Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday Thoughts on Reading

Today I'm a guest blogger on Pamela S. Thibodeaux's site, Pam's Wild Rose Blog.

Check out my "Thursday Thoughts" on reading here.

Suburban Dangers is available in paperback or e-book on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tuesday Treasures Guest Blog

Today I am over on fellow Pelican Book Group author Pamela Thibodeaux's blog with a guest post on the things I treasure.

Stop by and say hi!

Link to blog

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Blog Visit and a Giveaway of Suburban Dangers

Marianne Evans is hosting me and highlighting Suburban Dangers over on her blog, A Minute with Marianne.

I'm also offering a giveaway of an e-book of Suburban Dangers. Head over to her blog to enter. She will announce the winner Friday, May 26th.

Here is what people are saying about Suburban Dangers:

"This book is a page-turner that defies a reader’s ability to stop once the book is begun. Lee is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors for a good read." —Edie Melson, author and blogger

"Megan Whitson Lee has written a book that should be on the “must read” list for all teens, boys and girls, as well as their parents and grandparents."--Amazon Review

"A fast paced, eye opening, well written novel, depicting a problem that may be closer to home than you think. When you start it you will have a hard time putting it down!"--Amazon Review

Friday, April 28, 2017

Regency Respite

I will be off the map and not blogging for several weeks while I endeavor to finish book two in my Regency series. Book one, Dangerous to Know, is slated for release sometime in the fall--a novel loosely based on the marriage of Byron and Annabella Milbanke. Book two will pick up where the first leaves off, so I'm endeavoring to construct that story now.

I'm very excited about this series, and where it's going, so I hope to have more news about it in the near future.

In the meantime, my new release Suburban Dangers (not a Regency, but contemporary women's fiction addressing teen sex trafficking) comes out May 12. It is currently available for pre-order. Also, today it's being featured on Elaine Stock's blog, Everyone's Story. You can also enter a giveaway for my novel, Captives. Winners will be announced this evening.

Until next time...

Friday, April 21, 2017

Anne Bronte: The Realist

I've never read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Or Agnes Grey. I've read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights a million times, but nothing by the youngest Bronte sister. But I plan on rectifying the situation by putting both novels on my summer reading list. 

Anne Bronte was the youngest of the three and published her first novel, Agnes Grey, in 1847 at the same time her sisters published Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Over the years, neither of her books have received the same acclaim as either of her sisters, although later critics called her prose "perfect" and suggest that had she lived longer, she would have written a novel to surpass Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

(Anne Bronte, public domain)

All three of the girls were deeply affected by their brother Branwell's alcoholism. His slow death and degradation could not have been pretty. Long bouts of sickness followed him as well as debt and disgrace. When drunk (which was most of the time), he was demanding and abusive to his father and his sisters. The domestic violence of their household was no doubt the fodder for Anne's depiction of such matters in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Whereas Charlotte and Emily used their experiences with Branwell to spin more romanticized tales of wild love for a dark hero whose sins can and will be redeemed by the end of the story, Anne's view was much more realistic. Alcoholism was tragic, violence was ugly, and sometimes there were no happy endings. Charlotte Bronte's view was most likely tempered with a heavy helping of romanticism from her time in Brussels when she fell in love with a married man, and Emily may have drawn upon the notion that bad boys, like her brother, could be changed by love. 

Anne did not shy away from the stark and disturbing depiction of a woman shackled to a man in this state of degradation. Although The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a commercial success, many criticized its blunt description and graphic storytelling about such matters. To this, Anne replied,

"...when we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts–this whispering 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience."*

I agree. This is profound wisdom. Although many of us prefer to read the romanticized version of the Byronic hero in Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff, the idea of saving a man fallen so far from grace has led many a woman down a thorny garden path and left her trodden in the mud.

Have you ever read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall or Agnes Grey?

*Quote from A Celebration of Women Writer's biography on Anne Bronte by Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Friday, April 7, 2017

Charlotte Bronte's Marriage

In my blog last week on Emily Bronte, I wrote that Wuthering Heights is my favorite novel. This week, I'll add that Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre, runs a close second.

(public domain)

Over the years, I may have read Jane Eyre more than any other novel--many times for pleasure, others for high school English or college classes. I read it with the kind of joy that accompanies reading the elements of the genre--a house settled on the untamed moors; dark corridors; mysterious screams and cries in the night. And, of course, the surly, brooding hero, who finally succumbs to the love of the gentle, plain, and staid heroine.

Mr. Rochester and Jane are iconic figures of Romantic, gothic fiction. I find it fascinating that both Emily and Jane wrote novels containing such passion when their circumstances early on were so bleak, and neither of them ever found fulfillment in real-life romance. Emily died without marrying, and Charlotte entered into a marriage of mutual respect but without love.

(Charlotte Bronte, public domain)

In 1839, when Charlotte was twenty-three, the Reverend Nussey proposed marriage. She turned him down and told him she was not practical enough to be a clergyman's wife. Instead, she worked as a governess to help support her family. Within a few years, Charlotte would go on to publish Jane Eyre under the pen name Currer Bell and achieve great success. She would also lose all three of her siblings to death within a two-year period.

Charlotte’s father was a minister, and she was all too aware of the difficulties of being a minister's wife. But in 1852, she was courted by the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls, curate of Haworth, who had been in love with Charlotte for some time. Charlotte would have been thirty-six years old--a spinster. At that age, any prospects at all could have been intriguing. However, her father vehemently opposed the marriage, partially due to Nicholls's poor financial state. Charlotte was not completely convinced of her regard for the clergyman either, pronouncing him conventional and stiff. However, later, when she rejected him, she was impressed with his overwhelming show of emotion (he nearly collapsed). Apparently, this suggested that Nicholls was capable of some great feeling. Afterwards, Nicholls left Haworth for many months.

