Apparently, every woman who ever had an affair with Lord George Gordon Byron kept notes (the boys, not so much). And they published books. And they were legion. What a reader can't help but wonder, after reading Edna O'Brien's "Byron in Love: A Short, Daring Life," is why.
Although O'Brien says, echoing her many amorous sources, that the man was irresistible, that, again and again, "as he did with everyone when he chose, Byron bewitched her," we simply have to take her (and their) word for it. Because the Byron who appears in O'Brien's book is hardly attractive -- amusing, yes, interesting, definitely -- but also simpering, pretentious, fickle and deluded.
In O'Brien, he has found an oddly ideal biographer, able to portray him with all his ample flaws and foibles and yet to convey a deep affection that, perhaps, captures his appeal. This is, in short, a peculiar life story. First, it is truly "in short" -- a brief history of Byron's life told mostly by way of his love affairs. And then, it is not really the whole story, but rather O'Brien's view of that story from afar -- amused, enchanted, ironic, sympathetic -- all rendered in a casual version of her lovely prose.
What's missing, of course, is Byron's poetry, without which there might still have been the Byronic Don Juan of anecdote, but not the Byron of history. He was, as O'Brien says, the first celebrity. And yet, the poetry that underpinned his fame is missing as much from this book as it is from the renown that remains to his name today.