‘Alas, the love of women!’ moaned Byron in Don Juan. But the love of women was as naught compared to the pursuit of Byron by his legion of biographers, who return to his carcass with the regularity of eagles feeding on the liver of Prometheus. Byron’s Women, the latest book on the wicked milord, gives us the tale of rum, sodomy and the lash through the stories of nine of his victims, beginning with Catherine Gordon, his well-meaning mama, and ending with Ada Lovelace and Elizabeth Medora Leigh, the daughters he never knew. In between we get his dangerous liaison with Caroline Lamb, giggly fumblings with his half-sister, Augusta, the marriage from hell with Annabella Milbanke, the tragedy of Claire Clairmont and his last attachment, to boring Teresa Guiccioli.
The idea is a good one: by looking at Byron through the eyes of those women who loved him, we might get a fresh perspective on a figure who has become ossified thanks to the mythology around him. ‘It is time to delve beneath the surface’, Alexander Larman begins,