Monday, 26 January 2009
Byron in Love by Edna O’Brien
Weidenfeld & Nicolson €20.24
BYRON was a nasty piece of work. The son of Mad Jack Byron, he was trailed up by his awful mother, who stravagued around the country with him trying to get her claws on his inheritance.
Another of Mad Jack’s sprogs was Augusta Leigh, the poet’s half-sister, and perhaps his only real love.
A star of an international level undreamed-of by the Beatles, the febrile fatty loved nothing more than a girlish boy, unless it was boyish girls like nutty Caroline Lamb.
He traversed Europe like a one-man clap epidemic, the nasty thing, leaving a pustulating trail of syphilis and gonorrhea and miserable hearts in his wake.
Marrying a virtuous woman, he greeted his daughter’s birth with “Oh, what an implement of torture I have acquired in you” - a concept familiar to sadistic spouses.
His wife flouted him by running away, so his real instrument for torment was his ‘bastard’ daughter Allegra - neglected but bullied, passed from carer to uncaring carer.
A creative child with a mischievous smile, the toddler Allegra became increasingly disturbed, and died in the convent where her beast of a father had incarcerated her.
Edna O’Brien’s biography of the creep lacks the beautiful, ringing simplicity of her novels, but if you want to grind your teeth with rage, this is the book for you.