No doubt this gave her time to review her reasons behind rejecting him, as well as the possibility that he might be her last opportunity. Charlotte's close friend, Elizabeth Gaskell, reminded her that marriage was profitable for women as it provided them with structure and clear duties. In this interim, Charlotte's novel Villette was published, a story based upon her own experiences and failed romance while teaching at a boarding school in Brussels. 

In 1854, Charlotte's father softened his view of Nicholls, and she accepted the clergyman's proposal. Her father initially agreed to be part of her wedding but at the last minute felt he could not, and Charlotte walked to the church alone. Although it seems Nicholls was a kind and good husband, Charlotte's letters during this period suggest her shock and bewilderment at finding herself in this new situation. She described becoming a wife as both "strange" and "perilous." As it turns out, perilous was the right choice of words, as a year later, Charlotte became pregnant, contracted a terrible illness, and died. Her death certificate shows tuberculosis as the cause, but it seems that was not the case. Scholars now believe she suffered from severe morning sickness, which brought on dehydration. She was just weeks from her thirty-ninth birthday.

Most accounts suggest that Charlotte respected Nicholls but did not love him. Marriage did not live up to her romantic expectations or the raw passion of her marvelous novels. It would seem Mr. Rochester remained an elusive ideal (as he does for so many today). Some scholars even suggest that in the end, Charlotte subconsciously willed and allowed her own death. 

Have you read Jane Eyre lately? 

For more information on Charlotte Bronte:

Friday, March 31, 2017

Who was Emily Bronte?

My favorite novel is Wuthering Heights. I first read it when I was around eleven years old and was immediately drawn to the rugged landscape, the bleak tone, the unfulfilled longing that cried out from the pages.

Masterpiece’s To Walk Invisible, a two-hour film based on the three Bronte sisters, aired last Sunday night, and in my opinion, it was extremely well done. Raw, honest, and surprising, the movie affords a stark look at these women who produced such monstrous works of literature under male pen names.

Even though Wuthering Heights has always been my favorite novel, I confess to know very little about its author (other than the fact that she wrote under the name of Ellis Bell and never married). Obviously, Emily Bronte loved the character of Heathcliff. Much like the character of Catherine, despite Heathcliff’s darkness and evil doings, Emily saw past the posturing and understood he was a tortured soul who had been deeply wounded. Some scholars believe he may have been fashioned after her troubled, severely alcoholic brother, Branwell. Or perhaps his character represented one side of a romanticized battle between the suitable, socially appropriate gentleman—like Linton—and the wild, rake of a man who was Heathcliff.

Perhaps Heathcliff represented the internal struggle—a tug of war of between what was and what could be. The movie suggests Heathcliff was born of a story she overheard from someone else, but I suspect it was more than that.

So who was Emily Bronte?

(Emily Bronte/public domain)

Her sister, Charlotte Bronte, described her in this way: “Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone.”

(Emily's dog, Grasper)

Her life was short (she died at thirty due to tuberculosis) and most of it she spent at home in her father’s parsonage in Yorkshire. When she attended school abroad with Charlotte, she was terribly homesick and longed for the moors. Reserved, shy, and stubborn to a fault, Emily was uncomfortable around people, and she was often found in the company of animals (and in her imaginary world of Gondal, created by the Brontes when they were children).

It was not easy living in the Yorkshire moors, and the Brontes were not well-off. Economics were certainly one reason for the girls seeking publication. Their house was in constant upheaval due to their brother’s alcohol and drug addiction. Emily was known to exhibit anorexic symptoms during times of extreme stress. Much like Catherine in Wuthering Heights, she would refuse to eat for days. Biographer Katherine Frank suggested that Emily spent much of her life in a state of psychological hunger in her biography, A Chainless Soul. “Even more importantly, how was this physical hunger related to a more pervasive hunger in her life–hunger for power and experience, for love and happiness, fame and fortune and fulfillment?”

It is interesting to note that Emily Bronte left behind virtually no correspondence except for two letters and a lot of raw, passionate poetry, which is extraordinarily good. Here is an excerpt from "Oh, Thy Bright Eyes Must Answer Now."

So, with a ready heart, I swore
To seek their altar-stone no more;
And gave my spirit to adore
Thee, ever-present, phantom thing
My slave, my comrade, and my king.

A slave, because I rule thee still;
Incline thee to my changeful will,
And make thy influence good or ill:
A comrade, for by day and night
Thou art my intimate delight,

My darling pain that wounds and sears,
And wrings a blessing out from tears
By deadening me to earthly cares;
And yet, a king, though Prudence well
Have taught thy subject to rebel.

And am I wrong to worship where
Faith cannot doubt, nor hope despair,
Since my own soul can grant my prayer?
Speak, God of visions, plead for me,
And tell why I have chosen thee!

The rest of Emily Bronte’s life has been pieced together through others' comments about her.

I highly recommend watching To Walk Invisible. If you didn’t catch it on Sunday, you can still watch it on Masterpiece’s website.

Have you ever read Wuthering Heights? If so, what is your opinion of the novel?

