Friday, 18 February 2011

Mad, Bad and I Wish I'd Known This Earlier: Gillian Philip



This is my old school. Posh, eh? (Oh all right, it was a comprehensive by the time I went, but it looks very smart.)

And out front, that's its most famous alumnus, Lord Byron. I passed him every morning and afternoon for six years (except during holidays and illness) and sadly, never appreciated him. All I knew of the man was that extraordinary sheet that makes him look not unlike Sally Bercow, and the fact that he was responsible for one of the songs on my mother's Alexander Brothers LPs. (Dark Lochnagar. If you know anything of the Alexander Brothers, you'll know that's no way to get to know a poem.) Oh, and the fact that I didn't get to be in Byron House (bunch of jessies).

Why didn't they tell us? Why didn't they tell us he was a rake, a rogue, a soldier of fortune, probably bisexual and incestuous, and that he actually looked like THIS?



Nom. Anyway, if I'd known he was as interesting as THAT, I wouldn't have walked past him every day with a roll of my eyes and my nose in a Marvel comic.

Maybe nowadays the students get, to paraphrase Horrible Histories, literature with the babe-a-licious bits left in. I hope so. Anyway, I remembered the old stone bloke the other day when reading Leslie Wilson's terrific post about language and sex in young adult books. If he'd been around today, I'm sure the young scoundrel would have been a proud presence on many a banned books list.

Anyway, I wish I'd discovered Byron a lot earlier. I think I would have, if they'd left in the language and sex.

What's not to like?

www.gillianphilip.com

22 comments:

beccabrown said...

That made me chuckle!

As much as I loved history at school, there wasn't much FUN to it. I personally think history is (currently) better discovered outside of school where you can delve infinite gory bits of whatever period takes your fancy. Which is a shame because kids miss out on loads of stories (and yummy Romantic poets) that are brilliant because dry & dull history teaching puts them off.

kathryn evans said...

OH yes, there was a whole host of intrigue they neglected to tell us about - poets, drugs, incest and sexual excess...you'd think they'd designed the syllabus to keep our noses out....

michelle lovric said...

I've just finished your fantastic FIREBRAND, Gillian. So it seems greedy to get a post of yours to read too!

However, I have to say that there were other things about Byron that they didn't tell you - the emotional and physical abuse of his wife and his mistresses (of both sexes), the compulsive dieting (he measured his wrists each morning), the monstrous preening vanity, the miserable animals he kept locked up in a dark hall in Venice, the ordinary tradesmen bankrupted ...

Everyone can crucify me now ... but I'd never place him in the first rank of poets. For his actual work, he would be all but forgotten. So his celebrity lifestyle IS one of the main reasons why he's remembered.
The best thing about his writing remains his letters, but even they were written with an eye to publication, I'm sure.

catdownunder said...

Mmm...no, not Byron - but do you happen to have a handsome cat in a kilt up your way? :-)

Nicola Morgan said...

Catdownunder - I read that as "Do you happen to have a handsome cat up your kilt?"

Sorry.

Yes, Gillian, as you were saying.

catdownunder said...

Miaou! You would Nicola!

Gillian Philip said...

Michelle, thank you for liking Firebrand! I'm sure you're right - I bet he was ghastly in many ways, but even that would have intrigued us so much more than the staring-into-space-in-a-sheet thing. I'm kind of torn - in some ways I don't think the personal lives of writers are relevant (mine certainly wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny), but at the same time... finding out about them as human beings is so much more irresistible than deconstructing a sonnet. (Crikey I'm shallow!)

Actually I'm not being entirely fair to the alma mater, since I remember we did John Donne and he was good and racy. But that wasn't till we had the legendary Mr Hall in sixth year, by which time 70% of the class were probably already at it.

I do think Horrible Histories is the best thing to hit that subject in a long time :-)

Nicola, funny you should mention that...

Book Maven said...

