This Day In Literary History
On February 1st, 1814, The Corsair, the classic epic poem by the legendary English poet Lord Byron, was published. The poem, a three-canto drama in verse, told the story of pirate Captain Conrad's attempt to rescue the damsel Gulnare from sexual slavery in the harem of the evil Turk, Pacha Sayed.
The noble Conrad is the quintessential Byronic hero. He will not stoop to Sayed's level and murder him, even to save himself. Gulnare is the quintessential Byronic heroine.
A passive victim at first, she undergoes a proto-feminist transformation and becomes a vengeful murderess, losing her feminine soul to achieve masculine superiority - which endears her to Conrad, whose masculinity is subverted by Gulnare's transformation.
The shifting masculine and feminine personalities of his hero and heroine no doubt reflected Byron's frustration with and disdain for the narrow minded culture of early 19th century England.
The social mores of the time demanded that he control his natural impulses and subscribe to a strictly defined masculine persona. Byron was openly bisexual; though he preferred women, he also had affairs with male paramours.
The Corsair was first published in an initial press run of 10,000 copies. It sold out on the first day. Byron was living at Newstead Abbey, his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire when his publisher came to deliver the news. Soon, Byron would sell the Abbey and travel throughout Europe, as debt and scandal would drive him out of England.
The unhappily married Byron had engaged in several torrid affairs with married women, including novelist Lady Caroline Lamb. He also supposedly had an affair with his own half-sister, Augusta Leigh, who allegedly became pregnant with his child.
Although Byron's supposed affair with his half-sister is debatable, he did have an affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, who famously described him as "mad, bad and dangerous to know." For her to call Byron mad was ironic, considering that she herself went mad after Byron broke off their affair.
Lady Caroline wouldn't take no for an answer. She sent him a lock of her pubic hair, (in return, he sent her a lock of his new mistress' hair) and disguised herself as a page boy to get into his home.
She also held a public bonfire where she burned Byron's letters along with his effigy while children danced about the flames. To get his attention at a party, she slashed her arms.
Lord Byron died of blood poisoning after falling ill while involved in the Greek rebel army's fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire. He was 36 years old. To this day, he is considered a national hero in Greece.
His classic poem The Corsair remains hugely influential on English poetic voice. You can read the complete text of the poem here.
The Corsair would later be adapted as Il Corsaro, an opera by legendary composer Giuseppe Verdi and as a ballet by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Marius Petipa.
Quote Of The Day
"If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad." - Lord Byron
Today's video features a live performance of Il Corsaro, Giuseppe Verdi's opera adaptation of Lord Byron's classic poem, The Corsair. Enjoy!