Lord Byron: Fame & Scandal
In 1812, Byron published his completed Childe Harold. The poem introduced the concept of the Byronic hero, a literary type who persists in literature today. The heroes of Byron's poems tended to be melancholy, tortured young men, haunted by a past deed for which there was no redemption. The poem and its hero resonated immediately with readers. "I awoke one morning and found myself famous,"12 Byron wrote later of the poem's immense success.
Indeed, between his poetic abilities, his recent seating in the House of Lords, his outsized personality and his dashing good looks, Byron had become a celebrity, the type of guy whom paparazzi would follow today. For a time Lord Byron was "really the only topic of almost every conversation," wrote the Duchess of Devonshire, "the men jealous of him, the women of each other."13 He had developed a reputation, as Lady Caroline Lamb wrote after meeting him, of being "Mad, bad and dangerous to know."14
Of Byron's many lovers during this time, the married Lady Caroline was perhaps the most notorious. This was not because of the length of their affair - they were only together a few months - but because she was as crazy as Byron. She would sneak into his rooms and go through his stuff, and show up at his house disguised as a page. When they finally broke up she burned his effigy in a bizarre, pagan-like ritual, and maintained a virulent hatred of him for the rest of her life. Lady Caroline Lamb was not his most scandalous affair, however - not by a long shot.
Over the years Byron had kept in touch with his half-sister, Augusta Byron Leigh, the child of "Mad Jack" Byron and his late first wife. In 1813 she came to visit Byron while her husband and three children vacationed elsewhere. The two began a relationship of extreme, unsettling closeness. According to Byron's letters, journals, comments he made at the time and observations from his contemporaries, it's pretty clear that he and his sister were having an affair. Augusta became pregnant, and in April 1814 she delivered a baby girl believed to be Byron's daughter.