Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lord Byron And The Countess Guiccioli


I was intrigued by a question that came up at our last poly meeting that got me thinking about historical personalities who were wrapped-up in poly situations. This may be the first of a few research-related posts to look at polyamory in a time where it lacked a name.

Teresa was sixteen and wedded to Count Guiccioli, a man 44-years her senior; she was just 19 when she met Goerge Gordon Byron. Teresa was pretty with thick blond hair and pristine: she was well-read, educated, and an idealist. And at a reception in April 1819, Teresa's passion for Byron swept her away in a love affair of her lifetime. Their love was legendary. When the Count found out about their affair, he moved himself and Teresa to Ravenna in order to separate them.

But time and distance did not separate Teresa and Byron. In her Ravenna-exile, Teresa would write Byron love letters and she would eventually fall gravely ill from longing him. She was just to a point of death that the Count was forced to bring Byron to Ravenna and have him come to his wife's bedside. Magically, the girl recovered. Byron would come to stay with them; the Countess Guiccioli was seen in public escorted by two men, and Byron was acknowledged as Teresa's lover.

Count Guiccioli was less than compliant in this arrangement. Byron and Teresa lived under the same roof for nearly three years. The poet and the Countess met frequently. The Count was rumored to have regarded Byron with a skepticism and an interest to eventually extort him. Then, when Byron was bed-ridden by fever, Teresa remained by his side, until the Count arrived and physically removed his wife from Byron's chambers. When she was taken from him, Byron exchanged desparate letters with the countess. He feared for his life as he believed assassins were dispatched by her husband to kill him. And when the Count attempted to obtain a divorce, public opinion was drastically against him given her fair nature and Bryon's stature.

***

Bologna, 25 August, 1819

My dearest Teresa,

I have read this book in your garden;--my love, you were absent, or else I could not have read it. It is a favourite book of yours, and the writer was a friend of mine. You will not understand these English words, and others will not understand them,--which is the reason I have not scrawled them in Italian. But you will recognize the handwriting of him who passionately loved you, and you will divine that, over a book which was yours, he could only think of love.

In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours--Amor mio--is comprised my existence here and hereafter. I feel I exist here, and I feel I shall exist hereafter,--to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you, and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent. I wish that you had staid there, with all my heart,--or, at least, that I had never met you in your married state.

But all this is too late. I love you, and you love me,--at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events. But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you.

Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us,--but they never will, unless you wish it.

***

Teresa was Byron's longest and truest love; the love affair tamed Byron and he became more settled, eventually coming to supporting idealistic causes and human liberty: values which would eventually take him to Greece to fight and die in the Greek War for Independence from the Ottoman Empire.

s1m0n
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