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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

"Byron: A poet dangerous to know" by Geoffrey Trrease

This book is aimed at the younger reader and published in 1969 at which time young readers still needed to be protected from some of the details of the life of Byron, the poet who was famously described by one of his lovers, Lady Caroline Lamb, wife of future Prime Minister Lord Melbourne, as "Mad, bad and dangerous to know." Trease achieves his aim magnificently. Without shirking the established facts but without going into salacious details he makes it clear that Byron had affairs with a string of women; he even mentioned the (never proved) allegations of incest with his half-sister (although he doesn't mention the equally unproven but sometimes speculated homosexual relationships with his page Robert Rushton and various Greek boys). He also writes briefly and clearly and produces an excellent outline of the poet's life with some appropriate selections from his poetry.

He is especially good at using euphemism. For example, while future wife Annabelle was thinking she might marry and reform a man who, she thought "discouraged his own goodness", Trease records that “Byron was fully occupied in the months that followed, discouraging his own goodness with Caroline Lamb.” (p 70) Of Byron's susceptibility to a beautiful woman Trease writes “Women did throw themselves at him, and, with the reflex of an experienced sportsman, he was apt to catch them almost automatically.” (p 85)

Trease has a deep insight into Byron. For example:
  • One side of him was unconventional: he enjoyed shocking people. Another side of him was just as conventional: a young gentleman was expected to show his wild oats.” (p 43)
  • From childhood Byron had been fascinated by the Orient, that exotic world where sultans and pashas ruled unchallenged in their gorgeous palaces, with whole harems of beautiful women to be petted and punished at will. A man there did not worry his head about a woman's feelings. He did as he pleased.” (p 44)
  • His poems were really popular novels in verse, full of excitement, passion and horror. and he dashed them off as a clever thriller-writer today produces a best-selling paperback.” (p 71)
  • He quotes Byron as saying, in Belgium: “Level roads don't suit me. It must be either up hill or down. Imagine to yourself a succession of avenues with a Dutch Spire at the end of each, and you see the road.” (p 91)
There are a number of interesting facts that crop up in the book. For example:
  • A debtor could not be arrested on the Sabbath.” (p 11)
  • "Byron's mother was kin to the Duke of Gordon and descended from James the first of Scotland." (p 11)
Other great moments:
  • He enjoyed talking to the monks in bad Latin, riding a mule and learning to swear at it in Portuguese, and eating too many oranges.” (p 53)
  • He had long ago studded Italian, though he spoke it, he admitted, ‘more fluently than accurately’.” (p 102)
  • She ... died in 1817, and the Count mastered his grief sufficiently to go to the theatre the same evening.” (p 111)
  • He accordingly arranged to ... inspect Teresa. As the room was dark, and his sight not so good as had been, he took up a candlestick and walked slowly round the girl, ‘as if ... he were engaged in buying a piece of furniture’.” (p 112)

This well-written book is an excellent introduction to an important poet who is not so well-known today. It has done its job. I now hunger to learn more about the man and to read some of his poetry.

October 2018; 136 pages

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