More good info on Emily Bronte found here:
Emily Bronte

Friday, March 24, 2017

Juvenile Crime in the Regency

Charles Dickens’s classic novel, Oliver Twist, offers up a glimpse of the hard-knock world of England’s nineteenth century. Workhouses and orphanages were a fact of life for unfortunate children who had nowhere else to go and no one to care for them. Poverty and severe neglect sent these children into the streets. Like the character of Jack Dawkins, many turned to crime and pick-pocketing to survive. In the cities, some of these boys and girls were motivated and led by adult Fagin-types who showed them how, when, and from whom to steal. In the countryside, wayward children sometimes roved in bands and were involved in highway thievery and looting.

public domain

Unlike today, children were considered accountable for their crimes (and worthy of capital punishment) by the age of seven. Punishment could be severe. Technically, children could be executed for any number of infractions. Records from Newgate Prison suggest children’s death sentences were often commuted to lesser punishments (many were sent to Botany Bay in Australia); obviously, most people did not like to see children hanged. Nevertheless, execution for brutal crimes was not unusual.

In 1629, John Dean was convicted of arson with malice aforethought and was hanged. He was thought to be around eight or nine. In the nineteenth century, however, records show most children executed were between the ages of sixteen and nineteen. By the 1830s, execution of children was rare, and as the public changed their thoughts about capital punishment in general, public executions greatly diminished.

It is interesting to note that many girls were hanged as well. The last girl hanged in the nineteenth century was in 1849. Sarah Harriet Thomas was eighteen when she was hanged for the murder of her mistress. It was recorded that she was so distraught and hysterical as she stood before the gallows that even her executioner was unnerved by the end of it.

For more information on this topic:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Would you like a little poison in your beer?

It's St. Patrick's Day, and all day long pubs will be serving up green beer for the occasion. The idea of adding green food coloring to a beverage always put me off. Doesn't the food coloring taint the beer? But a little green food coloring is nothing compared to the disturbing face I learned a few years ago, when my hubby and I toured a microbrewery in South Carolina. The guide shared with us that some beers contain propylene glycol--the same ingredient used in anti-freeze! I've never been much of a beer drinker, but that was enough to put me off beer forever. However, before I sound off on the modern food and beverage industry and their attempts to poison the masses, I must address a similarly disturbing additive often found within the beer served in Regency taverns and public houses... Read on to find out.

In celebration of St. Paddy's Day, here are nine fun facts about one of the world's favorite beverages and its use (and abuse) during the Regency.

1. Those who drank beer, wine, or other spirits lived longer lives. This was mostly due to the contaminants in the water. People often threw garbage, spoils, and fecal matter out into the streets. As a result, bacteria infected the run-off streams and rivers. Those who could afford it drank beverages that had gone through the fermenting process, which took care of nearly all bacteria.

2. During the Regency, ale contained a much lower alcohol content (less than 1%) and it was consumed at most every meal. It was not unusual to have beer with breakfast.

3. Hops was used as a preservative and had the added benefit of acting as antibacterial (not to be confused with antibiotic purposes. Beer didn't work very well for medicinal purposes).

4. Beer was often used as a meal replacement as it contained many calories, vitamins, and nutrients.  

5. Even children drank a sort of beer called "small beer." This beverage went through several fermentation processes and contained just a little bit of alcohol.

6.  Because of the heavy hops use, certain types of beer had a bitter flavor and came to be known as "bitters." This was one of the most popular kinds of beer in public houses.

7. Beer was heavily taxed to help pay for the war with France. Much of the burden fell upon the tavern owners, who were left with the quandary of demand exceeding their stock. In order to make the beer go further, they often added a mixture of strychnine and water. They had no idea that strychnine was poisonous; it was only later when doctors began seeing an inordinate amount of patients with strychnine poisoning, that this practice came to light.

8. Most of the well-to-do classes did not go to public houses and therefore did not manifest strychnine poisoning symptoms. They brewed their own ale, stout, and porter and stored them on their property.

9. Some men were said to have preferred the taste of beer laced with strychnine, and after the use of the chemical fell out of practice in the late 1800s, many men actually requested strychnine-laced beer.

Anti-freeze or Strychnine? Which would you prefer? 

Sources and more information on this subject:
"Drinking Tea, Wine, and Other Spirits in Jane Austen's Day"
"When Beer was Poisoned"
"A Flask of Regency Liquor"

Thursday, March 2, 2017

For Love and Honor

Okay, so it's not exactly Regency. Actually, it's medieval historical fiction...and it is fantastic.

For Love and Honor, Jody Hedlund's newest novel, will release next week on March 7th. I was truly blessed to win an advance review copy in a giveaway, and I am thrilled to feature the novel here today.

Jody writes inspirational and romantic historical fiction and has penned the love stories of Martin Luther and Katharina (Luther and Katharina) and John Newton and Polly (Newton and Polly). For Love and Honor is part of her YA historical romance series.

Set in 1391 England, the story follows the courtship of seventeen-year-old Lady Sabine and twenty-year-old Sir Bennet. Lady Sabine and her grandmother visit Maidstone Castle with the intention of purchasing art. On the way there, she and her grandmother are accosted by highway robbers. In order to scare the bandits, Sabine reveals a secret about herself: she harbors a birthmark--a red blemish on her forearm. She suggests that this might mean she's a witch. The robbers flee. Once at Maidstone, Lady Sabine meets the young, handsome Sir Bennet.

Threatened with his family's impending financial ruin, Sir Bennet has been told he must marry for money, as neighboring lords seek to attack his family in order to satisfy their debts. But Sir Bennet despises the notion of marrying a woman for her wealth. Nevertheless, when he meets Lady Sabine, he likes her for who she is, not her money.

Eventually, Lady Sabine falls for Sir Bennet and he for her. Meanwhile, word of her birthmark has spread to those who would do harm to Sir Bennet's family. Lady Sabine is accused of being a witch, placing the couple in a dangerous, life-threatening dilemma. Will Sir Bennet be able to save his love before she is burned at the stake? Will trust and love win out over secrets and darkness? The ending of For Love and Honor is fast-paced and very suspenseful, with just the right mix of medieval battle and romance.

