Byron and Shelley as Vampires?

Implausible? For Regency revolutionary heroes, who knows? The image of the Vampire looming over the inert body of his/her victim in an intimate exchange of body fluids is a classic kind of Romantic fantasy.

I’ve just finished reading, Tim Powers’ novel “The Stress of Her Regard,” (Amazon) first published in 1989, which cleverly weaves many incidents of the years Byron and Shelley — and their circle of girlfriends and hangers-on — spent together in Switzerland and Italy into a narrative that, if can’t convinces us of their Vampirism, at least convinces us to “suspend disbelief”. What more can we ask of fiction?

In brief, Byron is portrayed as the victim of an ancient vampirism; as is Italy under the Austrian yoke. The pre-Adamite race of the Nepehlim have been resurrected centuries earlier by a mystical surgery on an Austrian Duke who, preserved by his vamprisim, commands the invasion of Italy and the occupation of Venice. The ethereal Percy Bysse Shelley, too, by an accident of birth, is a half-breed of the Nephelim and, although he controls his nature, his mania — essential to his poetry — seeped into his realtionship with Mary (Godwin) Shelley and has inspired, too, her writing (Frankenstein).

Byron, it turns out, was infected (“polluted”) by Lord Grey (Henry Edward Yelverton); a vampire who leased Newstead Abbey from him and who, according to Byron’s biographers, “made advances” (Byron refused to discuss the incident) to his handsome teenaged landlord during a visit the latter made to his ancestral home in 1803.

Powers’ clever imagining and reworking of the outré mysteries and ceremonies of the Nephelim and their ‘neffer’ human lovers; the revolutionary history of Italy; the secret society of the Carbonari (in which Byron really did become involved, at least peripherally); the dramatis personae of Byron’s life, especially the ridiculous Dr Polidori but also his dramatic Venetian mistress Maria Cogni and his entourage of servants, is masterful. He borrows plausibly from Shelley’s poetry in the epigraphs to each chapter to substantiate the poet’s conflict with between his humanity and his ‘otherness’ (as a half-caste of the race of Nephelim) and even the documented deaths of Shelley’s and Byron’s children and the tragedy of Shelley’s drowning at the height of his poetic career become milestones in a smoothly perverted history. Somehow, François Villon, as the un-dead, estranged spouse of a Vampire “bride” — the Nephelim seem to be sexually ambidextrous when not flying reptiles — also makes it into the cast of Powers’ book.

The plot? It revolves around two purely imaginary characters; an english obstetrician named Crawford and Aikman (among other names) who has the bad-luck accidentally to ‘betroth’ a vampire, and; his autistic, self-harming sister-in-law who spends the first part of the novel, and most of the second half, trying to kill him but who, finally, becomes his champion and his wife. It’s complicated but Powers handles the implausible bits, mostly, with aplomb.

I loved it. Closely researched and delightfully faithful to Byron’s history and character. The only time I was jolted out of the illusion was by this passage:

“Crawfords eyes had adjusted to the dimness of the room enough for him to see that the sheets were scribbled with six-line stanzas. It was probably more of Don Juan, the apparently endless poem Byron had started writing in Venice in 1818”

Huh? Six lines! Don Juan is, of course, in ottava rima! Eight lines to every stanza! I was astonished that Powers — whose research seems otherwise impeccable — made this mistake and that his editors (if they still had such things in 1989) did not pick it up.

Live on the iBooks store

The illustrated audio e-book of Canto One of Don Juan is now available on 32 national iBooks stores.

Two hours of audio, more than twenty full-page illustrations and the text of both the Dedication and Canto One of Byron’s hilarious bedroom farce.

Get your copy now (or download a free sample) here

Don Juan, Canto One

Selections from the the illustrations,verse and audio of a new e-book version of Byrons’ comic masterpiece, Don Juan”: available in the Apple iBooks store from September 2012, for the iPad and iPhone.

You can download a sample of the book right now using the button on the right of the page.

The e-book contains the full text of Canto One of Don Juan, more than 20 high-resolution, full-page illustrations and almost two hours of professional audio narration. It uses “read along” technology to synchronise the text and the audio of the poem (unlike this web-extract).

Don Juan is an hilarious, risky, modern poem that uses the Don Juan myth to explore the tangled, intense life and forthright opinions of one of literature’s greatest but also most flawed characters: the author, Gordon, Lord Byron.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012


1 & 2

Bob Southey! You’re a poet, poet laureate,
And representative of all the race.
Although ’tis true that you turned out a Tory at
Last, yours has lately been a common case.
And now my epic renegade, what are ye at
With all the lakers, in and out of place?
A nest of tuneful persons, to my eye
Like ‘four and twenty blackbirds in a pye,

‘Which pye being opened they began to sing’
(This old song and new simile holds good),
‘A dainty dish to set before the King’
Or Regent, who admires such kind of food.
And Coleridge too has lately taken wing,
But like a hawk encumbered with his hood,
Explaining metaphysics to the nation.
I wish he would explain his explanation.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012

They lived respectably as man and wife


Don Jóse and the Donna Inez led
For some time an unhappy sort of life,
Wishing each other, not divorced, but dead.
They lived respectably as man and wife,
Their conduct was exceedingly well-bred
And gave no outward signs of inward strife,
Until at length the smothered fire broke out
And put the business past all kind of doubt.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012

…thinking unutterable things


Young Juan wandered by the glassy brooks
Thinking unutterable things. He threw
Himself at length within the leafy nooks
Where the wild branch of the cork forest grew.
There poets find materials for their books,
And every now and then we read them through,
So that their plan and prosody are eligible,
Unless like Wordsworth they prove unintelligible.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012

A real husband always is suspicious


A real husband always is suspicious,
But still no less suspects in the wrong place,
Jealous of someone who had no such wishes,
Or pandering blindly to his own disgrace
By harbouring some dear friend extremely vicious.
The last indeed’s infallibly the case,
And when the spouse and friend are gone off wholly,
He wonders at their vice, and not his folly.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012

And Julia sate with Juan


And Julia sate with Juan, half embraced
And half retiring from the glowing arm,
Which trembled like the bosom where’twas placed.
Yet still she must have thought there was no harm,
Or else’twere easy to withdraw her waist.
But then the situation had its charm,
And then – God knows what next – I can’t go on;
I’m almost sorry that I e’er begun.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012

…Who is the man you search for?


‘And now, Hidalgo, now that you have thrown
Doubt upon me, confusion over all,
Pray have the courtesy to make it known
Who is the man you search for? How d’ye call
Him? What’s his lineage? Let him but be shown.
I hope he’s young and handsome. Is he tall?
Tell me, and be assured that since you stain
My honour thus, it shall not be in vain.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012

…so Juan knocked him down


None can say that this was not good advice;
The only mischief was it came too late.
Of all experience ‘tis the usual price,
A sort of income tax laid on by fate.
Juan had reached the room door in a trice
And might have done so by the garden gate,
But met Alfonso in his dressing gown,
Who threatened death – so Juan knocked him down.

Image and audio extract © Peter Gallagher, 2012