BYRON: CHILD OF PASSION, FOOL OF FAME by Benita Eisler

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Byron was that rarest of birds, a superstar poet. His poem The Corsair reputedly sold 10,000 copies on the day of its release in 1814 which, if true, must surely be a standing record for poetry sales.

Today Byron belongs to that exclusive club of achievers whose names are descriptions; the adjective ‘Byronic’ probably has greater currency than anything he actually wrote. He’s Mr Mad-Bad-And-Dangerous-To-Know even to people who know nothing else about him. His poetry, however, has long been eclipsed in critical regard by the work of contemporaries such as Keats and Blake.

But if Byron has faded as a poet, as a biographical subject he’ll always shine, mainly because his life reads like an X-rated Jane Austen novel. Utilising previously unseen letters, Eisler reveals a complex and twisted man, a carnal wit who was as proud of his long-distance swimming as his verses.

Here Eisler seeks to revive Byron’s poetic reputation by examining his verse in the context of his life. His creativity drew heavily on personal experience and he sneered at poets whom he accused of straying from earthy reality. Keats, for example, was derided for ‘frigging his imagination’.

Like many a rock star, Byron was a libertine but no radical. He wanted to break rules, not change them. Although his international jaunts frequently reduce Led Zeppelin tours to nuns’ picnics by comparison, his sense of humour and gift for the apt phrase have a tendency to save the day. And if they don’t, well, at least it can be said he never bores.

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