Although the novel is marketed toward teenagers, adults will enjoy it as well. It is not heavy on history by any means and focuses mostly on the budding romance between Sabine and Bennet. With the popularity of the CW's teen-targeted show Reign, medieval and Elizabethan romances will most likely surface with some regularity in the book world. Put in the right context, this time period can be very romantic, indeed. I was always a fan of Sharon Kay Penman's Here Be Dragon series for that very reason. I look forward to reading more of Jody Hedlund's historical fiction, including the remainder of the YA series.

You can pre-order For Love and Honor HERE and check out Jody's website and her complete selection of books HERE.

What good books have you read lately?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: The Bitter End

This is the last installment of the Lord Byron marriage saga. If you want to catch up on previous "episodes" starting with the first one, click HERE.

Annabella left 13 Piccadilly Square for good on January 15, 1816. Arguably, this was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do. Later, she would later write that as she left that morning, it took every ounce of strength not to crumple at the foot of his door, where his dog normally lay, in the hopes they could start again.

As happens with so many couples in the midst of a split, the games now turned to finger pointing, accusations, and dismay. Byron’s already crumbling world virtually disintegrated.

Once Annabella and the newborn, Ada, were under her parents’ roof, all masks of deception she had worn during the one-year course of her marriage came off. With judicial precision, Annabella’s parents questioned her. They would know the true nature of her marriage with a man they had come to despise. There was to be no forgiveness, no negotiations, no reconciliation.

Byron: Public Domain

Annabella’s heart was in turmoil. In the beginning, she wrote letters to Byron that suggested her love for him was still strong. She was casual and offered nothing but news from home, signing her letters, “Ever thy most loving Pippin…Pip…Pip.” (Pip was Byron’s pet name for Annabella). Even so, once her mother had caught wind of some of Byron’s behavior, all control of the situation moved out of Annabella's hands. On January 20th, Annabella’s mother, Lady Noel, set out for London determined to bring about a separation.
In the early days of this legal battle, letters circulated back and forth amongst Annabella, Byron, and Augusta, and finally between Lord Milbanke, Byron, and lawyers. Augusta was every bit as anxious as Byron to somehow stop the separation and wrote to Annabella that she please reconsider for Byron’s sake and for the sake of their child. Already rumors were flying, ones that involved Augusta as well as some involving Byron’s time in Greece several years before. "I was accused of every monstrous vice by public rumour and private rancor." Byron claimed complete innocence and bemusement at the charges leveled against him. He had no recollection of treating his wife poorly, and he roundly denounced any suggestion of incest between himself and his half-sister.

By February, it was obvious to Augusta and Byron, that they would not persuade Annabella to return to him. Byron reported that her parents had turned her against him. By now, the separation proceedings had taken on a life of their own. Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Byron’s lovers and a cousin by marriage to Annabella, heaped fuel on the fire with her revelation that years before, Byron had told her of his love for a woman who carried his child: “…there is a woman I love so passionately—she is with child by me, and if a daughter it shall be called Medora.” Medora was the name of Augusta’s daughter, but it should be mentioned that these words came through Caroline (and she was hardly a reliable witness).

The time of social worship ended for Byron during the spring of 1816. He was publicly cut. None of the old invitations came his way, and when he did appear in public, he was shunned. All public support moved to Annabella’s court.

Lady Byron: Public Domain

In the end, Lord Byron and Annabella were legally separated by divortium a mensa et thoro. Literally, this Latin phrase means separation from table and bed. This process was used in the case of cruel and violent treatment or adultery on either side. All financial ties were released from either party and remarriage was never allowed.

 Byron’s reputation now ruined, he left England in the spring of that year to live abroad. He never returned to England. With his usual flair for dramatics, Byron would later write,

“I was unfit for England; if false, England was unfit for me. I withdrew; but this was not enough. In other countries—in Switzerland, in the shadow of the Alps, and by the blue depths of the lakes—I was pursued and breathed upon by the same blight. I crossed the mountains, but it was the same; so I went a little farther, and settled myself by the waves of the Adriatic, like a stag at bay, who betakes him to the waters.”

As for Annabella, who went on to live a full life with many philanthropic endeavors, she was once asked by a friend how she had managed to survive her year of marriage to such a man. Annabella responded:

“I felt a responsibility for him as well as myself, and when my own interpretation of the natural law was clouded by my feelings, I referred to the Revealed will—in this sense, J[esus] Christ may indeed be said to have been my Saviour—I found in his precepts that ‘immutable morality’ which the reason of man is often incapable of discerning.”

Faith had always been Annabella’s cornerstone as much as self-damnation had been Byron’s. The inequality of their moral and spiritual philosophies may well have been the defeat of their marriage, as it has been for many others since.

Thanks for reading this exploration of the year of marriage between Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke. 

My first Regency novel, Dangerous to Know, a story inspired by their marriage, is slated to be released sometime this fall through Elk Lake Publishing.


Crane, David. The Kindness of Sisters: Annabella Milbanke and the Destruction of the Byrons. Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2002.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: Rage or Insanity?

Throughout January and February, I've been writing about Lord Byron's marriage to Annabella Milbanke. This is the next-to-the-last installment.

