Reading Update: February 5, 2011

Nottingham CastleHow much am I enjoying Jude Morgan’s novel Passion? Well, I am prolonging the reading of it so as to enjoy it more, which will not help me meet my goal of reading 50 books this year, nor will it help me finish any reading challenges.

Some favorite passages, most of which come from the viewpoint of Lady Caroline Lamb:

And when in 1802 the peace was declared, after nine years of war between England and France, the Duke [of Devonshire] sighed, “I dare say we can go over to Paris again now,” as if a good shop had reopened after a fire; and patted his dog’s head.

The Peace of Amiens: the two punch-drunk prizefighters unable to carry on any longer: “a genuine reconciliation between the two first nations of the world,” according to “Doctor” Addington, the new Prime Minister: the peace, quipped the wits, that passeth all understanding. Too much conceded to Bonaparte, securer now in power as First Consul than any king, and lording it over Europe: wouldn’t last: bad times ahead. But for now, a feeling of relief and freedom. The tight little island had begun to seem like a prison. The fashionable world packed its trunks and headed for the Channel. Of course Boney and his upstart crew were devils, but who could resist a little tour of hell, just to see what it was like?

The Duke did not go, in the end, because of his gout. But everyone else did—”everyone,” in this case being roughly the whole section of English society that in France would have be guillotined. (84)

On Lord Byron:

It appeared to her [Lady Melbourne] highly probable that a man in his situation, and possessing those undoubted qualities that acrimony could not hide, nor dissipation impair, must seek sooner or later to leave behind the sins of his youth, and embark upon a new and restorative course. Lady Melbourne dropt one or two hints in that direction, the full import of which her niece [Annabella Milbanke] did not chuse to construe; though she must admit it as a truth universally acknowledged that a single man not in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (170)

Caroline Lamb, on the dissolution of her liaison with Byron:

Well, here is a thought for you. Now let me see if I can take you over the fences of this one. You’ll agree that there are times in your life that are happier than others—yes? And so out of all those there must be one time that is the happiest—yes?—just as among some trees that are taller than others, there must be one that is tallest of all even if only by an inch—yes? Thus there must be one period of time in your whole life that is, take all in all, the happiest, the truest, the most fulfilled, the best. So.

What if that time has already been and gone?

And you know it?

No, no—I’m quite well—I just fancied I heard my grandmother’s ghost at last. Saying that in her day they did not think of such things.

Well for them, perhaps. Part of me does long to lace up my feelings in that narrow bodice and tread that old narrow path. But I think it is closed off to us now, whether we like it or not.

Do I think my best time has gone? Why—how could I go on living, if so? (181)

And in a line worthy of Violet, Dowager Countess Grantham from Downton Abbey (played expertly by Dame Maggie Smith), Lady Melbourne to Lord Byron, on his affair with her daughter-in-law, Lady Caroline Lamb:

Lord Byron, how do you do? I am so used to seeing you disappearing upstairs, you must forgive my staring at your near and frontal approach. (181)

You know, with all the strange connections between historical persons in the Regency—William Lamb, Lady Caroline’s husband and Lady Melbourne’s son, would become Visount Melbourne, Prime Minister and mentor to Queen Victoria. His first cousin, Annabella Milbanke, would be Lord Byron’s wife, the Duke of Devonshire married to Georgiana Spencer and uncle and aunt to Lady Caroline—the time period begins to look almost as incestuous as Byron’s love affair with Augusta Byron Leigh.

Ba-dum-bum-psshh.

At any rate, it makes one think the period sounds like a game of six degrees of separation from Romantic poets.

photo credit: PeterXIII