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.
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