Byromania pp 195-220 | Cite as

‘An Exaggerated Woman’: The Melodramas of Lady Caroline Lamb

  • Frances Wilson


In his biography, The Young Melbourne and the Story of His Marriage with Caroline Lamb, David Cecil writes of Lady Caroline Lamb that, ‘Side by side run always two stories, what happened to Caroline and what she pretended had happened.’3 This is how Caroline Lamb is remembered in both biography and fiction alike: for confusing reality with fantasy; for behaving as though she were the heroine of a melodrama; for belonging, precisely, in the ‘wrong’ genre. Caroline Lamb’s name has become synonymous with melodrama and was used as an adjective for self-indulgent emotionalism even by Lord Byron himself, who described feeling, when his subsequent mistress, Lady Oxford left England, more ‘Carolinish’ about his loss than he had expected. Melodrama is failed tragedy, and Caroline Lamb’s life is seen as failing to be the tragedy she described it as being. Glenarvon, Lamb’s own novel about her brief affair with Byron during the spring and summer of 1812 (published the month after Byron left England for ever in 1816) has long been written off for being a melodrama rather than the historical account of their relations which everyone wanted to read. Caroline Lamb is thought to have turned her life into the stuff of romance and to have dramatised the gothic excesses of what Wordsworth scathingly called, in his preface to the Lyrical Ballads, ‘frantic novels’. Her ‘imagination’, Thomas Medwin reports Byron as saying, was ‘heated by novel reading which made her fancy herself the heroine of romance and led her into all sorts of eccentricities’.4


Sexual Identity Conflicting Version Psychic Life Innocent Child Family Romance 
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  1. 3.
    Lord David Cecil, The Young Melbourne and the Story of His Marriage with Caroline Lamb (London: Constable and Company, 1939), p. 106.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Thomas Medwin, quoted in Elizabeth Jenkins, Lady Caroline Lamb (London: Gollancz, 1932), p. 248.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Doris Langley Moore, The Late Lord Byron (London: John Murray, 1961), p. 488.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Henry Blyth, Caro, The Fatal Passion: The Life of Lady Caroline Lamb (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, Inc. 1972), p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Peter Brooks, The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 12.Google Scholar
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    Geoffrey Nowell Smith, ‘Minelli and Melodrama’, in Christine Gledhill, ed. Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: British Film Institute, 1987), p. 72.Google Scholar
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    F Frankfort Moore, He Loved But One: The Story of Lord Byron and Mary Chaworth (London: Eveleigh Nash, 1905), p. 210.Google Scholar
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    Lady Caroline Lamb, Glenarvon, ed. Frances Wilson (London: Everyman, 1995), p. 140.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frances Wilson

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