The biographer, Julia Markus, teaches English at Hofstra, and, based on this book alone, she is very well qualified to teach the subject! Although she is an advocate for the women in her book—justifiably so, in my view (see above)—she writes neither with bitterness nor disdain but with a patent admiration for Annabella and for her daughters, especially Ada (about whom, more later). She also writes with grace and with an eloquent ease that will invite rather than repel readers. Yes, her book rests on a foundation of scholarship—sturdy scholarship—but it is an attractive, artful edifice that rises above and even, at times, makes you forget what lies below.
She begins in London, 1812, where the nineteen-year-old Anne Isabella Milbanke (she used the name Annabella) has gone to stay for the nonce. (At this time, Byron was 24.) She was born, well off, in 1792 (making her five years older than Mary Shelley), was a “prodigy in math and languages,” and so beautiful that she had a stable-full of suitors, all of whom she pretty much sent packing.
One of her cousins was Lady Caroline Lamb (1784–1828), who had her own torrid affair with Byron, an affair whose volcanic heat (and later arctic coolness) she recorded in her novel about their relationship, Glenarvon (1816)—the very year of the “Frankenstein summer.” It’s a tale chockablock with such sentences as this one: … suddenly she started as if shuddering on the very edge of perdition, in the dark labyrinth of sin—on the fathomless chasm which opened before her feet. I’d have to say that Glenarvon could stand on the shelf with Fifty Shades of Gray and their ilk—differing only in that Caroline Lamb’s century (and class) prohibited the sort of gleeful naughty detail available to E. L. James, et al.
I began reading Glenarvon in April 1999, when I was on my “Mary Adventure” in Europe. My train reading. And hotel reading. Here’s something I wrote on April 17:
I just hit p. 100 in Glenarvon, a novel I’m enjoying more and more as I proceed. No wonder LB was attracted to Caroline Lamb: She was intelligent, witty, talented, fearless—all qualities doomed, finally, to repel a man in the 19th century (and the 20th & 21st, one suspects). I laughed aloud a few times at the witty prattle of these people w/ too much money and far too much leisure—no wonder there are revolutions in the world! Glenarvon (LB) himself has yet to make his appearance, and I’m getting eager to meet him through CL’s eyes.