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[Book Reviews] The Private Life of Lord Byron by Antony Peattie, portrait of a paradox.

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Post time: 9-10-2019 11:46:43 Posted From Mobile Phone
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The received image of Byron as a rakish bon vivant is decisively reframed in a biography exploring his personal foibles.
‘Always a fussy curator of his own image’: Thomas Phillips’ 1813 portrait of Lord Byron. Photograph: Apic/Hulton Archive
▼ Lord Byron, according to his dumped mistress Lady Caroline Lamb, was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. Antony Peattie’s exploration of his personal caprices and intellectual quirks definitively strikes down all three charges. Byron the self-aware ironist was never demented; he may have relished his reputation for vice, but his pagan promiscuity was overshadowed by the legacy of his punitive Calvinist upbringing; and it would surely have been a delight, not a danger, to know this convivial fellow, whose eyes, as Coleridge said, were “the open portals of the sun” and his teeth “so many stationary smiles”.
Peattie’s biography starts with an anecdote about Byron’s teenage years that encapsulates his slippery psychological complexity. On an evening of amateur theatricals, he performed first in a sulphurous melodrama, then in a comedy of manners. In one play, he was a misanthrope branded with the mark of Cain, in the other a frivolous dandy. “Everything by turns and nothing long”, as he said, he found both the outcast apostate and the man of mode inside himself. Or were they simply masks Byron wore and then discarded?
He invented Byronic heroes – Childe Harold the unspiritual pilgrim, the guilt-racked Manfred – to whom he attributed devilish sins he had not actually committed. As his last alter ego, he adopted the (▪ ▪ ▪)

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