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Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame Hardcover – April 12, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

"Obscured by the freedom fighter, fashion leader, fallen angel, and literary bad boy, Byron the great poet has tended to be forgotten," writes Benita Eisler in the closing chapter of her monumental biography, which goes a long way toward depicting George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) in a more balanced fashion. Even in his own era, when the first edition of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage sold out in three days, whispers of incest, homosexuality, and--far worse in Tory England--political radicalism grew so insistent that they drove Byron out of his homeland. Eisler's comprehensive narrative does ample justice to the impassioned love affairs that made him notorious, from his voluptuous half-sister, Augusta Leigh, to the erratic and vengeful Lady Caroline Lamb, who famously described him as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Let's face it, those juicy stories are half the reason we want to read about Byron, but Eisler gives us the other half, too, reminding her readers with lengthy quotes and intelligent exegesis that Don Juan is one of the greatest poems in English, and Byron one of the most influential and important poets. Her impeccably researched text is lucid about Byron's beliefs, candid about his faults, and persuasively ardent about his genius. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

On May 17, 1824, one month after George Gordon Lord Byron (b. 1788) caught fever in a Missolonghi rainstorm while fighting for the liberation of Greece, the cautious publisher John Murray, with the blessing of Byron's ex-wife, Annabella, and his beloved half-sister, Augusta, took a match to an unpublished work by the famous poetAthe two-volume manuscript that was his memoirs. Perhaps it was this act that opened the flue for Byron biography, for as more and more of the seamy details of the poet's highly dissolute life come to light, the abiding hope remains that the destroyed work contained still more. Eisler's (O'Keeffe and Stieglitz: An American Romance) exhaustive biography portrays Byron as a restless, brilliant man in thrall: he is, in her view, the puppet of his own extravagant passions and even in his lifetime was so fictionalized and mythologized by others that he found it hard to maintain his own sense of self. Whereas Phyllis Grosskurth's study of two years ago, Byron: The Flawed Angel, used psychoanalytic arguments to show the poet's state of mind and possible manic depression, Eisler is more interested in the interaction between his amorous attachments and his poems. She quotes from his oeuvre liberally and with the good timing of an able literary critic, as she details the romances of the great Romantic, from his childhood crushes, through secret schoolboy encounters, affairs with other men and with the society belles and salonistes like the Ladies Oxford and Lamb, his marriage to Annabella, his incest with Augusta, dalliances with countless other women he would ultimately spurn, and his final, protracted involvement with Teresa Guiccioli. There are moments when Eisler's tight rein on her prose slackens to clich?, as when, having described so many of the beauties Byron bedded, Teresa is given the proverbial "little white teeth like perfectly matched pearls." But in the main, Eisler's lusty enjoyment of her subject's many escapades animates the story she tells in words both elegant and provocative. The mind-boggling array of quotations, excerpts, and eyewitness and historical accounts she has amassed give face and flesh not only to the poet born under a bad, bright star, but to those whose lives he illuminated briefly.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 12, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679412999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679412991
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,694,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 67 people found the following review helpful By E. Jackson on August 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
Please do not buy this book. As an academic whose specialty area is Lord Byron, I urge you to avoid this sensationalist and poorly written work at all costs. It is, aside from anything else, full of small mistakes regarding dates, etc. If you are looking for a reliable recent biography of Byron, buy the Fiona Macarthy book before you buy this one. If you are willing to spend more and hunt more, and don't mind a book that, because of the time when it was written, scants the issue of Byron's complex sexual tastes, the undoubted go-to bio is Leslie Marchand's three volume work from 1957. Old, but still the best.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Myers VINE VOICE on February 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
To begin with, the more exacting reviewers are correct in their assertions that there is nothing new here, aside from Eisler's "spin" on previously well-known facts about the infamous and lionized Poet and Lord. This book is definitely NOT for those interested in a thorough, searching delve into Byron and his poetry. But, moreover, it is not even the "page-turner" which other reviewers make it out to be.
The book is written in this precious, cozy, semi-academese which drains the blood from the writing. There is no evaluation of the poet in the context in the particular developmental stage of English poetry at the time. And Shelley, in particular, gets a particularly curt dismissal.---But the real problem with this biography is not that Eisler is dismissive of other (in Shelley's case, better) poets or that her book is simply a rehashing of previously known circumstances. The problem is her plodding, lifeless, cutesy writing style. By the end of the book, one feels that Ms. Eisler has appropriated Byron into her cozy world of popularized, made-for-giant-publishing-houses beach-read bios. Has anyone else noticed that all the chapters are almost the exact number of pages in length? Such precise compartmentalization does not for the reflection of a life make, in particular Byron's!
The one merit this book indisbutably does have is to make you want to read or reread Byron's poetry. Eisler's citations of neatly culled snippets are the only lively thing in the book! So, after you've read all about the minutiae of the poet's life and feel drained and off-put at the end:
Close thy Eisler! Open thy Byron!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
I became interested in Byron after reading a brief biography of the poet in a women's magazine which mentioned, among other things, the shocking fact that Byron had indulged in incest with his half-sister and fathered a child by her. Could this, I wondered, be true? And if so, why had none of my English teachers bothered to mention this titillating detail (there being no better way to motivate kids to read than by sharing prurient, violent, or otherwise scandalous of disgusting tidbits with them)?
Fortunately for me, my step-mother is a scholar of Byron, and, on hearing of my interest, she promptly sent me Eisler's biography of Byron, which, weighing in at over 800 pages, promised to satisfy my need for prurience in spades.
As it turns out, I did enjoy Eisler's biography and the portrait that she paints of the poet, his contemporaries, and his travels. Byron's reputation as a literary bad-boy seems to have been richly deserved. Eisler chronicles his early homosexual interests, his penchant for getting low-class servants and prostitutes pregnant, his cynical association with a society maven a la Les Liasons Dangereuses which resulted in his catastrophic marriage to an innocent, upright, and deeply religious young woman, his affair with his sister, and (when social outrage threatened to make things uncomfortable for him) his eventual flight from England, leaving his sister and their infant daughter to bear the stigma and to withstand the scorn of society alone.
Eisler mixes this tale of profligate erotic dalliance with serious consideration of the literary development of the poet, from his first forays into verse as a boy to his final production of masterpieces such as Don Juan.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Henry J. Donaghy on January 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A delightfully readable book. Ms. Eisler writes well and researches well, though a reader might not always grant the objectivity of her sources. I did not, however, as did some of the other reviewers,find her unfair to Byron. It is true that Eisler accepts the fact that Byron was bisexual and thus comes a long way from Leslie Marchand's two-volume biography. She does, nonetheless, fill in gaps left by Marchand, and she treats Annabella Milbanke Byron more generously than have others, but she never loses sympathy with Byron nor causes us to do so, despite his faults. The one problem I had with the biography was her unfairness to Shelley. In all his interactions with Byron, Shelley is made to seem an ungrateful and duplicitous friend. Yet, with just one exception, none of the evidence Eisler presented in these instances would convince this reader. Each interaction was open to interpretation. She always faulted Shelley. I saw these events differently. Eisler was much more on target when she made similar charges about Leigh Hunt. However, the treatment of Shelley aside, I found the book first rate, a happy combination of biography and discussion of poetry.
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