cover image Lady Byron and Her Daughters

Lady Byron and Her Daughters

Julia Markus. Norton, $28.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-08268-5

Novelist and biographer Markus (Dared and Done: The Marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning) offers a spirited, scholarly defense of Lord Byron’s onetime wife, Annabella. Countering the condescending or insulting depictions of Lady Byron by her ex-husband’s biographers, this capacious account reveals a woman of “prodigious philanthropy” who founded England’s first infant school (for children between the ages of four and seven) and the Ealing School of Art, and espoused progressive ideas such as penal reform and the abolition of slavery. The book stretches from the lax morality of the Regency to the constraints of the Victorian era, and boasts an immense cast of characters. The family included Byron and Annabella’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, recognized today as the first computer programmer; Byron’s half-sister, Augusta, and her daughter, Medora (whom Byron may have fathered); and Claire Clairmont, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s stepsister and the mother of Byron’s daughter Allegra. Lady Byron’s wider milieu was populated by a Who’s Who of the period, including computer pioneer Charles Babbage and a heap of writers, among them Walter Scott, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. With this formidable biography, Markus restores a “misunderstood yet difficult woman of genius” from generations of derision and neglect. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Agency. (Oct.)