We see them today: celebrities who burst into the public eye, develop a massive group of followers who live for any crumb of information about their heroes, and eventually self-combust. One of these first meteors was the poet, Lord Byron.
A minor baron with chestnut curls, a club foot, and a brooding attitude, George Gordon, Lord Byron, might never have been noticed in social, let alone literary, circles if it hadn’t been for the publication in 1812 of the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. This lyric poem detailed the Grand Tour, a trip around Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey, of a rather cynical young man who bore a strong resemblance to Byron himself. The book became an overnight success, and Byron was welcomed everywhere.
The young ladies of the time buried him in letters, professing admiration, adoration. They followed him around at balls and parties, hanging on every word. Each girl was certain that her pure love would heal the wounded spirit so eloquently evident in his poetry. Lady Caroline Lamb, a young married hot-head, called him “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” and then threw herself at him, repeatedly. Byron-mania was so high that, in 1814, his work The Corsair sold 10,000 copies the first day it was published!
[Note: 10,000 copies in one day will likely earn you a respectable place on the New York Times bestsellers list.]
[Note: most young adult books today don’t even get 10,000 copies in the first printing, let alone sell them in one day.]
Sadly, less than 2 years later, Byron had 1) married badly, 2) behaved madly, and 3) been put in danger of Debtors Prison by his creditors. He escaped to the Continent and died in 1824 while trying to rescue the Greeks from Turkish oppression.
On a happier note, my publisher is sufficiently pleased with the response to La Petite Four that he moved up the publication date by 5 weeks! That means it goes on sale May 29!
This month! Where are my smelling salts?