In October or November of 1815, just a few weeks before Annabella gave birth to their child, Byron took a lover. Her name was Susan Boyce, a hot-headed actress from Drury Lane Theatre, more noted for the girl-fights she started rather than any roles she played. By this point, Byron was severely depressed and drinking night and day. In fact, Susan Boyce enjoyed much of the same behavior that Byron had bestowed upon his wife. She would wait up for him, only to find that he didn't show, with no apology or excuse. He soon tired of her and got rid of her altogether when she asked him for money. She was inconsequential to Byron's life but served as a tool of torment for Annabella.

Whether or not some of the things he told her were true, Annabella believed them. Byron told her that he gave Susan Boyce jewelry, expensive gifts of his affection. When he arrived home late, he told his wife that he'd just come from his mistress's bed. Annabella was not allowed to sit in Byron's box seats at the theatre, lest he desire to attend with Susan. Finally, he encouraged her to relay all of the sordid details of his affair to his half-sister, Augusta--undoubtedly, the real target for his cruel arrows of psychological torture.

Even in light of all Byron's ridiculous behavior outside of his home, it was inside the walls of 13 Piccadilly Terrace where the most bizarre goings-on took place. Despite all that had previously transpired between the trio, as Annabella's confinement approached, she requested Augusta's presence. Annabella could not ask her mother to come. If Lady Noel were to see her son-in-law's behavior toward her daughter and soon-to-be grandchild, it would have killed her.

Augusta arrived to find Byron in a drunken rage, the servants hiding in fright, and Annabella barricaded in her room. Byron suggested that both Annabella and the baby should die during childbirth--it would be better for them all. Then he took to firing off his pistols...inside the house...just below Annabella's rooms. He also smashed furniture and anything glass (he was notably fond of removing the necks of brandy decanters with a poker stick). Augusta realized very quickly that this was far more than she could handle on her own. She summoned other relatives to come and help get him under control.

Both Augusta and Annabella questioned Byron's sanity. When Augusta confronted him regarding his tantrums, Byron responded, "I am determined to fling Misery around me & upon all those with whom I concerned." Byron went on to tell several of his friends that he must separate from Annabella--she and the child must go and live with her parents--else he might divorce her or worse.

Annabella's labor began on December 9th and with it, Byron's mind games. According to Annabella's maid, Byron locked himself in her rooms and attempted to rape her. The maid came in during the physical struggle and intervened. When a friend of the family suggested Annabella leave the house to have the baby, Byron heard of the plan, and immediately confronted his wife, violently demanding whether or not she would continue to live with him. Ultimately, Annabella decided to stay and Byron spent the evening at the theatre.

Annabella's daughter, Augusta Ada, was born December 10th at one o'clock in the afternoon. She was named after her godmother and a family member on her father's side. During her life she would be called Ada, and she would go on to become a mathematician who would help Charles Babbage create the analytical engine (one of the first computers). When Byron first saw his daughter, he immediately checked her feet to make sure they did not share his deformity, and then he allegedly pronounced, "Oh! What an implement of torture I have acquired in you!" 

(Ada Byron, aged 4. Public Domain)

Later, Byron would deny all of these accusations. Whether it truly was a season of madness or just the rage of losing control over his life, it is hard to say. Annabella requested that he be examined by a doctor for signs of insanity, but she didn't stick around to find out the verdict. After a violent exchange with her husband on January 3rd, Annabella made plans to leave London...and Byron.

Next Week: The Bitter End

Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Alfred A. Knopf. New York, 1999.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: Money Miseries

During the month of February, I am writing about Lord Byron’s marriage to Annabella Milbanke.

(public domain via Wikipedia Commons)

In the summer of 1815, following the departure of Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and despite Annabella’s progressing pregnancy, Byron sank into another depression. He was drinking heavily and not producing poetry. When invited to join the Sub-Management Committee of Drury Lane Theatre, he was delighted.

Byron had always been passionate about the theater and this opportunity offered him a reprieve from what he now saw as his sentence to a life of domesticity. Unfortunately, this opportunity also allowed him a return to his old ways of scouting new flesh with which to amuse himself. As he told Annabella one evening, torturing her with his barely veiled threats to choose one of the actresses from Drury Lane, “I am looking out to see who will suit me best.”

There was no doubt that any affection he’d once held for Annabella was waning fast. Perhaps familiarity had given birth to contempt (before Byron took on this position at Drury Lane, the couple was rarely ever apart). Perhaps too much time was spent in his half-sister Augusta’s company, encouraging his long-held and highly inappropriate attraction for her instead of his wife. Most likely, the passing months of their marriage had served only to solidify the truth of their unequally yoked state. Annabella, serious, sincere, and desperate to attain the love of her husband, could not comprehend Byron's self-indulgence and lack of emotional discipline.   

Byron had attempted to sell his childhood home, Newstead Abbey, in the hopes of paying off some of his many debts. Previous attempts to sell the place had fallen through and when it was put it up for auction in July of 1815, it failed to meet the reserve. At this time, Byron constructed his final will—most of his estate would be left to his half-sister, Augusta.

Always willing to see people in their best light, Annabella did not view this as a mean-spirited decision. She chose to believe that this signified Byron’s generosity, as his half-sister’s finances were worse than their own.

During that summer, Byron embarked on a journey to Six Mile Bottom to help the Leighs sort out their financial ruin. He left in a foul temper, and Lady Byron later told her maid that she feared, “she would never see him again and that he was going abroad.” Letters passed between Annabella and Augusta, in which Augusta expressed concern that her husband, Colonel Leigh, might try to extract money from Byron. In the end, it was not Colonel Leigh who requested the money, but Augusta herself who accepted some seven hundred pounds from Byron.

