Lord Byron

A free spirit: Clairmont, by Lesley McDowell, reviewed

Commentary on the young Romantics can be curiously puritanical. Not on saintly John Keats, who died too young to cause any trouble. But Byron and Shelley? Beastly to women, negligent as parents, destructive as friends, oblivious to their own privilege. Feminist observers tend to resemble the English visitors to Geneva in 1816 who borrowed telescopes to spy on the renegade inhabitants of the Villa Diodati across the lake, hoping to be scandalised. A central character in the summer that saw the birth of Frankenstein was the only non-writer of the villa’s gathering, Byron’s young lover and Mary Shelley’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont. Fortunately, Lesley McDowell doesn’t let her impeccable feminist credentials

A born rebel: Lady Caroline Lamb scandalises society

At the beginning of her biography of the novelist, ‘fairy sprite’ and proto-feminist Lady Caroline Lamb, Lady Antonia Fraser hints that this may be her final book. Not for her a dramatic, Prospero-breaking-his-staff exit; instead, she writes mildly in the prologue that ‘this book… can also be regarded as the culmination of an exciting and fulfilling life spent studying history’. We must hope that Fraser continues to research and publish. Yet if this is to be her swansong, it is characteristically readable, accomplished and in places positively revolutionary. Glenarvon, Caro’s stinging attack on Byron, became a bestseller, even as it led to her banishment from society Lamb – or Caro