A startling reevaluation of Lady Byron’s marriage and the untold story of her complex life as single mother and progressive force.
The center of public attention after her tumultuous marriage to Lord Byron, Annabella Milbanke transformed herself from a neglected wife into a figure of incredible resilience and social vision. After she and her infant child were cast out of their home, she was left to navigate the stifling and unsupportive social environment of Regency England. Far from a victim or an obstacle to Byron’s work, however, Lady Byron was a rebel against the fashionable snobbery of her class, founding the first Infants School and Co-Operative School in England. A poet and talented mathematician, Lady Byron supported the education of her precocious daughter, Ada Lovelace, now recognized and lauded as a pioneer of computer science, and saved from death her “adoptive daughter” Medora Leigh, the child of Lord Byron’s incest with his sister. Lady Byron was adored by the younger abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe and by many notable friends. Yet her complex relationships with her family, including the sister Byron loved, runs like a live wire through this skillfully told and groundbreaking biography of a remarkable woman who made a life for herself and became a leading light in her century.
Novelist and biographer Markus (Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning) offers a spirited, scholarly defense of Lord Byron's onetime wife, Annabella. Countering the condescending or insulting depictions of Lady Byron by her ex-husband's biographers, this capacious account reveals a woman of "prodigious philanthropy" who founded England's first infant school (for children between the ages of four and seven) and the Ealing School of Art, and espoused progressive ideas such as penal reform and the abolition of slavery. The book stretches from the lax morality of the Regency to the constraints of the Victorian era, and boasts an immense cast of characters. The family included Byron and Annabella's daughter, Ada Lovelace, recognized today as the first computer programmer; Byron's half-sister, Augusta, and her daughter, Medora (whom Byron may have fathered); and Claire Clairmont, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's stepsister and the mother of Byron's daughter Allegra. Lady Byron's wider milieu was populated by a Who's Who of the period, including computer pioneer Charles Babbage and a heap of writers, among them Walter Scott, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. With this formidable biography, Markus restores a "misunderstood yet difficult woman of genius" from generations of derision and neglect.