Matt Forney
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Byron in Love: A Short Daring Life by Edna O’Brien

Poetry sucks. Just admit it. Every single one of us hated reading it in school. The older stuff from the Romantic and Victorian periods isn’t so bad, but I’d rather have my fingernails removed then have to read a single line of “free verse” ever again (unless it’s by Stevens or Cummings). Byron is one of the few poets I’ve enjoyed, mostly anyway. Naturally, since Byron is actually worth reading, that means that you’ll never read much of him in the schools and colleges, aside from a couple of his short poems and snippets of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, that self-indulgent mess.

Those of you interested in game or seduction will enjoy Byron in Love, a recent biography focusing on his love life. Byron’s reputation as a womanizer is well-known; it’s from him that we take the term “Byronic hero,” the model for the antihero in just about every decent work of literature in the past hundred years. Byron in Love chronicles the man’s sexual exploits from his early days in school to his “Satanic” life abroad in Italy and Greece. Think of him like a 19th-century Roosh.

Marianna’s nemesis came in the person of another fiery young woman, Margarita Cogni, the Fornarina, wife of a baker, also young, with tantalising black eyes, the Venetian looks and the spirit of a tigress. Murray would be told in gleeful detail of the contretemps between these two women, La Segati and her gossips discovering by the neighing of his horse that he had gone late at night to meet the Fornarina, whence they followed, staging an operatic brawl, screams, curses, the throwing back of veils and in explicit Venetian, the Fornarina telling his amica: ‘You are not his wife, I am not his wife, you are his Donna, I am his Donna’, then stormed off. She then made herself indispensable to him in the running of the Palazzo Mocenigo, former home of the Doges, which he had rented for £200 a year, the Fornarina walking about in hat and feathers and a gown with a tail, intercepting his mail, paying a scribe to write letters for her, and servants continuously ‘redding the fray’ between her and any other feminine persons who visited. Her Medea traits and Venetian ‘pantaloonery’ amused for a time, but when she became ungovernable and he asked her to leave, she refused, wielding a knife, Fletcher had to disarm her. Boatmen carried her out whence she presently threw herself in the canal and was brought back intending to ‘refix’ herself in the place. Byron threatened that if she did not quit the premises then he would, and ultimately she was returned to her irate husband.

Click here to buy Byron in Love: A Short Daring Life.

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