Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Beginning of Lord Byron's Marital Nightmare

Sometime this coming year, my first Regency novel will be released. Dangerous to Know is the first in a trilogy and loosely based upon the disastrous marriage of Lord Byron to Annabella Milbanke. I thought it might be fun for the next month to discuss days leading up to their marriage and the ones that followed it. The couple was married in January of 1815, and much of Lord and Lady Byron’s marriage was dramatic and unhappy, a cautionary tale of why two such types should never marry.

(By Thomas Phillips - NPG, Public Domain,

Annabella was devout in her faith and sadly deluded in the notion that she could tame Byron’s dark, agnostic, and brooding soul. Although there was a physical attraction on both sides, the unequal spiritual state of the couple was profound. Their childhood experiences were vastly different. Byron’s father was an abhorrent character who showed no real affection for his wife or his child and abandoned them when Byron was just a little boy. Byron suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his nurse, and although well-born, his mother was a foul-mouthed glutton who did nothing for Byron’s opinion of women. Annabella had grown up, sheltered, in a small coastal town. She was a deeply loved only child raised by parents who were thankful to have any offspring at all.  In short, these young people's very different expectations of marriage and love were completely lost in a world where social status and financial viability were revered above the importance of compatible temperaments.  

(By Creator: Charles Hayter - National Portrait Gallery, Public Domain,

It should also be mentioned that Lord Byron was unnaturally attached to his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and most scholars agree that the pair were involved in a scandalous union. This was most likely part of the reason why Byron moved slowly toward his marriage ceremony, several days’ travel north in the county of Durham.

“Never was a lover in less haste,” said his friend John Hobhouse, who traveled north with him. In fact, the Milbankes had expected Byron by Christmas, and when he finally arrived several days later on December 30th, Lady Milbanke was so distraught that she promptly took to her bed chambers. Assumedly, she thought her future son-in-law’s delay signaled that her daughter might be spared the dubious nuptials.

Annabella had so anxiously awaited her beloved’s arrival that when she saw him, she threw her arms around him and sobbed. While looking on, John Hobhouse could only conclude that Annabella was “fond” of her betrothed as she gazed “with delight upon his animated bust.”

In the next few days, one last ditch effort was made to end the engagement. Apparently at Byron’s request, Hobhouse pulled aside the clergyman set to marry them and begged that he might call it off on the grounds that the Milbanke’s didn’t really understand they were marrying their daughter to a man who harbored the potential for violence. The attempt did not work, and the clergyman said it was too late for such words. In fact, Byron had tried to wriggle out of the engagement before, but now as the day and hour approached, it would seem his apprehension grew into a near panic. When it seemed the efforts were hopeless, however, Byron apparently resigned himself.

He shared one last evening alone with his friend Hobhouse, stating the obvious in the most morose language: “This is our last night. Tomorrow I shall be Annabella’s.”

The next day would mark the beginning of Byron’s and Annabella’s marital nightmare.

To be continued…


MacCarthy, Fiona. Byron: Life and Legend. Farar, Straus and Giroux. New York: 2002

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Regency Films at Christmas: Pride and Prejudice

When I was twenty-three, I was blessed to live in England for a year. During that time, the BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice was in full-swing. People were going bonkers over the electric chemistry of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, played by Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Over twenty years later, this version remains a favorite of many P & P fans.

The mini-series was broadcast throughout the fall of 1995, and by Christmas many of my coworkers and friends were receiving the boxset as a gift. A friend gave me the full series, and during that winter I watched it over and over again, practically memorizing every word of every episode. That was also the first year I spent Christmas away from home and family. I suffered from homesickness and loneliness, and there was something soothing about the show and the familiarity and appeal of the characters. I never grew tired of watching it.

For the past five years or so, I've made a point of watching Pride and Prejudice around the Christmas season. It reminds me of that time in my life when I lived and worked in London and tried to absorb the English culture and way of life. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy remain two of my favorite literary characters, and Ehle's and Firth's portrayal of this couple is, in my opinion, unsurpassed by other film versions.

For those who have never read the book or seen the mini-series, this is a story about manners, morality, status, and the class structure in 19th century England. If you haven't read the book, I can only suggest reading it. If you haven't seen the 1995 mini-series, I believe you will be positively changed by doing so. (I know that sounds a bit melodramatic, but I can only tell you that Colin Firth emerging from Pemberley's lake in a wet and disheveled state will rock your world).

