While listening to the radio on this Valentine’s Day, the song Bad Romance by Lady GaGa has been on the play list AND more than once!
I want your love
and All your love is revenge
You and me could write a bad romance
Given what was happening in the personal life of our Poet in February 1816 as his marriage was coming apart amid rumour, accusation and revenge; the lyrics of Lady GaGa’s Bad Romance would probably have struck a note of empathy with Byron despite a distance of over 200 some years!
The story of Byron’s brief marriage lasted some 54 weeks and until her death in 1860, Lady Byron, the estranged wife was to spend a further 44 years ensuring that the story of her marriage was told and was continued to be told by her family and supporters for many years after – and it remains a story that continues to be told today.
But at a distance of some 203 years, does it really matter why his marriage ended?
For it was the failure of his marriage that was to be the catalyst to his departure from England, his life as an exiled Poet and his return to England in 1824 as a corpse.
In exile he was to write some of his most brilliant poetry including the magnificent Don Juan and the wonderful The Prisoner of Chillon and he was also to vent his fury on the hypocrisy, political failings and “cant” of his country of birth!
In his years of exile Byron continued to provoke controversy, sympathy and anger in England which created an impression of a sinister and seductive ‘bad man’ and despite Byron’s profound and glorious poetry, it is this impression that remains most prevalent.
I lost my brooch in the carriage last night. If you receive this before anything is said about it you will then be on your guard and can say what you think proper…..
Pray be at the theatre on Friday night”
By November 1815, Byron had been married for 11 months and with the arrival of his first legitimate child in only a handful of weeks – he was fed-up, worried, bored and looking for excitement.
At the time he was on the Management of the Sub-Committee of Drury Lane with responsibility for the consideration of any number of plays, the recruitment of potential writers, some theatre production, participation in lively and chaotic committee discussions, policy decisions on seating prices and personal intrigues with the actresses in the ‘Greenroom’.
He became involved in an affair with an actress called Susan Boyce who became increasingly indiscreet and they were spotted emerging from ‘a dark corner’ in Byron’s private box by the Poet Samuel Rogers.
However, true to form Byron’s attention soon waned and Susan was to write tearful letters to him:
My Lord, I must give vent to my feelings or I shall burst…
You never spoke to me at all: that I do not mind, but your going away without saying goodnight, had I not run after you, and then I saw something very particular in your manner.
Remember I was at the Theatre by your own appointment….
Their affair played out like a tragic comedy with humiliation, alienation and unemployment for poor Susan and for Byron however, he was forced to admit the affair to his lady.
Although he was to inform her of his indiscretion whilst under the influence of brandy which probably would not have helped his cause as Lady Byron was to later recollect:
The first time that he obliged me to know that he had a mistress, he asked me if I meant to forgive him.
I cordially forgave him for this – on which he said with a sneer ‘Generous Woman!’ & declared his intention of pursuing the same course.
Although he was to acknowledge in his letters to Lady Byron after she had left him, of his feelings of regret and repentance about the affair with Susan, sadly, there were no regrets or apologies for Susan as his letter to Douglas Kinnaird in 1821 reads:
….she was a transient piece of mine – but I owe her little on that score – having been myself at the short period I knew her in such a state of mind and body – that all carnal connection was quite mechanical & almost as senseless to my senses as to my feelings of imagination. – –
Advance the poor creature some money on my account…
We end NOT with the following words written by Lady Byron but by the poor Susan Boyce:
I will promise to give myself to you with all my heart, to devote my whole time and affection to you and you only….
In sympathy with Lady GaGa, Byron’s spouse would bide her time AND her revenge!
TO BE CONTINUED…
Byron’s Letters and Journals, Ed. Leslie A. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973-97)
Lord Byron’s Wife, Malcolm Elwin (London: John Murray, 1962)
To Lord Byron, Ed. George Paston, Peter Quennell (London: John Murray, 1939)