Blowing on a Dead Man’s Embers: Byron’s Biographical Ghosts
This chapter discusses the ways in which literary biographies attempt to ‘bring the dead to life’, with varying degrees of sympathy and animosity. Noting the dramatic alteration in assessments of Byron’s significance, it reflects on what has been gained and lost in the spate of recent biographies of the poet. After a brief discussion of Ian Hamilton’s chapter on Byron in Keepers of the Flame and Jerome McGann’s portrait of the poet in Byron and Romanticism, the chapter focuses on Kay Redfield Jamison’s Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Phyllis Grosskurth’s Byron: The Flawed Angel, Benita Eisler’s Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame, and Fiona MacCarthy’s Byron: Life and Legend. These various attempts at keeping Byron’s flame alight prompt insightful comments on the poet’s theatricality and notorious mobility; the peculiar way in which he was, like many of his heroes, haunted by his own thoughts and moods; and the ‘deeply redemptive spirit [he brought] to the problems of despair, ennui, uncertainty, and disillusionment’.
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