The Shelleys did not spend a long time in Naples. They arrived on December 1, 1818, left at the end of February 1819—three months. But their sojourn there was active—and, in one case, mysterious. They did lots of sight-seeing, reading, writing—their usual forms of recreation. And on December 16, they ascended Vesuvius.
I arrived in Naples aboard a Eurostar train, reading the novel Glenarvon as I went (well, and when I wasn’t staring out the window at the rushing countryside that displayed natural beauty, enormous wealth, abysmal poverty). Glenarvon, 1816, by Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Lord Byron’s former lovers, tells a fictional version of their relationship. In our day, abandoned lovers hop on Facebook and/or Twitter and fire away—or, if they’re involved with celebrities, they talk to gossip magazines or TV shows. Or maybe file charges.
She has some harsh words for the Byron figure (Glenarvon himself): That in which Glenarvon most prided himself—that in which he most excelled, was the art of dissembling. And lots of bitter regret: They know not the force of passion, who have not felt it—they know not the agony of guilt, who have not plunged into its burning gulf, and trembled there.
|The very copy I read.|
Byron himself read the novel, and on February 7, 1820, wrote to a later mistress: Your little head is heated now by that damned novel—the author of which has been—in every country and at all times—my evil Genius. By “Genius,” of course, he means “spirit,” the dark one that opposes the bright one, who, presumably, was his new lover, Teresa Guiccioli.
After my arrival on April 26, 1999, I ran around making arrangements—a hotel room, a ticket for an all-night train (in a couple of days) that would take me to Munich, directions to the start of the trail up Vesuvius. I also went to the address where the Shelleys had lived those months, but there’s a new building there now—no historical marker.
I was also feeling stupid. I knew—as I’ve written—very little Italian (I emphasize very), and the railway ticket clerk employed the universal strategy for dealing with someone who doesn’t know the local language: speak louder and louder and louder. All, of course, to no effect. But I went to bed that night with plans to “do” the volcano the next morning. After all, only a few years before, chasing Jack London’s life, I’d climbed the Chilkoot Pass from Alaska into the Yukon … so how hard could this be?
Below: Some of my photos from Naples, April 1999.
|Address where Shelleys lived--obviously,|
this is a newer structure.