Lord Byron had many faults, but writing dull letters wasn’t one of them

In 1814, at the height of his fame, the poet, libertine and freedom fighter Lord Byron had his head examined. Not by a proto-psychiatrist but by the German phrenologist and physician Johann Spurzheim, who, after making a detailed study of the no doubt amused Byron’s cranium, pronounced the brain to be ‘very antithetical’ and said that it was an organ in which ‘good and evil are at perpetual war’. Two centuries after Byron’s death, this dichotomy is as pronounced as ever when it comes to analyses of the poet. His defenders point to his wit, his poetic genius, his heroic efforts in defence of Greek liberty and his personal flair;

Three men in exile: My Friends, by Hisham Matar, reviewed

Hisham Matar’s third novel is, among its many other virtues, a paean to reading widely; to imagining literature as not, in the narrator Khaled’s words, ‘a field of demarcations’, but as a great river that connects and animates ‘the entire human event’. Reading is how Khaled – exiled from Libya when his part in the anti-Gaddafi demonstration at the country’s embassy in St James’s Square in April 1984 made a return to Benghazi impossible – lays the foundations beneath his precarious life in London. Carrying with him his father’s copy of Abual Ala al Ma’arri’s The Epistle of Forgiveness, an 11th-century  precursor to Dante’s Divine Comedy, he ponders the links

The diary of a tortured man: Deceit, by Yuri Felsen, reviewed

Yuri Felsen, born in St Petersburg, was an exile in Riga, Berlin and Paris and died at Auschwitz in 1943. Had his archive not been destroyed, we might find him on the same shelf as Vladimir Nabokov, Vladislav Khodasevich and Ivan Bunin – the glittering Russian literati of 1930s Paris – and Georgy Adamovich, who said that Felsen’s prose ‘left behind a light for which there is no name’. With this new translation of the 1930 novel Deceit, that light has been brought back from dim obscurity. In this first of three novels Felsen published, we follow the unnamed narrator’s tortured obsession with the ‘unequivocally irresistible’ Lyolya Heard, who drifts