Mad, bad, and dangerous to know

Today I allowed myself one of the greatest geeky pleasures: a new library card. For a $100 contribution to the Friends of the University of Washington Libraries, I got a borrower’s card! I checked out three books: Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity, Byron’s Romantic Celebrity, and Romanticism and Celebrity Culture, 1750-1850.

As you can probably guess, I’m thinking of writing a character who hero-worships Byron. This type of character was a stock joke in Regency traditionals: they always wore disheveled riding gear and a Belcher handkerchief in place of a cravat in an attempt to ape Byron’s fashion, disordered their hair, and wrote terrible poetry for the heroine. Often they were no good at day-to-day practical things like hailing a cab or remembering to bring an umbrella.

I guess I don’t really see what’s so awful about that? It’s not as if I’ve never bought clothes in an attempt to borrow someone else’s glamor or confidence. It’s not as if I’ve never written terrible poetry. And it’s CERTAINLY not as if I’ve never forgotten to bring an umbrella or missed a bus or left my groceries at the store because I was distracted by the characters in my head.

Plus I think, at the time, Byron was a bad-boy symbol of revolt against the politics and art of The Establishment. Like Marlon Brando or James Dean! (Did you know James Dean’s middle name was “Byron”??)

On a slightly related note: Gossip Girl fans, can’t you just see Chuck Bass and Nate as Byron and Shelley?

I also requested Electoral Behavior in Unreformed England: Plumpers, Splitters, and Straights. This being able to just check books out instead of requesting them through Interlibrary Loan from the Seattle Public Library and then not being able to renew them is heady stuff.

As I was walking back to my car, I passed two twenty-year-old boys talking loudly about how useless book-learning is.

BOY #1: What you learn in here doesn’t mean much out there.
BOY #2: Yeah, the stuff you do here isn’t necessarily applicable to the real world.
BOY #1: To make it in the real world, you don’t need all this stuff. You have to learn it out there.

It was like changes on a theme, and they just sounded pleased with how jaded and worldly they were. I couldn’t help laughing, since I was there to use the historical research skills I learned in college for my “real world” job of writing books!

9 thoughts on “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know”

  1. I have to admit one of the reasons I love working at UW is access to the libraries. And to me there’s no better smell in the world than the faintly musty old book scent of a university library’s stacks.

  2. Okay, that picture, in this context, nearly made me spit limeaid. Though none of Chuck’s outfits are ever quite going to measure up to that getup he wore to play basketball in Season 1.
    Byron’s on my bad side these days. I did a lot of reading recently about his daughter Ada (math prodigy who overestimated the applicability of her skills to horse-race betting and got into big financial trouble), and I know I’m viewing it through a modern-day prism, but I got the impression she was kind of screwed up by his absence.
    (Which is stupid, right? What upper-class kid DID know their father well, not to mention the fact that Byron’s wife basically forbade contact? Still, I got that impression.)
    A Byron-worshiper, though – particularly one who comes up a bit short – is something else altogether. I’m in that hero’s corner already.

    1. That basketball outfit was AMAZING! Although I also quite liked the cream suit with the pink ascot, and the Orange Trench Coat Of Shady Dealings. Chuck is just so fabulous! I love how much care he puts into constructing his image.
      I have very deep and ambivalent feelings about Byron. I’ve read a lot of his letters, and it is so clear to me that he…meant well? I don’t know how to put it, but he seemed like someone who thought about doing the right thing but who just had no idea of how human relationships, especially romantic and family relationships, were supposed to function. He took many of his affairs VERY seriously–almost immediately he would consider the possibility that the woman in question would leave her husband for him–and yet again and again he picked women he didn’t have anything in common with or even seem to like that much as people. And he had so many close female friends, yet was such a misogynist. If only someone had sat him down when he was young and explained that women are people too, and that you should also be FRIENDS with someone you’re in love with, everything could have been so different!
      Which doesn’t help his daughter, obviously, but…I think the root of the problem there was Byron’s predictably stupid decision to marry her mother. I mean, reading his letters about it, it’s SO OBVIOUS it’s a terrible idea and yet he’s so oblivious! I also would bet that some of Ada’s problems were genetic–if I remember correctly, I think Byron had some stripe of what would now probably be diagnosed as clinical depression that would hit him at various times.
      He was also a terrible snob. I used some statements by him (many of them about poor Cockney Keats) as touchstones when writing In for a Penny. And yet he was a reformer and political crusader.
      I guess in the end I certainly wouldn’t want a personal relationship of any kind with him myself because I imagine his charm would pall VERY QUICKLY, but I love him as well as dislike him. I like some of his poetry quite a lot, and his prose better. His letters are incredibly entertaining even though about every fourth paragraph he says something that makes me want to smack him.
      Anyway, I think a lot of the gross things about him were not so apparent at the height of his fame in England, fortunately for my character! That tragic disillusionment can be in his future.
      In conclusion, I think you would like this comic by Kate Beaton.

      1. Oh my god, Kate Beaton’s version of Byron really does look like Chuck Bass! I’ve seen that cartoon before but never noticed the resemblance.
        I guess I should read more of Byron’s letters before I judge. Ada’s mom was kind of a piece of work too (big dramatic hypochondriac, among other things, though I’m guessing you already know that), and Ada herself struck me as possibly a bit insufferable. (I’m judgmental, but equal-opportunity judgmental.)
        Also, I actually do know how to spell limeade. Not sure what I was thinking there.

        1. Hee! I agree, it’s important to spread the mean around! I think you would like Byron’s letters. If nothing else, they’re a fabulous primary source about our era. I keep meaning to read more of them–I’ve got one of those “Selected Prose” books and I’ve only read up to where he leaves England after the scandal with Augusta and goes to Italy.
          I just started season 2 of Gossip Girl. I can’t believe Chuck’s big gesture for Nate! He’s so sweet!

  3. I’m starting a literary book, Passions, by a person whose name I forgot and am too lazy to walk downstairs to find since Amazon is giving me Passion of Christ titles and my library’s catalog is down at 3:30 a.m. It’s about Keats, etc. and their women. I’ll be interested to see how Byron is portrayed and what places he places his penis.

  4. 5:30 a.m. What the heck. Downstairs, I find “Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets” by Jude Morgan. About Mary Shelley, Lady Caroline Lamb, Fanny Brawne and Augusta Leigh.
    I hope it lives up to the cover blurb: “With the originality, richness, and daring of the poets themselves, Passion presents the Romantic generation in a new and unforgettable light.”

    1. Let me know what you think! I haven’t had a lot of luck with published Romantic poets fanfiction (don’t ask about the historical clothing errors in The Stress of her Regard!) but I love the idea. Maybe this is the one!

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