Endeavour Press have been publishing some very intriguing titles recently, including reissues of some older or out-of-print historical fiction novels. I had never heard of the author E. Barrington (a pseudonym of Elizabeth Louisa Moresby, who also wrote under the name Lily Adams Beck) but when I saw Glorious Apollo available on NetGalley I thought I would give it a try.
A bestseller in the 1920s, Glorious Apollo is a fictional biography of the Romantic poet, Lord Byron. Beginning as he prepares to takes his seat in the House of Lords in 1809, the novel takes us through Byron’s entire life and career right up to his death in Greece at the age of thirty-six.
The main focus of the novel is on the women in Byron’s life, particularly Lady Caroline Lamb, Augusta Leigh and Anne Isabella (Annabella) Milbanke. Caroline had an affair with Byron while married to William Lamb, Lord Melbourne, and is the woman who famously described him as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”; Augusta, Byron’s half-sister, was believed to be involved in an incestuous relationship with the poet; Anne was his wife and the mother of his daughter, Ada, but her marriage to Byron was not a happy one. While other aspects of his life and career are also covered in the novel – such as several of his male friendships, his health and weight problems, and the inspiration behind some of his poetry – none of these other things are given as much attention as his relationships with these three women.
This is a novel, so it can’t be assumed that everything in the book happened exactly as Barrington writes it, but it does seem to me that she has closely followed historical fact. At times the book reads more like a work of non-fiction, particularly at the beginning when we are given a lot of biographical information to help us understand Byron’s family background, but she has clearly used some imagination to fill in the gaps, to recreate conversations and to convey the thoughts and emotions of the characters. However, I would have liked to have had the opportunity to get inside Byron’s head more often and to see more of the story from his own perspective rather than from the perspectives of the people around him. The author’s sympathies do seem to be mainly with Anne and the overall impression the book gives of Byron himself is not a very flattering one.
Throughout the novel Barrington also draws on letters, diaries and other primary sources, sometimes quoting from them directly, and she also incorporates extracts from poems, some by Byron and some by other poets. Many of Byron’s major works are briefly discussed, including Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Manfred, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and So We’ll Go No More A-Roving, and their significance in the context of Byron’s personal life is explored.
Although I did enjoy some parts of the story – and there’s no doubt that Byron is a fascinating subject – Glorious Apollo didn’t quite work for me as a novel. I found Barrington’s writing slightly dry and I couldn’t help feeling that the book would have worked better as non-fiction rather than fiction. It was an interesting read, though, and worth considering if you would like to learn more about Byron and his poetry. I’m still curious about Barrington’s other novels, which include books on Anne Boleyn and Marie Antoinette, so if anyone has read them I would love to know what you thought!
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.