Authors & Events
Sep 28, 2010
| ISBN 9780553386707
Sep 28, 2010
| ISBN 9780553907803
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Sep 28, 2010 | ISBN 9780553386707
Sep 28, 2010 | ISBN 9780553907803
The restorative power of the ocean brings Jane Austen and her beloved brother Henry, to Brighton after Henry’s wife is lost to a long illness. But the crowded, glittering resort is far from peaceful, especially when the lifeless body of a beautiful young society miss is discovered in the bedchamber of none other than George Gordon—otherwise known as Lord Byron. As a poet and a seducer of women, Byron has carved out a shocking reputation for himself—but no one would ever accuse him of being capable of murder. Now it falls to Jane to pursue this puzzling investigation and discover just how “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Byron truly is. And she must do so without falling victim to the charming versifier’s legendary charisma, lest she, too, become a cautionary example for the ages.
Stephanie Barron is the author of the standalone historical suspense novels A Flaw in the Blood and The White Garden, as well as the Jane Austen mystery series. As Francine Mathews, she is the author of several novels of espionage, including… More about Stephanie Barron
A FEW QUESTIONS FOR STEPHANIE BARRONQ: Your ten-book series about Jane Austen as detective has carried readers through more than a decade of the novelist’slife, from December 1802 to what is now the spring of 1813in Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron. How closely do youfollow the historical record of Austen’s life, and how muchof the series is pure fiction?A: Some of the books are so faithful to Jane’s letters that I’veused the actual calendar of her week as the structure of thenovel—and included everyone she mentions as a character.But others, like Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron, arecomplete invention. Although Jane chose Brighton as the siteof Lydia Bennet’s infamous elopement in Pride and Prejudice,there’s no record of her ever having visited the town, forexample, and certainly none of her having met Lord Byron.And to be fair, the man was never taken up for murder in1813. But I knew Jane had seen almost every major town onthe Channel Coast over the years; I knew she read Byron’spoetry—she refers to several of the poems in her letters, andin her novel Persuasion—and they had acquaintances incommon. It was just within the realm of possibility for themto meet. I like the realm of possibility; it’s the bedrock of allmy writing, and far more interesting than the known world.When I saw that Byron was writing that spring about adoomed love affair and a drowned girl—and that he made ahabit of sailing in Brighton—I knew I had to place Jane inthe town. And remarkably, at Byron’s death in 1824 he waslaid in state not at Westminster Abbey, which refused to havehim—but at the London home of Fanny Knatchbull, JaneAusten’s niece. No one has ever explained why.Q: Brighton seems like the last place Jane would be comfortable.In fact, she derides it in Pride and Prejudice.A: True. But she was always happy to go anywhere a friendwas willing to take her, which is why her brother Henry is sovital to the story. Henry was fashionable and ambitious andwell connected to people in the Prince Regent’s set, whowould have descended on Brighton by April for the Royalbirthday. Henry would absolutely love the frivolity and display,the pretty and available women, the horse races andthe crowd of gamblers at Raggett’s Club. Given that he wasin mourning—and that we know Jane spent both late Apriland late May in London with him—it seemed logical to sendthem off to the seaside during the intervening weeks, to recoverfrom the death of the incomparable Eliza.Q: Was Byron as promiscuous as you suggest?A: He was far more promiscuous than I suggest! He seemedto require constant sexual stimulation, from a variety ofwomen—usually twenty years his senior—and young boys.There’s a suggestion he forced himself on Lady Oxford’seleven- year- old daughter while staying at her estate, Eywood;and he certainly had an incestuous relationship withhis half sister Arabella, and fathered one of her children.When he eventually married Annabella Millbanke—acousin of Caro Lamb’s—the relationship lasted barely ayear. Although she would never disclose what Byron haddone to her, Annabella was probably physically and sexuallyabused. Byron was not a mentally healthy man.Q: Byron is called a mad poet in this novel, but frankly LadyCaroline Lamb seems a bit more unhinged. How faithful tothe actual woman is your portrait?A: Oh, my goodness—I was probably far kinder to poor Carothan she deserves! I think today she’d be diagnosed asmanic- depressive. Or possibly a narcissist. Or both. She wascertainly volatile in her moods, violent in her rages, compulsivein her attachments, and extreme in her selfdestruction.A few months after Jane and the Madness ofLord Byron ends, in July 1813, Caro put herself completelybeyond the pale of good society by attending a waltz partyat the home of one Lady Heathcote. She encountered Byronin the dining room, and when he avoided her, she smashed awine goblet and tried to slash her wrists with the shards ofglass. She had to be carried screaming from the party, andfrom that moment forward, she was rarely invited anywhereagain. William Lamb, her husband, nearly divorcedher that time—but he found it impossible to abandon Caro.He sent her into exile at his family’s country estate instead,which for Caroline Lamb was probably a kind of death-in-life.Q: Speaking of death-in-life, how deeply attached was Jane toher cousin and sister-in-law, Eliza de Feuillide, whose deathopens the book?A: I think Jane was one of the few Austens, other than Henry,who truly loved her. Jane was witty and sophisticatedenough to enjoy Eliza’s essential nature, which was frivolous,fun- loving, and profoundly of the moment. Eliza connectedJane to the Great World, and her kindheartednessand intelligence would more than make up for any Frenchpretensions she persisted in displaying. The rest of theAustens seemed to mistrust Eliza as a bad influence. But heramusements were so tame—she never appears to have hurtHenry in any way, and added greatly to his consequence andcomfort—that one wonders whether there was not a bit ofenvy at the base of the family’s poor opinion.Q: And yet Jane and Henry go on.A: You had to go on, in those days. People died left and right.In the course of her life, Jane would lose four sisters-in-law,most in childbirth. She lost her father, of course, and herclose friend Madame Lefroy. And eventually the Austenfamily would lose Jane herself, far too young. To be a citizenof the world in 1813 was to be intimate with death.Q: You make use of a very convenient tunnel in this book. Isthat an invention too?A: Actually, no. The Prince Regent liked to get aroundBrighton without being seen—particularly in his later years,when he was obese and somewhat crippled by his size. Hehad a number of tunnels built to and from the Pavilion, andthree of them survive in the present- day Royal Pavilion complex, connecting modern concert and public performancevenues erected in the former stable block.Q: What’s ahead for Jane Austen?A: She’s going to travel to Kent in the autumn of 1813, for aprotracted visit to her wealthy brother Edward. At thispoint in her life she’s publishing her third novel, MansfieldPark, and gathering material for Emma, which she’s forcedto dedicate to the Regent! Kent is another secure and comfortableworld full of rich and famous families; but the Pilgrim’sWay to Canterbury Cathedral also runs throughEdward’s estate, Godmersham Park. A mysterious strangerwill find his end there, in Jane and the Canterbury Tale.
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