The Legacy of Byron and Wilde

  • Mark Lilly


George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788–1824) was brought up by his mother, his father having deserted the family during his childhood. At the age of ten, he inherited the barony, and moved from very modest accommodation to the semi-ruined abbey which was the family seat. He went to Harrow and Cambridge, and during these early years experienced loving attachments to fellow pupils and students. An unrequited love for a young woman in his youth left a permanent bitterness. His first privately printed collection of poems (Hours of Idleness) was badly received in 1807, but on the publication of the first two cantos of Childe Harold (1812) he became famous almost overnight. His incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta, and the dismal failure of his marriage to the rich Annabella Milbanke, led to scandal and, combined with his disgust at English society’s hypocrisy, this led to his departure from England. He finally settled in Italy, where he had many heterosexual love affairs, the most durable with Teresa, Countess Guiccioli. During his life, especially abroad, he also had several less well-documented homosexual relationships and passions — not always reciprocated — and this aspect of his life is reflected in some of his poetry, as we shall see below. He supported Italian revolutionaries, and played a key role in the Greek struggle against the Turks until his death of fever in 1824.


Twentieth Century Official Culture Homosexual Desire Ethnic Explanation Unrequited Love 
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  1. 1.
    Louis Crompton, Byron and Greek Love ( London: Faber and Faber, 1985 ).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Quoted in William Hazlitt, The Spirit of the Age (1825; rpt. London: Collins, 1969 ) p. 121.Google Scholar
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    The Picture of Dorian Gray ( 1891; rpt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987 ).Google Scholar
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    Walter Gratzer, review of Richard Davenport-Hines, Sex, Death and Punishment: Attitudes to Sex and Sexuality in Britain since the Renaissance (Glasgow: Collins, 1990) in Guardian Weekly, 10 March 1990, p. 26.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Jeffrey Meyers, Homosexuality and Literature. 1890–1930 ( London: Athlone Press, 1977 ), p. 31.Google Scholar

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© Mark Lilly 1993

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  • Mark Lilly

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