Annabella frantically attempted to stave off creditors. She educated herself on financial matters, including mortgages and lenders and how to raise money. Her parents had tried to help. They had sold property and attempted to finagle extra funds through collateral and complex money-lending plans. Annabella knew it was only a matter of time before the bailiffs came knocking. “For positively, the Execution cannot be suspended beyond the 6th of November,” she wrote to her parents. “Do you know of any means by which a week could be gained?”

In the fall, Annabella approached her confinement, and Byron expressed a wish to have all financial matters settled before the birth of their child. He did not want the bailiffs in the house as Annabella gave birth. Nevertheless, on November 8, the bailiffs arrived with the intent to execute the sale of any and all valuables in order to satisfy the debt.

Byron was mortified. He had known this was coming, but now that it was here the humiliation was more than he could bear. Annabella later wrote to Augusta, “…he seems to regard [this subject] as if no mortal had ever experienced anything so shocking.” Even so, Byron still refused to take any money for his poetry. It was his publisher who finally sent Byron fifteen hundred pounds in order to save his library from seizure.

Next week: Preparing for the Final Descent

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: Locked to a Lord for Life

Throughout the month of January and February, I'm writing about Lord Byron's marriage to Annabella Milbanke. You can catch up on the other installments, starting HERE.

Once Lord and Lady Byron left Augusta Leigh's home at the end of March 1815, some of Byron's anxiety decreased. For a few short weeks, the newlyweds were able to settle in to their lives at 13 Piccadilly Terrace in London. But as was usual with Byron, the peace did not last.

Their finances were bad. Byron had debts in excess of thirty thousand pounds and no way to settle them. Their house at Piccadilly Terrace was large and required substantial staff; the rent was seven hundred pounds a year; they require a coach and coachmen. To live in the expected manner of the nobility was an expensive task. Byron's poetry might have been lucrative enough to pay for many of these niceties, but as a gentleman, Byron refused all monetary profits from his work.

The ton was all aflutter to see the new couple. Had Lady Byron managed to tame her wild lord, or was he as unruly as ever? Invitations poured in from all corners of Society. The Byrons were in demand for parties and dining engagements. No one at these events ever reported Byron's behavior as anything but gentlemanly and attentive to Annabella. Possibly he was settling into his new life, learning to accept it along with his husbandly role. Or perhaps he was on his best behavior because he knew people were watching... 

Another turn of the screw came with the discovery of Annabella's pregnancy. Byron was in two minds on this. On the one hand, he would have an heir; on the other hand, it was another mouth to feed. Byron wrote to his friend that he was "not particularly anxious" to have a child. Even so, reports of his affectionate concern and treatment of Annabella during this time reveal a more tender-hearted Byron, perhaps a man growing fond of the idea of fatherhood.

Not two weeks after the Byrons had moved into their new home, on April 12, Augusta Leigh arrived. Augusta had been appointed as one of Queen Charlotte's ladies-in-waiting. Consequently, Annabella had invited her to stay with them in Piccadilly Terrace while she sorted out and furnished rooms of her own at St. James's Palace. Perhaps Annabella wished to attempt a deeper relationship with her sister-in-law, to win her over to her side of the battle. Annabella would later write, "It was hopeless to keep them apart. It was not hopeless, in my opinion, to keep them innocent."

Annabella's intentions may have been pure, but the results were predictable. Augusta's visit produced the same sort distress within Lord Byron as when they had visited her at Six Mile Bottom. It was not long after her arrival that Byron told his wife, "You were a fool to let her come--You will find it will make a good deal of difference to you in all ways." No doubt Annabella had hoped for a different outcome for their marriage once they were settled in London and she was carrying his child, but she was again disappointed when Byron and Augusta took up exactly where they'd left off at Six Mile Bottom. Now, with the money woes as an additional stress, Byron taunted Annabella about her uncle's refusal to die and pass on the promised inheritance, as well as her father's promised marriage settlement of twenty thousand pounds, which had yet to be received.

Augusta's stay at Piccadilly Terrace stretched into a month, and then another. Although there were moments when her presence helped to buffer Byron's black moods, and she faithfully defended Annabella whenever he chose to treat her poorly, the late nights when Augusta and Byron sat up talking, laughing, and who knew what else, drove Annabella mad. One time in particular, Annabella wrote that "the thought of the dagger lying in the next room ... crossed my mind--I wished it in her heart." Obviously, a breaking point had been reached.

In June, Annabella finally sent Augusta packing. Again, there was the briefest of respites from Byron's black moods.

Was Byron prone to violent mood swings? Most likely, he was. By his own account, he was cursed and doomed, marred with the mark of Cain in the form of his lame leg. But did Annabella embellish these tales in any way? Some scholars say this, too, is a distinct probability. Much of what we hear about the horrors of their marriage come from Annabella's letters and legal statements from years later. Is it possible she had a different recollection of the way things unfolded?

In August of the year of their marriage, the Byrons received a young visitor from Boston, a Mr. George Ticknor, who came to meet and "worship at the shrine" of Byron. He was very surprised, however, to find that Byron was not at all the man he expected, nothing like the "the characters of his own Childe Harold & Giaour...either of his early follies or his present eccentricities." Instead, the visitor described Byron as "gentle...natural and unaffected." He went on to say that Byron was modest about his own works, but talked "of his rivals, or rather contemporaries, with justice, generosity, and discriminating praise."

Perhaps the most interesting observation made by Ticknor was in regard to Annabella. Byron, he said, acted in an "affectionate manner" with his wife. Once, he observed, as she prepared to depart for an outing, Byron "followed her to the door, and shook hands with her, as if he were not to see her for a month."

