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.
A brilliantly detailed retelling of the personal and literary crisis in Byron's life. Vivid, sympathetic and judicious, this remarkable book is a provocative counter to recent biographical and critical studies.
By synthesising multiple perspectives ... and by giving himself space to explore some of the summer's bit-part players in more detail, Ellis certainly succeeds in adding colour and detail to a well-known story.... Because of its extraordinary confluence of ideas and personalities, its story is one that bears retelling.
Daisy Hay, Literary Review
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
David Ellis's account of Byron's time with Shelley and others in Geneva may be forgiven its myth-making subtitle. His manyvoiced account of the Genevan summer provides a welcome refinement of Byron's biography, in reminding us just how elusive his character remains.
Tom Durno, Times Literary Supplement
Times Literary Supplement
The story Ellis tells is of Byron on the run, and having, as they say, to turn his life around, but without wanting to explain himself, or to feign regrets he didn't feel or a wish for forgiveness he didn't want. [...] Byron in Geneva makes us wonder whether there really are turning points in people's lives, or rather obscure evolutions punctured and punctuated by crises.
Adam Phillips, London Review of Books
London Review of Books
No student of Byron or the Romantics should miss it.
Steve Donoghue, Open Letters Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review
Open Letters Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review
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
Mr. Ellis's book is admirably free of exaggeration or guesswork. We have here a succinct and full account of one eventful summer in the lives of some extraordinarily talented young writers. Who needs embellishment when the facts are as interesting as these?
J. S. Tennant, The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal
David Ellis’s informative and happily readable account of Byron’s summer in Geneva touches on the scandals that the participants themselves took some care to edit for posterity, and the large themes of conventional literary biography line up and salute. But this modest book may be most useful for its nuanced account of personalities in that transitional moment when the manic and atrocious French Revolution was blowing out in futile Napoleonic megalomania and the sublime aspirations of Romanticism.
Kritikon Litterarum 39
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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