Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sex, drink, and poetry

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Loretta reports:

The drunken, promiscuous crowd at Almack's were the same people who read poetry and argued about it and wrote letters to the papers about it. Poetry was the rock 'n' roll of the Regency era, and for a time, Lord Byron was the Elvis of his generation. Like so many other rock stars, Byron lived hard and died young. He had a disastrous marriage and a noisy, ugly divorce. Too, like your typical rock star, he had a little problem with overindulgence. In his case, it wasn't drugs but sex. But then, sex was the drug of choice for his crowd. Instead of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, it was sex, drink, and poetry. He even had groupies, like Lady Caroline Lamb. He had sex with either sex and sometimes with relatives. (That's him to the left.)

Sex hasn't gone out of fashion, nor has drinking. But poetry has a hard row to hoe these days. Bright Star, the new Keats movie made us NHGs wonder about Lord Byron. Given his extravagant life and wild adventures, you'd think he'd be prime film material. But we came up with two, count 'em, two. Susan found this gem, Bad Lord Byron, from the 40s. And I was wondering how I missed the 2003 Byron. I'm going to put it on my Netflix list, but I'm not getting my hopes up. His life is in my encyclopedia under Truth is Stranger Than Fiction. It's a real challenge to take a life that was so extravagant, so theatrical, and make it believable on screen. All the more amazing that he lived that life and wrote poetry that's still deliciously readable today. Try Don Juan or Beppo, if you want a taste of great Regency era rock 'n' roll. (To the right is Keats, who died young not of extravagance but of consumption, aka tuberculosis.)

10 comments:

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ahhhh, Byron. The man's allure is still there, two hundred years later. Just his name says it all (or at least it does to Loretta and me.)

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

I just love this place. When I was a youngster in music school, we talked about the great violin masters as rock stars, how sheltered young misses would swoon when they played because some of the men were so 'suggestive' in their stances. Shocking! Well, your post reminds me that we always need to draw back on the reins when we think about history high jinks to get a sense of what was edgy at the time, no? I'm not such a big Byron worshipper. That whole "I'm such a talented bad boy, and isn't it charming how I wreck everyone's life along with mine" doesn't really appeal to me. But I know I'm in the minority.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Loretta, I've seen the 2003 biopic with Jonny Lee Miller as Byron and its not great, primarily because Miller is nobody's idea of Byron. Gabriel Bryne was a wonderful Byron in Gothic. The movie is crazy though as befits a Ken Russell film.

Loretta Chase said...

Byron's a problem, definitely. I adore his poetry, and many of his letters are a delight for history-lovers: they are so immediate and feel so modern. But as a human being, like so many artists, he wasn't going to win any mensch awards. He had a major case of overcompensation, to say the least. But the behavior pattern is interesting, especially when we compare it to the various crash and burn careers of today's pop stars. Same self-absorption, self-destruction that destroys others, etc. etc. But he left us Don Juan, along with those letters and journals, bursting with personality.

Loretta Chase said...

Michelle, I didn't know about those "suggestive stances." But now I'm thinking about it. Oooh. Elizabeth, the trailers didn't make a great impression--Miller caught the petulance, the spoiled young peer, but the bravado & its poignancy wasn't there. I'm going to rent it anyway. I could have written ten blogs on this subject so I'm going to have to control myself here. I find him endlessly fascinating and infuriating.

Jane O said...

Like Michelle, I am not overly fond of the arrogantly selfish like Byron and — to stay in period — Shelley. (Asking your wife if she wants to come along when you are eloping with another woman seems a bit obtuse.) I prefer my bad boy heroes in books. In real life, they don't seem to reform.

But Keats now. Taking care of his dying brother (from whom he probably caught the TB), writing charming letters and verses to his little sister, in love with Fanny and trying desperately to do the right thing, not just what he wants to do — there's a hero for you.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

I think it's a perilous thing to judge "bad boys" of the past, esp. by our standards today. The past IS different, with much different standards and expectations of acceptable behavior, and the best we can do is visit. Plus there's that whole rank thing: a title seems to have been a perpetual get-out-of-responsibility-jail (or gaol) card.

I'm not excusing Lord B.'s behavior, but if you put it in the context of his time and social group (those same folks that were carousing in Almacks), it becomes more explicable, if not forgivable.

It's the whole bad-boy-rock-star fantasy, of someone free enough to live outside the rules, baby. The other side of that fantasy coin has always been that if only that bad-boy had only been lucky enough to have known YOU, well, everything would be different. Or something.

Of course, I can't even get my non-bad-boy DH to clean up the basement, so who am I kidding? *g*

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Elizabeth Kerri, how can anyone named Johnny Lee Miller ever play Byron convincingly? Come ON!

OTOH, I found some very peculiar clips on youtube of a 60s film with Sarah Miles as Lady Caroline Lamb, and Richard Chamberlain as the most doe-eyed Lord B. imaginable.

Gabriel Byrne was probably much closer to the mark, but I'm thinking the great Byron movie has yet to be made....

pippa said...

I've always adored Byron's writings, and the man himself is fascinating. His flaws only add to his romantic legend. I wish there were a film made of his life that did him justice.

Amanda said...

There is another movie...sort of. It's called Rowing with the Wind and Hugh Grant plays Byron. Yes. You read that right. More about the Shelly's really. I saw it years ago and can't say that it's great but it was interesting.

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