Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know


Caroline Lamb (née Ponsonby) was born in 1785, the fourth child and only daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, and his wife Lady Henrietta Frances Spencer, who was the sister of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. In 1805 she married William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne) against the advice of her parents. This childlike attitude is carefully reconstructed in the character of Calantha, one of the protagonists of her novel Glenarvon, whose strict religious principles and childish behaviour are at the origin of her extreme vulnerability. Calantha is also the name of a character in Seán Manchester's gothic novel, Carmel, which is loosely rooted in fact. Caroline and William Lamb had three children, of whom only one survived, Augustus, who had mental problems throughout his life. Caroline met Lord Byron in 1812, first at Lady Jersey's Ball, where she refused to be introduced to him, and later at Holland House. Their illicit relationship lasted from March to November and was as intense as anything could be when Romantics meet. The affair with Byron was also an evasion from the dullness of her matrimonial life. William kept her in what was virtually a silver prison, treating her as a child rather than a sensible and mature woman and mother. Her only past-time was reading, which, together with her extremely emotional attitude brought her to confuse reality and fantasy. Like many other female admirers of Byron, she had felt attraction for him while reading Childe Harold, which made her desperate to meet the author. Both the reading of Childe Harold and her liaison with Byron helped her to break the rigid codes of femininity and domesticity that had been imposed on her since her childhood. Byron inspired her to transform from the faithful, albeit docile, wife to the overwhelmingly passionate and desiring woman. The idea of a demonic Byronic hero was undoubtedly influenced by Caroline's widely-read Glenarvon (1816) and by her two other novels, Graham Hamilton (1822) and Ada Reis (1823), together with Gordon: A Tale (1821). There is also evidence that Caroline's works influenced John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819) and hence the Byronic tradition that derived from it. Of all the affairs that shook an epoch notorious for its scandals there was none more tempestuous than the liaison between Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron. There can be little astonishment, then, why the subject of Lady Caroline Lamb continues to fascinate. Seán Manchester’s unique biography sheds much light on a life that, together with Lord Byron’s, dazzled and dismayed London’s high society at the height of the Romantic Age in nineteenth century England. Gothic Press is, therefore, delighted to make available a quality hardcover edition of this splendid work, illustrated throughout – including many portraits of Lord Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb – that, by individual request, will be signed and dedicated by the author who is related by blood to Lord Byron, the poet’s only son being his great, great grandfather. Including fascinating photographic material, eg Lord Byron's coffin in its vault and Lady Caroline's forgotten resting place, this first edition signals the very last breath of the Romantic Movement.

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