In 1816, following the scandalous collapse of his marriage, Lord Byron left England forever. His first destination was the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva where he stayed together with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin, Claire Clairmont and John Polidori. Byron in Geneva focuses sharply on the poet’s life in the summer of that year, a famous time for meteorologists (for whom 1816 is the year without a summer), but also that crucial moment in the development of his writing when, urged on by Shelley, Byron tried to transform himself into a Romantic poet of the Wordsworthian variety. The book gives a vivid impression of what Byron thought and felt in these few months after the breakdown of his marriage, but also explores the different aspects of his nature that emerge in contact with a remarkable cast of supporting characters, which also included Madame de Staël, who presided over a famous salon in Coppet, across the lake from Geneva, and Matthew Lewis, author of the splendidly erotic `Gothic’ best-seller, The Monk. David Ellis sets out to challenge recent damning studies of Byron and through his meticulous exploration of the private and public life of the poet at this pivotal moment, he reasserts the value of Byron’s wit, warm-heartedness, and hatred of cant.
The book distils copious research in a convivial and occasionally offhand manner ... [and] Ellis' amassing of biographical subplots creates a richly peopled context. [His] narrative of criss-crossing pathways details with brilliant economy the way in which "that summer" failed to answer the lonely searches of all those involved.
Jane Stabler, Times Higher Education
An insightful, judicious biographical account of a crucial period in Byron's life... This book is perfect for those interested in the story of Byron's and the Shelleys' memorable summer of 1816; for advanced scholars, it serves as an excellent refresher on this period in the authors' lives. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers.
J. W. Vail, Choice Vol.49, No.3
David Ellis is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Kent. His previous books include Death and the author: how D. H. Lawrence died, and was remembered (OUP, 2008) and Literary Lives: Biography and the search for understanding (EUP, 2003). His website can be found at: http://dellis-author.co.uk
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