I won't waste space here summarizing the plot, but I will include a link to the first episode of the mini-series. Your Christmas will be merrier if you watch the entire series!

I wish a truly blessed and merry Christmas to you and yours and a very happy new year! 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Regency Films at Christmas: Emma

Emma was the first Jane Austen book I ever read. Although it's not my favorite Jane Austen novel, it maintains a special place in my heart because it introduced me to the Regency world and Mr. Knightley.

(By Chris Hammond (illustrator) - Houghton Library at Harvard University, Public Domain,

For those who don't know the story (and if you don't know it, then don't walk but run to the nearest bookstore, or computer with Internet, to procure a copy), Emma Woodhouse is a spoiled, proud, and beautiful young woman who has lived all of her life quite comfortably with her father in Highbury. She is overly confident in all of her abilities, most notably those which have to do with matchmaking and meddling in the lives of others. Although Emma has no desire to marry, she takes great pleasure in finding potential mates for all of her friends and acquaintances.

Mr. Knightley, a lifelong friend of the family whose brother is married to Emma's sister, is seventeen years older than Emma. He is a kind, compassionate, and highly principled man, and he enjoys correcting Emma in some of her erroneous assumptions and deeds. Emma sees him in the light of an older brother or cousin, and from the outset it looks as though he sees her as a younger sister, but when she is pursued by a couple of young men, Mr. Knightley is jealous. It takes longer for Emma to see Mr. Knightley in a romantic light, but the charm of the story stems from seeing her character's development and maturity. An eventual comeuppance turns Emma's heart toward Mr. Knightley's quiet benevolence and turns her eyes inward toward her own entitled and selfish motivations. The result is Emma's growth, change, and understanding.

There are several movie versions of this novel, but my favorite is the 2009 BBC mini-series starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. I especially love to watch it around this time of year (even though Emma spans through all seasons), for the wonderful scene at the Weston's Christmas party when Mr. Elton makes his feelings known to Emma, and all of the guests are aflutter at the prospect of being "snowed in" by the lightly falling flakes.

You can watch the whole episode below (from YouTube), but the scene I've mentioned begins around minute seventeen. I could watch this mini-series over and over again and never tire of it.

What movies or shows compel you to watch them over and over again?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Historical Christmas Films: The Amazing Mr. Blunden

Many of us watch and enjoy traditional Christmas movies around this time of year. It’s a Wonderful Life, The Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Christmas Story are just some of the classic movies broadcast every year on television and watched in our homes.

Although not necessarily Christmas-themed movies or miniseries, I have a number of historical pieces I make a point of watching every year during this season. Over the next few weeks, I will feature a few of them.

Even as a little girl I was an Anglophile. I attribute this to my grandfather’s adoration of Great Britain and of all things British. He used to watch BBC television shows and sometimes I would watch them with him.

One Christmas, when I was around five years old, a movie called The Amazing Mr. Blunden came on HBO. I must have watched it every time it was scheduled, for I memorized the entire thing. I loved it so much that recorded my own version of an audiobook of the movie. I carried my little tape recorder into the basement bathroom (for purpose of acoustics—it echoed in there) and performed all of the parts, using different voices and a pretty authentic English accent for a five-year-old Tennessee girl.

Based on The Ghosts, Antonia Barber’s novel, The Amazing Mr. Blunden was made in 1972 and stars Laurence Naismith as Mr. Blunden. Mr. Blunden is a mysterious and magical London solicitor. One Christmas he appears to a poor single mother and her two children (brother and sister, Jamie and Lucy) living in Camden Town and offers them a living situation in a vacant country mansion, if they will simply look after the place and clean it up a bit.

Once there, Jamie and Lucy encounter two young ghosts, brother and sister--Georgie and Sarah, who suggest something bad happened to cause their deaths. When Jamie and Lucy learn of a potion that will transport them back in time, they drink it and wake to find themselves in a different era, solving the mystery of what happened to young Sarah and Georgie and attempting to change history.

This is a family film—there’s nothing scary in it, despite the ghosts. It’s an atmospheric adventure story—a hero’s quest with a great message. And … well, it’s very English, so what’s not to like? By the way, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube!

What was your favorite Christmas film as a child?