Literary Daybook, Feb. 1

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

Published February 1, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On Feb. 1, Fabian asks Octavius about Bobo.
-- "Thirteenth Night" (1999)
by Alan Gordon

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
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Today in Literary History

On this day in 1814 Lord Byron's "The Corsair" was published, selling out its entire first run of 10,000 copies. The poem was one of a handful of melodramatic verse-tales written by Byron between 1812-16, a period in which he was at the height of poetic fame in England. The pirate captain Conrad was in the "Byronic hero" mold, a dashing homme fatale who will risk all to rescue Gulnare, chief slave in the Turkish Pacha's harem, but will not stoop to kill the sleeping Pacha in order to rescue himself. By this chivalry, "He left a Corsair's name to other times,/Linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes." Byron drew upon his recent tour of the Mediterranean region for the colorful setting, but the autobiographical element in the poem was more than geographic. The ladies of London society were lined up to see him, and during the writing of the poem he was embroiled in affairs with at least three of them -- one, Lady Caroline Lamb, famously recording in her journal after a first meeting that Byron was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Byron openly admitted that the poem was written "con amore, and much from existence," and proceeded to reincarnate Conrad in a sequel, "Lara," written "while undressing after coming home from balls and masquerades, in the year of revelry 1814." By 1816 the gossip surrounding his affair with his half-sister and his bisexuality would have him in permanent exile; by 1824, at the age of 36, he would be dead -- killed as Conrad might have been, while fighting for Greek independence, with troops he helped to outfit with his own money.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

By the Salon Books Editors

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