A great discussion about Lord Byron’s Life

Here is an informative podcast about Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: BBC In Our Time, January 6, 2011 Though I found the host’s frequent interruptions annoying, I’m sure I’ll revisit this program.

Here is a summary of nearly all the topics discussed with his guests:

  • Byron’s aristocratic background and his grandfather, an admiral named “Foul Weather Jack.”
    Engraving of Byron's father, Captain John

    Engraving of Byron’s father, Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, date unknown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • His father, “Mad Jack,” an army captain and drunken profligate. Jack seduced and married an aristocratic heiress named Amelia. After she died, he was in debt and on the run from creditors. He remarried “a rather plain plump Scottish girl named Catherine” for her money. Three years later, Mad Jack died (at 35) and she was bankrupt. (Catherine was Byron’s mother; Amelia was the mother of Byron’s half-sister Augusta, with whom he would have a scandalously incestuous relationship.)
  • Byron’s club foot.
  • Sexual abuse by his Calvinist nurse.
  • The rejection of one of his early works, Hours of Idleness
  • His retaliatory assault on poets and critics in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. “It was English Bards that brought him to real public prominence…” a guest said, and not Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, of which Byron famously said “I awoke to find myself famous.”
  • His capacity for hate / holding grudges
  • 1809 – Byron’s grand tour – speculation on why he left to England: “This remains a mystery to some degree… it may have been because of his homosexual tendencies, which he felt he could only indulge in the East…” along with a love of Greek culture, etc.
  • The meaning of “childe” and why he started writing the poem.
  • The influence of Edmund Spenser (the poem is written in Spenserian stanzas).
  • The innovative style of the poem: “There were lots and lots of travel poems in the period… but what’s unique about CHP is that it’s simultaneously a travelogue, a political poem… and a very personal poem with all sorts of veiled references to personal scandal, and that’s what’s new”
  • The similarities between — and the merging of — the fictional Harold and the real Byron.
  • The break up of his marriage
  • How Byron was the first to write about “The shame of war, the disgrace of war — this is something entirely new in English poetry.”
  • Byron’s descriptions of bull-fighting.
  • On Greece becoming a “sad relic of departed worth”
  • 1812 – Childe Harold first published by Murray
  • Byron was one the first celebrities, before “being famous” was commonplace
  • 1816 – Byron left Britain for good following the exposure of his affair with his half-sister, along with rumors of attempted sodomy with his wife, etc.
  • His dangerously liberal politics.
    Frontispiece to a c. 1825 edition of Childe Ha...

    Frontispiece to a c. 1825 edition of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • His description of the Battle of Waterloo (Canto III) and his feelings about Napoleon.
  • What exactly is a “Byronic hero”?
  • What Byron doesn’t like about Wordsworth: his isolation from humanity
  • His continued status as a political hero in Greece and elsewhere. “There was a cult of Byron in every European country, except for Portugal.” (They never forgave him for insulting their country.)
  • Byron’s influence on other artists, including Bram Stoker: “Every vampire you encounter is based on Lord Byron”
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