What Michelle is much too modest to say, Gillian, is that she wrote a wonderful book, called Carnevale, in which Byron is a major character. It completely changed my view of him - and of Casanova.

And there's enough sex to satisfy even you (it's not a children's book).

I'm glad that Firebrand has acquired another fan too!

Gillian Philip said...

Oh Mary, I am ruined! *runs to Amazon* I must have that! The Book of Human Skin is already sitting in the appalling bookpile beside my bed!

*feels a Kindle coming on...*

Katherine Langrish said...

Oh, I love Byron's poetry! I really do... I read the whole of Don Juan, and it's so lively and so irreverent - and anyway, anyone who can write a couplet like:

"There's not a sea the passneger e'er pukes in
Turns up more dangerous breakers than the Euxine"

has my vote, especially when he can also write stuff like 'So we'll go no more a-roving..."

I agree, though - he was a dreadful poser and terribly conceited, and treated people very badly. But he was INTERESTING!

Two huge votes here, by the way, for Gillian's Firebrand and for Michele's books.

Farah Mendlesohn said...

Geoffrey Trease wrote a biography of Lord Byron in the 1970s specifically to enlighten teens. He only alludes to the bisexuality but manages to get everything else in. It's a real treat.

Savita Kalhan said...

Great post, Gillian, tho' Byron not up amongst my favourite poets. I have a good friend who is a History teacher in a secondary school, and his pupils love history and are doing really well simply because he brings history to life for them in the most novel ways, including setting scenes to music (kids bring their instruments in the teacher too - they compose the lyrics, write mini-dramas and act out scenes, lively discussions and debates! A great history teacher makes such a huge difference. Sadly I didn't have such a great teacher - mine read out copious notes and all we had to do was copy them down and learn them.
PS I loved Firebrand!

Leila said...

LOL - fantastic post, so funny. I have to say I've never been much of a fan of his poetry. His life rocked, though.

michelle lovric said...

Anyone who's got a cat up their kilt can come visiting me. Unlike Byron, a man with a cat up his kilt, would have to have some personal bravery as well as good taste.

blush, Mary!

As I loved and admired Firebrand so much, the next book on my list is your Bad Faith, Gillian, sitting on my bedside table, perhaps somewhat balefully.

Girl Friday said...

Ah, that brings back memories, I had a notebook with the middle picture on it at school, I had a crush on him and Rupert Brooke :)

I do remember history being dull - but not Roman history - that was full of violence & incest & conspiracies & madness & love & satire. No wonder I ended up studying Classics :)

Andrew Strong said...

You read Marvel comics? Wow! The X-Men widdle all over Byron.

Steve said...

'The X-Men widdle all over Byron.'

Actually, that was an unfounded rumour started by Lady Caroline Lamb.

Gillian Philip said...

Steve, LOL, as they say! Thanks for all the comments, chaps, and the kind remarks re Firebrand! Andrew, yes! The Chris Claremont-John Byrne years... when Cyclops was beautiful and Wolverine was a wee ned and Jean Gray was gorgeous and psychotic... that's how old I am... Sometimes I buy a copy or a graphic novel for old time's sake, but alas, there's just too much to catch up on.

Andrew Strong said...

Not forgetting the god of thunder himself: (I'm Thor!...Well stop swinging that big hammer around!)

Leslie Wilson said...

Must read Firebrand. I am reading Carnevale right now! And loved it from the first few words.
Thanks for the compliment to my blog, Gillian!!

lauren said...

I don't think schools deal in Byron any more, but about 18 months ago my Small Bint declared that if she couldn't marry Lord Byron she wouldn't be marrying anyone. (I suspect she thought she'd sort him out on the abuse front as she's hardly a willing victim.)

Book Maven said...

Haha! You are not Lauren! You are Anne and I claim my £5!

I wonder if SB still thinks that?

I was a Shelley girl myself and his record with women was not great.

Mary