Byron could not have been wholly wicked to his wife all of the time, but a selfish and self-destructive streak in the poet drove him to discontent and a propensity toward behavior that split the couple apart. Perhaps if Byron had married another woman or if Annabella had married another man, they would have had the opportunity for happiness. But opposites attract. The unequal insist on being yoked. But fire and ice cannot coexist, and ultimately, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Next week: Debt and Desperation

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

Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Alfred A. Knopf. New York: 1999.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: The Love Triangle

During the month of January, I am writing installments regarding the marriage of Lord Byron to Annabella Milbanke in January of 1815. This was a marriage equal in status, but woefully unequal in all other respects.

After a miserable first honeymoon week at Halnaby House in Yorkshire, Byron and Annabella settled into a reasonably happy time around or after January 7. On that date, Byron wrote to his friend and confidante, Lady Melbourne: "Bell and I go on extremely well so far without any other company than our own selves as yet." To others he wrote, "I have great hopes this match will turn out well--I have found nothing as yet that I could wish changed for the better--but Time does wonders--so I won't be too hasty in my happiness."

In fact, the peaceful and happy weeks of their remaining honeymoon were predictably interrupted by Byron's constant mentions of his half-sister, Augusta. Even so, he did not write to "Guss" after they left Halnaby. Lord and Lady Byron traveled once more to visit Annabella's parents in Seaham, where they stayed for three pleasant weeks. This time, it was Augusta who wrote to Annabella and scolded Byron for his silence. "Poor dear B! He must have So many occupations, walking, dining, playing at Drafts with 'Mama' &c. &c. &c. & no time to scribble to 'Guss.' I am vain enough to think he does not forget her--& so--never mind."

Most likely feeling the pressure to show how happy they were (and to stake her claim), Annabella returned Augusta's note and hinted that she and Byron were spending much time enjoying the physical benefits of marriage. Augusta replied simply, "I am glad B's spirits do not decrease with the Moon. I rather suspect he rejoices at the discovery of your 'ruling passion' for mischief in private."

Having never met Augusta in person, Annabella's freely offered information about bedroom matters must be seen as an attempt to draw boundaries. He is mine, not yours. It seems clear that she suspected something untoward may have passed between her husband and her new sister-in-law at some point and was eager to let it be known that such behavior would not be repeated, if she could help it.

Augusta Byron (1783-1851), later The Honourable Augusta Leigh, was the half-sister of Lord Byron. Public Domain.

Within a few weeks, Augusta countered with an invitation to her home at Six Mile Bottom. Her husband, Colonel Leigh, would not be at home for a time, and on March 9, the couple ended their honeymoon and headed south.

Arguably, this interlude between Halnaby, Seaham, and their eventual home in London, was a terrible mistake. If Byron had managed to avoid seeing Augusta for a little while longer, the couple's marriage might have stood a chance. But in Annabella's mind, the worst was over. She was learning how to deal with Byron, to make light of his comments that she would be better off alone. In fact, during one rare moment of ease, Byron said to Annabella, "You married me to make me happy, didn't you? Well, then, you do make me happy."

The black violence had passed, and Byron seemed content. "He was not content if I was away from him except on the black days when he would shut himself up in frenzied gloom." Presumably, Annabella took comfort in this and the idea of better days to come. Sadly for her, these were some of the better days of her marriage.

As the carriage pulled into Six Mile Bottom, Byron at first insisted upon meeting his sister alone and darted headlong into the house. When Annabella joined him, he was upset, nearly frantic. Augusta was not there to greet them. A few moments later, Augusta did appear and greeted Annabella guardedly. Annabella was disappointed. How could she not be? After the enthusiastic and intimate letters the two women had shared over the past two months, she was now to be greeted with such stiff regard. Even so, brother and sister warmly clasped one another, and Annabella left them for a time, knowing they had much catching up to do. At least, that was what she told herself. In truth, she couldn't have stayed another moment. She couldn't have watched their connection and heartfelt emotion. It would have broken her heart.

Later that night, Annabella lay in bed above the room in which her husband and his half-sister laughed and talked until all hours. And every evening thereafter, Annabella had to endure the subtle suggestions that she leave them and go to bed. And then there were the blatant taunts from Byron: "We can amuse ourselves without you, my charmer."

Annabella was deeply hurt and confused. "He never spent a moment with me that could be avoided, & even got up early in the morning (contrary to his general habit) to leave me and to go to her."

The bliss of Halnaby and Seaham was all but forgotten.

Next Week: Locked to a Lord for Life

Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Alfred A. Knopf. New York: 1999.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: The First Week

This month I'm blogging about Lord Byron's marriage to Annabella Milbanke. They were married January 2, 1815--opposite types brought together by status and Society and doomed from the start. Annabella was devout in her faith and sheltered from the world for most of her life; Byron was worldly-wise--so much so that he considered himself cursed.

The morning after their wedding, Annabella awoke with what she described as "perhaps the deadliest chill that ever fell on my heart." Even now, no doubt, she wondered if she had made a terrible mistake. He had, after all, spent the majority of their wedding day telling her she should have married someone else. The second day was no different.

"It's too late now ... it's s done ... it cannot be undone." Byron repeatedly chanted these lines over the first weeks of their marriage. "I am a villain--I could convince you of it in three words." These words were coupled by his insistence that his family on both sides (the Gordons and the Byrons) were defiled by insanity and suicides. He punctuated this insistence a few weeks later by spurring on an argument regarding some material Annabella had read, grabbing a dagger that was left on display, and rushing into his bedroom where he locked himself in.

