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This article is taken from PN Review 275, Volume 50 Number 3, January - February 2024.

Strict Adultery
Andrew Stauffer, Byron: A Life in Ten Letters (Cambridge) £25
Jeffrey Meyers
Lord Byron’s letters are marked by intuitive sympathy, vital energy, intellectual audacity and imaginative intensity. Andrew Stauffer, whose method works brilliantly, explains: ‘I have selected for closest attention ten of the most interesting and characteristic letters written between his teenage years and his last weeks in Missolonghi. Each chapter begins with Byron’s voice on the page, as if we had opened a letter from the poet himself, followed by an account of the experiences and emotions it touches and its place in the poet’s life.’

It’s a pleasure to read an academic book that is well written and lively, innovative and interesting. Stauffer extracts the rich ore from the letters, is perceptive about the friendship of Byron and Shelley, and provides an exciting narrative of Byron’s tragic involvement in the cause of Greek liberation from the Turks. Three spelling errors should be corrected: Durrants Hotel, Sounion and Koblenz. It’s worth noting that Byron’s line ‘Kill’d by five bullets from an old gun-barrel’ inspired Kipling’s couplet about the English victim of an Afghan rifle: ‘Two thousand pounds of education / Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.’

Byron recalled: ‘My poor mother was generally in a rage every day, and used to render me frantic when, in her passion’ of self-hatred, she mocked the clubfoot that chained his proud spirit to the dull earth. Stauffer describes the protean personae that emerged from that miserable childhood: ‘The troubled little boy from Aberdeen, the overweight and bashful Southwell teen, the louche and scandalous libertine of Cambridge and London, the ...

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