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review 2020-03-03 03:26
Lord Byron was not a nice man
The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature's Greatest Monsters - Andrew McConnell Stott

Back in 2014 I read a book called The Seven Lives of John Murray which gave a somewhat one-sided description of Lord Byron (keeping in mind his relationship to the publishing house and its publisher). However, I still felt I had a pretty firm grasp on the man and his relationship to Percy Shelley. And then I read The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature's Greatest Monsters by Andrew McConnell Stott. The author primarily uses historical material from two people who knew Byron and the Shelley's well (and kept detailed diaries and letters): Claire Clairmont (Mary's step sister) and John Polidori (Byron's physician). Because John Murray's relationship to Byron was mainly a professional one the veil wasn't quite lifted as to what sort of a man he really was and I'm sorry to tell you this but he was a mean-spirited bully. Much of Byron's suffering was of his own making and he made sure to share the wealth with others. He drew creative people to him like a moth to a flame but they were undoubtedly going to be burnt once they got too close. I especially felt sorry for Mary and her sister Claire. Claire was totally besotted with Byron and much like the other women in his life when she became a yoke around his neck he discarded her. (Don't even get me started on the child they had together.) Poor Mary suffered just as much if not more so than her sister. There was so much loss her in her life, ya'll. (Rather than spoil all the history I'll leave it at that to whet your appetite.) Now John Polidori was a name I don't recall ever seeing before but as an aspiring writer and devotee of Byron he of course did not make it away from him unscathed. [A/N: I should point out that there all being together happened during one summer and yet it makes for a lot of historical material especially considering the correspondence that flowed between them afterwards.]

 

All in all, this was a very interesting historical novel which gave a much less biased depiction of the major players than what I had already read. Honestly, my one complaint is that I felt there was no one central character in this book which made it feel somewhat unmoored. Is this a book about Byron or a book about Shelley? Either way, neither one comes out especially smelling like roses (although Shelley would be my choice any day of the week over that scoundrel Byron). 9/10

 

*By the way, this book was generously sent to me from my cooler than cool friend Katie who works as an editor over at Pegasus Books. Thanks for always looking out, Katie! (Obviously, this in no way influenced my review but I do appreciate the free lit.)*

 

What's Up Next: It Takes One by Kate Locke

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Source: readingforthehckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2019-11-28 01:20
Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography
Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography - James Bieri

This biography started off slow, with some boring descriptions of upper-class English relationships. Lots of names that I barely paid attention to or remembered. But then once Shelley gets to university things get interesting.

 

Shelley knew how to present an argument incredibly well, even to people who disagreed with him. In an age before cat-fishing, he would pretend to be someone and write letters to get into debates with people of opposing views. He would get them to see flaws in their logic and before they knew it they had switched sides. Now that's a talent I'd like to have.

 

What makes Shelley such a compelling character is that he was so radical. He was under government surveillance and on the run from government officials (and debt collectors). He used various methods to get his work published and disseminated. In Lynmouth he put copies of his work into glass bottles and launched them into the sea. He was also openly atheist his whole life, and was kicked out of Oxford for it. He even wrote an essay called The Necessity of Atheism. His actions really inspire me to make every action a radical and revolutionary one.

 

I love that he believed as I do, that the military is a "profession beyond abhorrence and below contempt" because a soldier is "a slave...more degraded than a murderer" who is taught to "despise human life and human suffering" (p. 510).

 

What makes Shelley even more complex is that he was mentally ill. He had pretty bad panic attacks and anxiety, recurring episodes of depression and mania, paranoia, delusional fears of persecution, and hallucinations. However, Bieri avoids making any formal diagnosis, saying, "His hallucinatory 'visions' do not indicate Shelley was psychotic. His complex personality structure negates any simple diagnostic formulation. He appeared to be reacting to the cumulative emotional stresses" (p. 636). As if environmental stresses and trauma from a young age (which Shelley suffered from) aren't also causes of mental illness. To me it's obvious Shelley had bipolar and panic disorder. Still, I like the phrase "complex personality structure negates any simple diagnostic formulation," because I also feel like I have a complex personality that doesn't fit just one diagnosis or label. Creatively driven people usually do.

 

Shelley was also a bit of a player. He believed in free love, or polyamory, and had a penchant for having at least two lovers at any one time. He was every bit the dramatic Romantic and got Mary Godwin to date him by threatening to commit suicide, and tried to get her to commit suicide with him so they could be together in death. Yet after they married and had children, he complained of her coldness and heartlessness and went searching for warmth in other women's arms. He had a secret mysterious woman friend that he met in secret all over Europe, and wrote poems to ladies he fell in love with. He even had Mary publish these poems! Though they were sometimes missing more erotic stanzas that he added only privately in letters to the intended woman.

 

It was cool to hear about what writing project Percy and Mary were working on concurrently, and at which times in the context of their lives. This book was great at explaining how what they were writing was affected by events and people in their travels, sometimes tragic and sometimes beautiful.

 

So sad that he had an intense love of sailing but couldn't swim, and died in a storm at sea when his boat was swamped by water.

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text 2019-11-24 06:28
Reading progress update: I've read 606 out of 888 pages.
Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography - James Bieri
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text 2019-11-18 05:13
Reading progress update: I've read 506 out of 888 pages.
Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography - James Bieri
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text 2019-10-31 00:46
Reading progress update: I've read 404 out of 888 pages.
Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography - James Bieri
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