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Memoir of Lord Byron’s mistress published

3:16 p.m., June 7, 2005--The University of Delaware is a center for studies of George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), holding Byron conferences and housing the Byron Society Collection in Memorial Hall. Most recently, the University of Delaware Press published Lord Byron’s Life in Italy by Teresa Guiccioli, his lover, mistress and close companion during his final years.

Previously available in the original or facsimile to only a handful of scholars, Lord Byron’s Life in Italy is an “extraordinarily important contribution to Byron studies,” according to Charles Robinson, professor of English. “The book provides another window on Byron’s life, and writings from Teresa Guiccioli’s perspective also give a firsthand account of Byron’s friends and contemporaries.”

A Byron scholar, who has written and lectured extensively about the poet, Robinson is executive director of the Byron Society of America and oversees the Byron Society Collection in Memorial Hall, which consists of nearly 5,000 volumes, pamphlets, statuary, portraits and other memorabilia related to the poet.

Lord Byron’s Life in Italy was translated by Michael Rees and edited by Peter Cochran, both Byron scholars who have visited the University of Delaware.

Robinson first met Rees in 1976 at an International Byron Conference in Missolonghi, Greece, where Byron died, and Rees also has visited the UD campus for a Byron conference. When Rees made the decision to enter a Cistercian monastery off the coast of Wales, he sent almost 50 cartons of his books on the poet to Delaware, where they became the nucleus of the Byron Society Collection.

A noted linguist and a graduate of Harrow and Cambridge, Rees began his translation of the manuscript from French to English in 1986.

Cochran, who edited the book, is a graduate of Cambridge University and received his doctorate from the University of Glasgow. He has published and lectured on Byron and is editor of the Newstead Abbey Byron Society Review.

“The University of Delaware Press, with some modest support from the Byron Society, did a splendid job of printing the 700-page book, which is a must for any Byron scholar,” Robinson said.

Teresa Guiccioli first met Byron when she was 21 in April 1819 and married to Cavaliere Alessandro Guiccioli, from whom she was later twice separated, and about whom his son wrote, "...everybody hates him." Guiccioli, much older than his third wife, encouraged Byron’s relationship with Teresa.

Byron became, Cochran writes in the book’s introduction, "Teresa’s ‘cavalier servente,’ a voluntary and unpaid gigolo, free not only to escort his lady...but free also to make love to her, in order to liberate her husband to make love to the lady whose ‘servente’ he was...."

Because of Byron’s political leanings and activities, Teresa, her father and brother were forced by political pressure to move from Ravenna to Pisa to Genoa as a result of their close relationship with Byron.

Twenty-three years after Byron’s death in 1824, a widowed Teresa married the Marquis de Boissy du Coudray, who frequently introduced her as Byron’s former mistress.

In her later years, Teresa believed that Byron’s reputation had been impugned, and it became her mission to refute the wrongs done to Byron’s reputation by writing her own memoir. According to Cochran, she probably completed her Life of Lord Byron in Italy in the 1860s, and she died in 1873 at the age of 75.

In the introduction to the book, Cochran writes that "It is Teresa’s assertion...that her relationship with Byron was pure and innocent, no one [believes] her now; and the hypocrisy in her book is often cited as its main flaw."

Cochran writes that Byron’s first real meeting with Teresa “was to affect the course of his remaining five years in the most radical way,” quoting an early letter to her in which he wrote, “You sometimes tell me I have been your first real love--and I assure you that you shall be my last Passion.”

The book portrays a different Byron from the profligate scoundrel of tradition--instead, aside from his political activism, he enjoyed a quiet life and worked at his poetry.
Cochran concludes that Teresa’s book is the “voice of intimate understanding, truth and love. The witness of Teresa Guiccioli is vital to our understanding of Byron and of his years in Italy, and the world has been deprived of it for far too long.”

Article by Sue Moncure

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