The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter, Annabella Milbanke & Ada Lovelace

In-byrons-wake-9781471138577_lgLucy Lethbridge at Literary Review:

The title of Miranda Seymour’s vastly enjoyable new book is misleading. It suggests that Byron’s wife and daughter tumbled about in the slipstream of a volcanic genius. Yet although there was no escaping the blaze and shadow of Byron’s brilliance, the persona that he created and the fame that followed his life and death, their own lives were themselves rich in intellectual adventure. In very different ways, they were brave, bold, often hopelessly naive and sometimes maddening. It is one of the many pleasures of this book that Seymour makes the reader warm to their inconsistencies, to all the inexplicable oppositions of character and action that make them so familiar and human.

In Seymour’s account, angled to put the women centre stage, Byron is vain, narcissistic and self-pitying, his shallow affections most comfortably absorbed by Augusta, the half-sister even he called a ‘ninny’. He exits the scene early in the book, exiled from his wife and baby daughter in a sulphurous cloud of scandal. The courtship of Byron and Annabella Milbanke has been picked over by scholars for two hundred years; most have concluded that whichever way you look at it they made an odd couple. The doted-on only child of elderly Unitarians with progressive ideas, Annabella was clever, confident and allergic to criticism. She had a pronounced tendency to self-righteousness. At twenty-two and an heiress, she had many suitors but fell for Lord Byron. Well of course she did!

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