On 4th of March, 2020, Elizabeth Merry presented a fascinating talk on Lord Byron’s life-journey and literary achievements placed in a social, political, literary and artistic context.
George Gordon (sixth Lord Byron) enjoyed a meteoric rise in social standing, to become the feted darling of his generation. His private life became very public, however, and rumours of numerous affairs with men and women, including an incestuous affair with his half-sister Augusta, the fathering of several illegitimate children and a disastrous marriage to Arabella Millibanke, the heiress of a rich uncle, led to his becoming an exile in 1816. A rather nomadic existence followed, which included travels in Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. He eventually settled in Greece, becoming a champion of Greek Independence from the Ottoman Empire. He died of malaria, aged 36, in 1824.
Elizabeth’s superbly authoritative presentation charted Byron’s life from his early childhood, including entertaining anecdotes about his parents, his experiences at Harrow and Cambridge, early publishing days in London and beyond. The talk was illustrated with various pictorial slides including portraits of Byron by Thomas Phillips and Joseph Odevaere as well as representations of Byronic episodes from “The Corsair” and “Don Juan” by Delacroix and “Childe Harold” by Turner.
Elizabeth finished her talk by considering Byron’s great literary legacy: representations of the Byronic anti-hero including Heathcliff, Rochester, Michael Henchard, Dorian Gray and Eugene Onegin. She finished her talk, as she opened, with a marvellous encapsulation of the embodiment of uncertainty and the unknown which is so characteristic of the Romantic Movement: “The Wanderer above the Mists” by Caspar David Friedrich. A fitting end to an extremely engaging and informative talk.