Byron: Life and Legend

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John Murray, 2002 - Poets, English - 674 pages
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This biography of Byron (by Byron's own publisher John Murray) attempts to reinterpret Byron's life and poetry for a new generation. Fiona MacCarthy has had access to the full John Murray Byron archive, by far the largest in the world. In addition to this resource of correspondence, literary manuscripts and artefacts (many previously unseen by Byron scholars), she has drawn fully on other major collections and has travelled extensively in the Europe that Byron knew, believing strongly in the resonance of place. She aims to bring a fresh eye to Byron's childhood in Scotland, his embattled relations with his mother and the effect on him of his deformed foot. MacCarthy traces his early travels in the Mediterranean and the East, using fresh material to throw light on his series of relationships with adolescent boys - a hidden subject in earlier biographies. Perceptive on the compelling tragi-comedy of Byron's separation, his incestuous love for his half-sister Augusta and the clamorous attentions of his female fans, Fiona MacCarthy gives a new importance to his close male friendships, in particular with his publisher John Murray. For the first time she tells the story of their famous rift, as Byron's poetry became more recklessly controversial. Here Byron is viewed as a formative figure in European romanticism, the literary equivalent of Napoleon in the sweep of his ambition. He was a charismatic influence on 19th-century music, painting, dress, manners and the art of self-preservation. Not merely a poet, Byron was a man of action, involved in the Italian Risorgimento and in the Greek War of Independence in which he died aged 36. Newly translated letters illuminate this tragic episode. Byron was a celebrity in his lifetime, a superstar after the publication of Childe Harold in 1812. As the Byron legend grew to unprecendented proportions after his death, the problem for the biographer has been to sift the truth from the sentimental, the self-serving and the spurious. What was Byron really like?

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Review: Byron: Life and Legend

User Review  - Annette - Goodreads

Gosh - what a man! Utterly fascinating! For better or worse - larger than life ... Read full review

Review: Byron: Life and Legend

User Review  - Rodney Welch - Goodreads

MacCarthy is a superb biographer, but in the book she seems to be making much ado about nothing. Benita Eisler's book had already stolen MacCarthy's thunder when she revealed the extent of Byron's ... Read full review

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About the author (2002)

Fiona MacCarthy was the Royal Society of Arts Bicentenary Medallist for 1986. She is an honorary fellow both of the Royal College of Art and of the Nineteenth Century Studies Centre at the University of Sheffield. Her controversial life of Eric Gill, published in 1989, established her immediately as an authoritative, serious yet eminently readable biographer, and her William Morris won the Wolfson History Prize and the Writers' Guild Non-fiction Award for 1995.

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