In fact, the material that caused such a ruckus was John Dryden's eighteenth century play, Don Sebastien. The story features an incestuous relationship between a brother and a sister who do not realize they are related. Byron had already planted seeds of doubt regarding his relationship with his half-sister, Augusta. He had read some of Augusta's letters aloud to Annabella, making sure she heard his half-sister's lines of endearment for him such as, "Dearest, first and best of human beings." He had also made it clear that no one loved, understood, or entertained him as well as Augusta.

Desperate for help, Annabella wrote to Augusta on the fourth of January and asked her to join them on their honeymoon. It seems illogical, to invite the very person of whom she was suspicious, but one might imagine that at this time, she was only beginning to connect the dots. Most likely Annabella had more questions than anything, and in fact, within that first letter, she sent a list of them to Augusta. One of the questions was whether or not Augusta would be her friend--perhaps her "only friend."

Augusta sent a response that she could not come away from her young family at home (she and her husband had many children), but that she would be Augusta's "only friend." Augusta's letters were lighthearted, somewhat childish in tone, but she also included advice as to how her brother might be governed. Augusta suggested Byron was best managed when his black moods were ignored. Annabella should make light of them; instead, she should tease him or jokingly admonish his bad behavior.

This may have been the best way to deal with Byron, but joking and teasing was not really within Annabella's wheelhouse. It would have been impossible for her to muster such good nature during the nights when Byron locked himself in his room with loaded pistols. Later, he would explain his behavior away. He'd been depressed over their money situation, and anyway, he'd caught a cold the day of their wedding. I

t would take about a week for Byron to settle into his new situation and accept that this was his life now ... with Annabella. On January 7, it would appear that his black mood had lifted and he acted as though nothing had happened or was amiss.

Annabella was only too relieved that money and illness were the only causes of his violent tantrums and tirades. Now they could carry on happily, couldn't they?

Next Week: Annabella and Augusta Meet

Eisler, Benita. Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. New York: 1999.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Lord Byron's Marriage: The "Treacle" Moon

During the month of January, I will be writing about the first days of Lord Byron’s marriage to Annabella Milbanke.

Over the course of his life, Byron suffered many things. Born with a clubbed foot, he was often victimized by bullies, who ridiculed him. His father abandoned him at a young age, and Byron and his mother had a fractious relationship. He loved his half-sister, Augusta, and when they were reunited as adults, his attachment to her became one of an inappropriate nature. All of these wounds played into his self-proclaimed cursed state.

Annabella Milbanke knew some of these things about her husband before entering into the marriage; some of them she didn’t. After all, before their marriage, the couple hadn’t spent much time together—a day here, a day there. The majority of their courtship had been via letter.

Now, Annabella would meet the real Byron.

Lord and Lady Byron set out for their honeymoon on the second day of January, 1815. With his usual wit and sarcasm, Byron called it their “treacle moon” … in truth, it was less sweet than it was sour. Although there were some moments of promise within those weeks, the couple’s first day of marriage was nothing less than a disaster.

As their carriage pulled away from Annabella’s hometown of Seaham, Byron transformed. Annabella later said that his “countenance changed to gloom and defiance.” Byron began to sing “in a wild manner”—a coping mechanism he would employ throughout their marriage whenever he was enraged or defeated. But on this first occasion, Annabella was frightened. She scarcely recognized the man sitting next to her, who suddenly filled the carriage with a loud, raucous voice. Even so, Annabella was a quiet, highly disciplined woman, who most likely endured the bad behavior with no reaction.

Perhaps to further distress his new bride, Byron verbally attacked Annabella. “You had better married [another], he would have made you a better husband.” In written accounts of this event, Annabella omitted the name of the person Byron suggested. In fact, she’d had ample opportunity to marry other men. She’d had plenty of suitors, but Byron had been her choice. According to Byron, she would suffer for her choice. She should never have married him. He was a Byron and cursed, and now she would feel the effects of it. He chastised her for not marrying him sooner; if she had, he argued, he might not have committed some of his more grievous sins.

Each of these taunting, vindictive words, like slaps, made Annabella heartsick. When the couple reached a resting point, the Inn at Rushford, Byron turned on her again. “I wonder how much longer I shall be able to keep up the part I have been playing.” When they reached the spot for their honeymoon (one of the Milbanke’s houses, Halnaby Hall near Darlington), servants noticed the pained expression on Annabella’s face as she emerged from the carriage. Her husband disembarked and limped away. He did not look back at her, and he certainly did not hand her down from the carriage.

Undoubtedly, the reality of his own choices dawned on him during that carriage ride. He had really done it. He’d married her. Whether out of convenience, spite, or revenge, he’d gone through with the nuptials. Now he was trapped. And on top of it all, he had caught a cold.

Byron’s memoir (later burned by his friends) recounted that he “had Lady Byron on the sofa before dinner on the day of their marriage.” Later that night, he agreed to allow his wife to sleep in the bed with him. He didn’t like to share a bed with his lovers, and he was vexed by the idea of having to do so now, but he finally relented. Even so, he cruelly reminded Annabella that “one animal of the kind was as good to him as another”--another attempt to insult her and divulge that their union had little meaning to him.

There are a few different versions of their first night finale. One account was that Byron awoke, and glimpsing a burning candle through the red curtains around the bed, he shouted, “Good God! I am in hell!” In another version, Byron imagined himself as Orpheus in hell with Prosperpine, prompting the same response and waking Annabella.

These first days of marriage were far from harmonious ones for the Byrons, but they were only the beginning. There was more to come as the snow fell around Halnaby, trapping the less-than-happy couple inside.

Next week: The honeymoon drags on…

Crane, David. The Kindness of Sisters: Annabella Milbanke and the Destruction of the Byrons. Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2002.

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