Throughout the month of October, I will be featuring women of the Regency era who were a little … shall we say, nonconventional.
(picture from Wikipedia.com)
By today’s standards, Lady Caroline Lamb would have been labeled a stalker.
When Lord George Gordon Byron was in the throes of fame following the publication of his hit poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, Lady Caroline set her sights upon meeting him. “If he was as ugly as Aesop I must know him.” At the time she had been married for almost ten years to William Lamb (later the 2nd Viscount of Melbourne and Prime Minister).
Born Caroline Posonby, Lady Caroline was always a little off kilter. Even before she married Lamb, her wild temper tantrums and hysterics were well documented. According to family claims, doctors had been called in to calm her on more than one occasion.
When she met the famous, talented, and enigmatical Lord Byron, her first response was to turn away from him. This spurred his interest (since every other female in London was throwing herself at him and fainting in his presence). Later she wrote him a fan letter, and he visited her and brought her a rose. Byron’s initial impressions of Caroline were that she was “the cleverest most agreeable, absurd, amiable, perplexing, dangerous fascinating little being that lives now or ought to have lived 2000 years ago.”[i]
Byron was intrigued by Caroline’s eccentric nonconformity to the aristocratic society in which she lived. She often dressed in the clothing of a page boy, and in fact, that was how she sneaked out to visit Byron on several occasions. One occasion in particular, she arrived at his rooms in St. James’s Place under the impression that they were going to elope that night. Byron had left her with some sense of this being the case, but once she showed up he either had a change of heart or was convinced by his good friend John Hobhouse that this was a mistake.
Realizing that the elopement was not going to take place, Caroline rushed to grab Byron’s dress sword (one can only assume to threaten stabbing herself) and a struggle ensued between the trio. Amidst worry that the servants would spread rumors and great consternation as to how to remove her from the premises unseen, the men concocted a plan that involved Byron accompanying Caroline a little way down the road (to appease her). Byron would then leap from the carriage and run through Hobhouse’s open door as though he’d meant to go there all along. The plan worked.
But Caroline’s pursuit of him continued. She showed up at parties he attended and threatened to kill herself (and as the stories tell it, she did stab herself but no real harm was done). She wrote him letter upon letter, forcing him to write a scathing, insulting rejection, asking her to cease and desist with all correspondence. By this time, her reputation was ruined. She was diagnosed insane, straitjackets were considered for some of her wilder fits, and her family sent her away to Ireland where she could recover would not have access to him.
Their affair lasted a few months between 1812 and 1813, but even after that, Caroline Lamb maintained a certain level of obsession. She wrote a novel entitled Glenarvon in which the main character, Lord Ruthven, a vampire, was obviously fashioned after Byron. When this novel was published in 1816, its release galvanized her descent. People were shocked and appalled, and Caroline was shunned from all good society.
Much has been written about Lady Caroline over the years. Some stories are legend and hard to confirm, but her obsessive stalking of Byron is well chronicled. As for her writing, Glenarvon received mixed reviews--mostly ones that said the novel was melodramatic--but today it makes for an entertaining read, especially when one considers the inspiration for the main character.
Have you read Glenarvon? If so, what were your thoughts about it?
MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. Farar, Straus and Giraux. New York: 2002.