greek antiquities ""from the barbarous Turks and unappreciative Greeks""--seems reasonable enough to his lively Scottish wife Mary, who accompanies him in 1799 to Sicily and Constantinople, where Elgin is Ambassador to the Sultan. But, though delighted and thrilled as they travel through exotic sites and societies, Mary develops misgivings--when Elgin rushes her to a small village, takes fevered possession of two ancient, beautiful marble seats, and mentions the fate of poor Lady Montagu. . . who coveted the marbles but contracted a hideous disfiguring disease. (Is there a curse?) Unfazed by Mary's pleas or villager moans, however, Elgin carries on: while Mary bears children and learns Greek, he bullies his aides and artists--preparing them to swarm on the Parthenon in Athens. And Mary, who has a moving first view of the Parthenon (""The stately columns seemed to be praying in the sun""), soon sees the ropes and pulleys and scaffolds and pounding chisels as a nightmare; her husband, whose nose is being eaten away by a mysterious disease (syphilis), is now a ""raging maniac who was staining the sky with his curses, his crazed look and demented commands."" The antiquities fall and are crated--in a bleak account of calamitous transport and finagling, bribery and mischances. Mary and Elgin become estranged. And, detained in France while headed home, Mary will meet handsome Robert Fergusson: a divorce trial awaits, as does the English brouhaha (pleasure, puzzlement, a curse from Lord Byron) over the Marbles. High-colored, rousing, slightly over-righteous indictments of human greed and its curious consequences--set within an attractive romantic framework: a mightily appealing combination.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1982
ISBN: 0595195245
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin