Literary Connections: making the right connections with literature
The hardback edition of this Byron biography
Byron as Albanian:
hardback cover
Paperback edition of this Byron biography
Byron by Philips:
paperback cover
The Romantic Age
That Albanian again

See also the page on

Byron (1788-1824)

The original Byronic hero, George Gordon Noel, Sixth Baron Byron was a legend - and a scandal - in his own lifetime. As it says in the biography on the website of his ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, Byron was 'possibly the most revered and reviled icon of the Romantic Age'.

George Gordon Noel, Sixth Baron Byron: the life
  • Byron: Life and Legend: Fiona MacCarthy's new biography reinterprets the great man's life and poetry. MacCarthy casts a fresh eye on Byron's childhood in Scotland and his relationships. 'This book is a flawless triumph,' writes A N Wilson.

    The link in the text here is to the paperback edition - click on the image of the book jacket to the right for the hardback, which for some reason has a different painting on the cover: the more exotic portrait of Byron in 1813 wearing Albanian costume. You can see the painting in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

The poetry - especially Don Juan
  • Don Juan Cantos 1-4, edited T S Dorsch (Routledge) is the set text for AQA LTA4 but seems currently to be out of print, though Amazon should help you to find a second-hand copy - or try Abebooks, which is where I found a copy recently. AQA now suggests these alternatives:
  • Byron's Collected Poems in the Wordsworth Poetry Library, which contains the complete works including all of Don Juan. Readers may find the pages rather cramped.
  • Lord Byron: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics): more expensive but better print.
You can find an online copy of Don Juan in several locations, for example on Bob Blair's site, where he has provided some useful annotations.

In an article in The Guardian on 2 February 2008, Benjamin Markovits draws attention to Byron's self-deprecating portrait of the poet in his satire Beppo (1818), written in the ottava rima he was to make famous a year later when the first two cantos of Don Juan appeared:

But I am but a nameless sort of person,
(A broken dandy lately on my travels)
And take for rhyme, to hook my rambling verse on,
The first that Walker's lexicon unravels,
And when I can't find that, I put a worse on,
Not caring as I ought for critics' cavils.
I've half a mind to tumble down to prose,
But verse is more in fashion - so here goes.

Byron, whilst adopting the persona of a failed poet, manages to demonstrate considerable skill with rhyme and rhythm here.
The context
A recent letter from AQA recommends these two books for supplementary reading, in addition to Fiona MacCarthy's biography (above). Both seem to be out of print but Amazon currently lists second-hand copies:
  • Don Juan (Penguin Classics): as well as the text of the poem, the introduction provides 'a ... digestible but chopped tour of some main contexts for students (or adaptable for them by teachers) in fewer than fifty pages'.
  • The Cambridge Cultural History of Britain: The Romantic Age: 'three compact pages whistle-stopping Byron's life, work and impact.... Chapter 2 is useful for a guide to the literature of the era.'
There is also a Cambridge Companion to Byron. This is a valuable series though I haven't seen this volume. The contents list and a sample of the introduction to the historical context can be browsed on the Amazon site. Comments on its usefulness would be welcome.
Byron on the Web
See also:
  • The rake's progress: Lucasta Miller's Guardian article on 'the many faces of an unscrupulous seducer' includes an interesting section on 'Byron's concept of "mobility" - a psychological type devoid of integrity and given to ever-changing roles and objects of affection'.