Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Childe Byron

I recently read Romulus Linney's play Childe Byron, in which the visionary futurist Ada Lovelace has an opium-induced fantasy about meeting her father, the poet, playwright, and martyr George Gordon Byron.

Today, Ada Lovelace is a popular figure in the public imagination, inhabiting many creative works, and even anachronistically teaming up with a young Mary Shelley in the children's mystery series The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.

The mother of computer programing basically had a non-relationship with her father, the author of Manfred, Mazeppa, Don Juan, and other poetic works. After her parents separated (and, yes, there's a story there) her mother kept her as far away from Byron and his poetry as she possibly could.

Byron was pretty much inescapable, though, as his fame had rippled across the world ever since he published the opening cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage in 1812. The play's title naturally alludes to the poem, as does the symphony by Hector Berlioz, Harold in Italy, which Linney uses in the piece.

Since Byron's own autobiography was burned without even being read, we'll never know what exactly ended his marriage and led to his estrangement from his daughter. From letters, it's apparent that he said some things to his new wife that he later regretted saying, but what? Did they have to do with his past homosexual affairs? His rumored relationship with his half sister? Other sexual perversions that become the talk of Europe, whether he actually had them or not?

Linney addresses all of these possibilities head on when he has Byron say:

Why do you hate me so? Because of my boy feelings, which I will not kill within me, and the sweet dreams they bring? For the foolish love of my foolish sister, and in her face and body, the sad family I inherit from God, and will not disown? For my physical bestiality, which, given the incredible phallus your gossip has bestowed upon me, not only would damage my wife's pride, but split her rectum up to her palate? How do I threaten you? With verse? My stanzas will overthrow the Church? My rhymes will bring down Parliament? I am only another guilt-ridden writer, returning every night like a dog to brandy, verse, and the vomit of memory, to make my music from it: what has that to do with you?

Byron certainly did make music with his wreck of a life, a fact his daughter is forced to acknowledge by the end of the play.

And what happened to Ada Lovelace? Sadly, she passed away at 36, the same age as her father when he died fighting in the Greek War of Independence. She was buried, at her own request, with the body of her father in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.