book review: Lord Byron and Lady Ada


JULIA MARKUS’S DELIGIOUSL? absorbing biography, “_‘Lady Byron and
Her Daughters,” starts, as any good“ Regency romance should, with: a lovely young woman, Annabella Milbanke,~ meeting a dangerous young rake— Lord Byron. But here’s’thef‘catch: They don’t fall in love.

At least not at first.   It takes another year before Annabella falls, and Byron, well, he never does. A wedding soon follows, but then, as Ms. Markus puts it, “Reader, prepare for a train wreck.”

Ms. Markus paints Annabella’s privileged background in vivid strokes doting parents, the best tutors, wealth, beauty. By age 19, she was strong—minded, self-confident, supremely virtuous and sought after by countless suitors. Byron, on the other hand, was imploding. Debt-ridden, angst-ridden, he slept with anyone and everyone but essentially yearned for love with men.

In 1812, when Annabella first encountered him, he had just become “Byron,” the comet who
flared onto the social horizon and set everyone and everything on fire. Lady Caroline Lamb, the wife of Annabella’s cousin, was so consumed with passion for him that she ended up in an asylum. His sneers, his dark and brooding brow; his limp—he had been born with a club footweverything about him was fascinating. Men imitated him. Women seduced him, or tried to, but the highly rational Annabella steered clear of the commotion, writing hegmother, “He is not a dangerous person‘to me.

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An interesting sidenote, is that the Bronte sisters were so enamored of him, and he died just about when the three were born, that they all based their man character in their books on him:  Rochester, Heathcliff and that mysterious man of the Tenant of Wildfell Hall.