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The Virtues of Scandal

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A page-turning historical novel, full of famous names, fictionalized drama, and yes, scandal.

Synopsis

Reveling in his unprecedented literary success, George Gordon, the 6th Lord Byron, is less famous than notorious. His all-too-public affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, the sexually energetic young wife of a rising Tory politician, is the talk of London; so too the nagging rumors of an incestuous relationship with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. With the publication of the first cantos of his masterpiece Don Juan, Byron’s sexual indiscretions, radical politics and hilariously acid verse earn him the enmity of some of England’s most powerful figures, including poet laureate Robert Southey and Foreign Secretary Robert Castlereagh. As the waters of scandal rise, and Byron becomes the unwitting pawn in a vast conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of government, England’s most famous and incandescent poet must decide for what – and for whom – he is prepared to make a terrible sacrifice.

Set in Seville, London, Constantinople, Ottoman Greece and St. Petersburg during the first decades of the 19th century, The Virtues of Scandal is a thrilling tale of conspiracy, scandal, betrayal and courage.

The Virtues of Scandal: A Novel of Lord Byron by Richard Henry Abramson takes readers through bedrooms, battles, and Parliament with Lord Byron. The book starts with the scandalous poet's real actions, like an affair with Caroline Lamb and a snark-filled spat with poet laureate Robert Southey, and then imagines the unknown parts of Byron's life full of further hedonism, drama and adventure.


This version of Lord Byron ignores his banker's financial advice, smokes a joint, drinks raki, and mouths off in the House of Lords, which may all not be completely accurate but, come on, he absolutely would have done it if the opportunity presented itself.  Byron embraces trouble in this book, whether that's physical danger, starting a fight, overspending, or another inappropriate affair, for the sensation, making a page-turning historical novel, full of famous names. This is a wonderful look at the Byron who famously said: “The great object of life is Sensation - to feel that we exist - even though in pain - it is this "craving void" which drives us to gaming - to battle - to travel - to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment.” In his political statements, we see a Byron who thinks deeply and feels strongly, even if he's not always able to control himself. 


There's a secondary storyline here, with Bryon writing Don Juan. Actual Byron wrote verses about Don Juan's exploits, and here, Byron writes a prose version where women just can't stop throwing themselves at Don Juan. Don Juan is a traveler, like Byron. At a time of so much self-insert fic (Looking at you, Glenarvon), I believed he'd write an entire novel about a famous playboy and just dropping references to whoever he was banging at the time.


Purists may not like the modifications to Byron's life, but I'm here for the historical scandal, so I don't much care if there are some liberties with the details. I just want to see Lord Byron having scandalous hookups and landing in trouble, and this book absolutely delivered, with a fun side of Byron's school friends trying to rein him in a little. Plus, the novel adds some political activism, in a mouthy, dramatic sort of way, and gives him a more dramatic role in the Ottoman-Greek wars, all additions I'm sure Byron wouldn't mind.

Reviewed by

I'm an avid reader and book blogger, I'm always looking for new books and new authors. I like historical fiction, literature, scifi, specfic, thrillers (without gore) and general character-driven fiction.

I usually cross-post my Reedsy reviews to my book blog.

Synopsis

Reveling in his unprecedented literary success, George Gordon, the 6th Lord Byron, is less famous than notorious. His all-too-public affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, the sexually energetic young wife of a rising Tory politician, is the talk of London; so too the nagging rumors of an incestuous relationship with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh. With the publication of the first cantos of his masterpiece Don Juan, Byron’s sexual indiscretions, radical politics and hilariously acid verse earn him the enmity of some of England’s most powerful figures, including poet laureate Robert Southey and Foreign Secretary Robert Castlereagh. As the waters of scandal rise, and Byron becomes the unwitting pawn in a vast conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of government, England’s most famous and incandescent poet must decide for what – and for whom – he is prepared to make a terrible sacrifice.

Set in Seville, London, Constantinople, Ottoman Greece and St. Petersburg during the first decades of the 19th century, The Virtues of Scandal is a thrilling tale of conspiracy, scandal, betrayal and courage.

Prologue: Ottoman Greece – 1824



The riot of battle. Adrenal cries of rage, fear and pain. Guttural curses, pants of effort and exhaustion, rising screams, cut off in an instant. The whinny and snort of frightened horses, and the heavy stamp of flailing hooves in the dirt. The ring of clashing blades, and the pulpy thud of pikes on flesh. The broken groans of the dying, who rattle and cough like wounded geese. The air is palpable, thick and moted with dust. The sharp stink of shit is overpowering.

At the edge of the tumult, two men circle, probing for advantage. Their narrowed world consists of raised blades, the opportunistic flex and slide of legs and feet, and the quick flicker of eyes that may betray intention or disguise it. One – a Turkish janissary by his uniform – feints to the left and whips his curved kilij forward, seeking the exposed flank of his adversary. The other, whose pale complexion marks him as an Englishman, parries the blow with his saber, then slashes at the Turk’s right arm. The razor steel slices through fabric and flesh as the Turk, grunting with pain, shifts the kilij to his good left hand.

The opening is brief, but fatal. With a sharp thrust, the Englishman drives the point of his weapon deep into the Turk’s belly. The janissary slashes desperately as the Englishman struggles to withdraw the blade, then silently doubles over and, as if in prayer, drops to his knees in the dark, clotted mud.

 Time seems to pause. The janissary lists to the side, falls over, and lies still in a spreading pool of blood. The Englishman’s heart pounds as he stumbles backwards, recoiling from the dead man at his feet. His chest heaves as he gasps for breath. His eyes are wide, and he struggles to suppress a rising nausea. Only then does he feel the wetness in his side, and a burning pain. He looks down, astonished, and with a peculiar sense of detachment wonders at the brightness of his blood. He feels cold.


Turning away, he sees two men running towards him, one solidly built with thick red hair, the other slight, pale and oddly dressed in silk jacket and pleated trousers. He tries to speak, but can make no sound. A wave of weakness washes over him, the world spins, and he struggles to keep his feet.  As the two men half-carry, half-drag him away from the fighting, the ruddy one mutters a soft oath. “God damn you, Byron, how the hell did you talk me into this?”

 


About the author

Retired since 2016, I write, teach at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and spend time with my wife Lisa, my sons Jonathan and Michael, and my golden retriever Bear. A longtime reader of Romantic poetry in general and Byron in particular, The Virtues of Scandal is my first novel. view profile

Published on June 04, 2020

130000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical Fiction

Reviewed by

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