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A free spirit: Clairmont, by Lesley McDowell, reviewed

Even by the Villa Diodati’s standards, Claire Clairmont was unconventional, seducing Byron when she was 18, and giving birth to their child after a possible affair with Shelley

2 March 2024

9:00 AM

2 March 2024

9:00 AM

Clairmont Lesley McDowell

Wildfire, pp.400, 16.99

Commentary on the young Romantics can be curiously puritanical. Not on saintly John Keats, who died too young to cause any trouble. But Byron and Shelley? Beastly to women, negligent as parents, destructive as friends, oblivious to their own privilege. Feminist observers tend to resemble the English visitors to Geneva in 1816 who borrowed telescopes to spy on the renegade inhabitants of the Villa Diodati across the lake, hoping to be scandalised.

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