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Byron, George Gordon, Lord (1788-1824)  
 
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Byron had also written a stanza for inclusion in Childe Harold reflecting on the dire fate of William Beckford, whose home-in-exile Byron had visited at Cintra in Portugal. It addressed Beckford as "Unhappy Vathek!" after the hero of his romance. Like Byron a famous author with aristocratic connections, and in addition, the wealthiest man in England and an accomplished musician and connoisseur, Beckford had been ostracized by English society for many years because of his rumored homosexuality.

Byron's letters from Greece reveal that he himself had planned to live abroad; they show a paranoia exacerbated, no doubt, by his awareness that Beckford's fate might be his own. But the enormous success of Childe Harold, which made Byron famous overnight, changed his plans. It catapulted him to the heights of English society, and led to a series of widely publicized love affairs with fashionable women.

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The most important of these was Lady Caroline Lamb, who visited his apartments disguised in the uniform of her page boys. But Caroline's jealousy and flamboyant behavior soon alienated Byron and he sought to break with her. Unfortunately, he had told her something of his homosexual affairs and this gave her a powerful instrument for blackmail. On one occasion, with typical histrionic extravagance, she left an ominous warning ("Remember me!") in a copy of Beckford's Vathek in Byron's rooms.

Complicating an already difficult situation, Byron now embarked on an incestuous affair with his married half-sister, Augusta Leigh. To extricate himself from these imbroglios, Byron proposed marriage to Annabella Milbanke, an aristocratic heiress of a decidedly moralistic turn. The marriage was spectacularly unhappy, and after a year the hurt and baffled Annabella, whom Byron had scandalized by defending the sexual habits of the Turks and Greeks, sought a separation.

Byron's fame made this event an international scandal of the first dimension and speculation on Lady Byron's reasons for leaving her husband was rife on two continents. Lady Caroline now spread stories about Byron's homosexuality and incest throughout London.

Though incest was scandalous enough, the accusation of was far more damning. Byron was publicly insulted and ostracized, the situation becoming so intolerable that within a few weeks he left England for good in an extremely bitter mood.

During these troubles, Byron wrote his highly popular Turkish tales. These extremely romantic verse narratives, published in 1813 and 1814, drew on his knowledge of the Orient and feature typical "Byronic heroes," that is, proud desperadoes who are contemptuous of society but haunted by unnamable crimes.

The Bride of Abydos hints at incest, and Lara at homosexuality in the person of a page who is devoted to Lara but who turns out to be a girl. In this, Lara parallels an unpublished episode from Vathek where a page also undergoes a similar change of gender. (In Beckford's tale, the master's preference for his page is unabashedly , but Byron does not go so far.)

Byron faced snubs from English residents and visitors during his sojourn in Switzerland and finally settled in Venice where there was no English colony. There, in 1819, he began his satirical masterpiece, Don Juan.

In the first canto, Byron ridicules English prudery, playing on the paradox that though English schoolboys were supposed to be shielded from any knowledge of sex, and especially of homosexuality, the standard curriculum was based on poets like Sappho, Anacreon, Catullus, and Virgil who freely treated such themes.

In Italy, Byron also wrote an autobiography that was destroyed after his death by his literary executors. Apparently this did not deal with any of his homosexual experiences--Byron would hardly have been so indiscreet as to have included such details. It is possible, however, that a mysterious "love of loves" he is known to have mentioned in the manuscript referred to Edleston.

Byron also wrote some supplementary private biographical notes under the title "Detached Thoughts." There he speaks of a "violent, though pure love" he experienced at Cambridge--a veiled reference to his love for the choirboy. He lends credence to the idea that his bisexuality was one source of the anguished guilt felt by the Byronic hero when he remarks a few lines later, "If I could explain at length the real causes which have contributed to this . . . melancholy of mine which hath made me a bye-word--nobody would wonder." But he admits that this would cause "much mischief" and breaks off, as he puts it, to avoid "paralyzing posterity."

During his years in Italy, we have no evidence that Byron's bisexuality manifested itself apart from Shelley's mysterious remark that Byron "associated with wretches" who avowed practices unnamed in England. After a highly promiscuous period, during which he had relations with women of all social classes, Byron settled down to comparative domesticity with Teresa Guiccioli, the estranged wife of an Italian count.

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