We are going to speak today with British poet, Lord Byron, at the Palazzo Guiccioli in Ravenna, Italy. He is handsome, brilliant, pop-star famous and, most interestingly, a member of an Italian revolutionary movement. Welcome, Lord Byron!
Q: First of all, I want to ask you about your connection to Claire Clairmont. Was she one of the great loves of your life?
Lord Byron: That is a complicated question since I am not the type of man who talks about his lovers. All I can say is I connected with Claire in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1816, during a dark period of my life. I had left England under a scandalous cloud—bruised and battered, without hope of gaining any sense of redemption. She was seventeen and like a balm on my soul. And she introduced me to my fellow poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife, Mary Shelley—who became great friends. I confess that I have had more than one great love in my life, but Claire was like no other woman: passionate, stubborn, maddening. Sadly, there were forces that drove us apart . . . I must keep that part secret since it involves our daughter, Allegra.
Q: Do you mind telling us about Allegra?
Lord Byron: I named her Allegra, meaning “cheerful and brisk”—she is all of that and more. Pretty. Intelligent. And a devil of a spirit, like both of her parents. I must admit that she wants her own way in everything, and I indulge her. My love child. Claire wanted her to live with me, so I could raise her with all the advantages of wealth and rank, but I also wanted my child to know the true affection of her own father. Unfortunately, I did not realize how tenuous the situation would become in Ravenna and that I would need all of my resources to protect her. My most trusted bodyguard, Tita, watches over her in the day, and I keep her close in the evenings, reading poetry to her in both English and Italian. But things are deteriorating quickly, and I may have to make other arrangements for my Allegrina—much as I cannot bear to part from her.
Q: Speaking of Ravenna, Italy, could you tell us why you chose to live in such a small town?
Lord Byron: Ah, Ravenna. I wrote about it in my poem, Don Juan:
SWEET hour of twilight! in the solitude
Of the pine forest, and the silent shore
Which bounds Ravenna’s immemorial wood, . . .
I settled here in 1820, because my Italian inamorata, Teresa Guiccioli, lives in the city with her husband, Count Guiccioli. It sounds shocking I know, but I became her cavaliere servant—a professed lover with her husband’s permission, of course. The whole arrangement is accepted in Italy. And I am not the type of man who wishes to live without love. Claire and I can never be together again so, when I met Teresa in Venice, I knew love had come into my life once more. And I bonded with her father and brother, becoming part of a family—something I never had when I was a boy. They not only accepted me, but introduced me to the Carbonari, a secret society that is plotting against the Austrian oppressors. I cannot give too many details on this development, except that my interests have expanded beyond poetry to include rebellion. It might be a lost cause, but I am committed to it.
Q: Are you still writing poetry?
Lord Byron: Oh, yes . . . “The Prophecy of Dante” in honor of the great Italian poet and in support of a free Italy.
Q: Can you at least explain what the Carbonariare trying to accomplish?
Lord Byron: Not at this time, except to say that it is a loosely-organized secret society based on the Freemasons, and the clusters are organized all around Italy. I was inducted into the Ravenna lodge shortly after I became acquainted with Teresa’s brother, Pietro. We believe in revolutionary idealism and will do anything to see a free and united Italy. I cannot reveal any more . . .
Q: I’m intrigued, especially because of your fame and status. Did you find being a well-known poet created a sense of respect for you among the Carbonari?
Lord Bryon: Well, I have access to certain diplomatic channels that the Italians do not, and they know I would share any intelligence that I acquire. I am not sure being a poet garners me respect more than my singular belief in the cause of liberty. At least, I hope so.
Q: You document everything in your memoir. Did you ever think of publishing it?
Lord Byron: Memoirs are a tricky thing. They can be a recording of daily activities like my Ravenna Journal, but they can also contain a certain amount of detail which could destroy reputations, maybe even end lives. I would never want to see that happen. There are events in my memoir that few people are aware of and a wider audience does not need to know, so I intend to keep the memoir hidden among only two of my closest friends: Angelo Mengaldo and Edward Trelawny. I trust them with my life.
Q: Back to your fame: Did it make it possible for you to “bend the rules” as an exile living in Italy?
Lord Byron: I can bend the rules because I am known mostly as the “mad English lord,” which I use to my advantage. I can come and go without being watched too closely—and my “fame” provides me cover as a man of words, not action. I keep a large, chaotic household and travel with an entourage—but that is all pretense for my role in the Italian rebellion. Nevertheless, I know not to “bend” the rules too far since flyers have circulated around Ravenna with my picture and a single word: Traditore! Traitor. So, I am being more careful about my movements not only to protect myself but also Allegra. She must not be harmed because of my allegiances in Ravenna.
Q: You do everything in your power to shield your daughter, Allegra. Can you tell us about her fate?
Lord Byron: I would sacrifice my life to keep her safe from harm, and I may have to remove her from Ravenna to a place where she can be sheltered from the insanity that has descended on the city. A man was actually shot in front of my palazzo; he died in my study. After that I would not allow Allegra to outside these walls without Tita—and now I seek to shelter her far from this place. It seems to be the only way, but my heart breaks at sending her away. As her Papa, I must think of her wellbeing first. And I know Claire will not like it.
Q: So you still think about Claire?
Lord Byron: Every day.
Thank you for speaking to us today.
About the author:
Marty Ambrose has been a writer most of her life, consumed with the world of literature whether teaching English at Florida Southwestern State College, Southern New Hampshire University or creating her own fiction. Her writing career has spanned almost fifteen years, with eight published novels for Avalon Books, Kensington Books, Thomas & Mercer—and, now, Severn House.
A few years ago, Marty had the opportunity to take a new creative direction that builds on her interest in the Romantic poets: historical fiction. Her first book in a trilogy, Claire’s Last Secret, combines memoir and mystery in a genre-bending narrative of the Byron/Shelley “haunted summer,” with Claire Clairmont, as the protagonist/sleuth—the “almost famous” member of the group. Her second novel, A Shadowed Fate, begins where the first novel ends with Claire on an “odyssey” through Italy to find the fate of her daughter, Allegra, whom she now believes might have survived; her narrative plays out with Byron’s memoir from 1821, and Allegra’s own story. It will be published by Severn House on 3/3/2020 in the U.S.
Marty lives on an island in Southwest Florida with her husband, former news-anchor, Jim McLaughlin, where they tend their mango grove. They are planning a two-week trip to Italy to research the third book, Forever Past. Luckily, Jim is fluent in Italian and shares her love of history, literature, and travel.