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Byron: Life and Legend

Fiona MacCarthy

8 Reviews

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Biography: literary, Prose: non-fiction

Fiona MacCarthy's definitive biography republished by Byron's own publisher.

Fiona MacCarthy makes a breakthrough in interpreting Byron's life and poetry drawing on John Murray's world-famous archive.

She brings a fresh eye to his early years: his childhood in Scotland, embattled relations with his mother, the effect of his deformed foot on his development. She traces his early travels in the Mediterranean and the East, throwing light on his relationships with adolescent boys - a hidden subject in earlier biographies.

While paying due attention to the compelling tragicomedy of Byron's marriage, his incestuous love for his half-sister Augusta and the clamorous attention of his female fans, she gives a new importance to his close male friendships, in particular that with his publisher John Murray. She tells the full story of their famous disagreement, ending as a rift between them as Byron's poetry became more recklessly controversial.

Byron was a celebrity in his own lifetime, becoming a 'superstar' in 1812, after the publication of Childe Harold. The Byron legend grew to unprecedented proportions after his death in the Greek War of Independence at the age of thirty-six. The problem for a biographer is sifting the truth from the sentimental, the self-serving and the spurious. Fiona MacCarthy has overcome this to produce an immaculately researched biography, which is also her refreshing personal view.

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Praise for Byron: Life and Legend

  • One of the great literary biographies of our time - Independent on Sunday

  • The best book I've read for ages is Fiona MacCarthy's . . . biography of Byron . . . Immaculately written, freshly researched, moving and only moderately filthy - Daily Telegraph

  • Deserves to be the definitive single-volume biography of Byron for many years to come - Observer

  • This book is a flawless triumph . . . The key to the book's success is [MacCarthy's] intelligent awareness of the overwhleming immportance of sex, in human life generally, in Byron's life particularly - Country Life

  • MacCarthy makes it extravagantly clear why men and women once worshipped at Byron's feet, and still worship at his grave - Mail on Sunday

  • It is hard to imagine any need for another full-scale biography . . . MacCarthy is good not just at the great sweep of [Byron's] story but also at the little details that bring whole cultures to life - Mail on Sunday

  • Sparkling . . . MacCarthy succeeds brilliantly in offering an account that is not only impeccably researched but also presented in the sort of pacy, racy style that Byron himself might have appreciated - Daily Telegraph

  • A magisterial account of Byron's life as a poet, public figure and serial shagger, this 674- page biography is both scholarly and readable . . . MacCarthy also pays due attention to the poetry, and charts his posthumous influence on figures as diverse as Disraeli, Oscar Wilde and W H Auden - Irish Independent

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Fiona MacCarthy

Fiona MacCarthy is one of the best-known biographers in Britain, establishing her reputation with her widely acclaimed and controversial life of Eric Gill. Her magisterial biography of William Morris, won the Wolfson History Prize and her life of Edward Burne-Jones won the James Tait Black Biography Prize. Her biography of Byron, commissioned by Byron's own publisher John Murray, has been described as 'one of the great literary biographies of our time'.

Fiona is a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an Hon. Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. In 2009 she was appointed OBE for services to literature.

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