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Antony Peattie, The Private Life of Lord Byron: Byron and Napoleon

Wednesday, March 13, 2024 - 6:00 PM | Members' Room | open to the public | free of charge | registration required

The great Romantic poet Lord Byron starved himself compulsively for most of his life. His behaviour mystified his friends and other witnesses, yet he never imagined he was ill. Instead, he rationalized his behavior as a fight for spiritual freedom and made it the cornerstone of his heroic ideal, which was central to his work and to his life and his death. The Private Life of Lord Byron is a fresh biographical study exploring neglected or misunderstood aspects of Lord Byron’s private life to illuminate his writing, his affairs with women, and his conflicted friendships.

Antony Peattie situates these patterns of behaviour in a vividly rendered contemporary world, culminating in Byron’s last days in Greece, where he tried to starve himself into heroic leadership but damaged his constitution, resulting in his death at the age of thirty-six. The Guardian says, “The received image of Byron as a rakish bon vivant is decisively reframed in a biography exploring his personal foibles…Peattie’s book is the portrait of an elusive, paradoxical man, a poet who thought that words were as expendable as breath, a narcissist who disliked himself and a celebrity who laughed at his own publicity.”

In this event, Antony Peattie explores the poet’s relationship with his hero, Napoleon. It traces its origins to Byron’s fatherlessness and considers how it impacts his love life, his eating disorder, and his work, to reveal new and central aspects to his masterpiece, Don Juan.

Antony Peattie read English at Oxford and, as a post-graduate, studied all the variants of the Don Juan legend. Byron’s version stood out: although he referred to the Don Juan tradition, his hero was nothing like his predecessors. Having worked on Professor Marchand’s edition of Byron’s Letters and Journals he joined Welsh National Opera, where he wrote programme notes and interpreted for directors and designers. As a freelancer, he translated Verdi’s Ernani into English, devised surtitles for Scottish Opera and Covert Garden, wrote introductions to opera for Glyndebourne, co-edited Kobbe’s New Complete Book of Opera with Lord Harewood, and then returned to his first love with The Private Life of Lord Byron, newly published in the US. He currently manages the estate of the late painter Howard Hodgkin and will participate in a symposium at the Met Museum on March 15 on the artist and India.

This event is generously sponsored by Polymath Educational Services - providing personalized support for teens with learning differences.