The Missolonghi Manuscript is a novel about George Gordon, Lord Byron, based on the convenient device of recently discovered (but imaginary) diaries written by the poet. The narrative is prefaced by a fictitious meeting at a party in Italy of a T. H. Applebee from Bryn Mawr College with the American-born Marchesa del Rosso. Applebee learns from the marchesa that she has a manuscript of three notebooks written by Byron in Missolonghi, Greece, between January, 1824, and his death there three months later. Two years pass, and the marchesa dies, but Applebee is allowed to copy the notebooks, learning in so doing that the marchesa had obtained the manuscript from a Colonel Eppingham, who had himself purchased it in Greece from a “decomposing personage,” the Baron von Haugwitz. None of these ruses is of further significance.
The three notebooks tell two parallel stories: Each day opens with a short entry on current affairs in Missolonghi (the first note is for 25 January 1824) but switches quickly to the main interest, Byron’s autobiographical musings, given in chronological order. So the story soon settles down to an imaginative reconstruction of many of the major relationships of Byron’s life: with Lady Caroline Lamb, Annabella Milbanke, and Teresa Guiccioli; and with literary friends (Percy Bysshe Shelley and Leigh Hunt) and social cronies (John Cam Hobhouse and Edward John Trelawny). Interludes of sexual coupling are frequent, their descriptions frank, their practices varied. By the end of the third notebook the main autobiographical account has caught up with the thinner Missolonghi diary narrative.
The first notebook goes through February 17. The entries on Missolonghi detail the squalor and hopelessness of the place (“Missolonghi is a quagmire”). Prokosch’s Byron explains that he came to Greece in search of “self-renewal and self-forgetfulness” and hoping to shed “the serpent-skin of my selfish, brutal past.” On February 2, Byron reports feeling ill, and his discomfort and malaise continue. Of his companions at Missolonghi, Byron is closest to Loukas, the boy who tends...
(The entire section is 868 words.)