Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Prokosch’s Byron provides no new understanding of the poet, but The Missolonghi Manuscript offers both a good reading experience and a reliable sketch of many of the important events in Byron’s short but crowded life. Of especial interest to many readers will be the re-creation of Byron’s relationship with Shelley and his circle, a part of the story that Prokosch depicts convincingly. Although the asides about Wordsworth, Shelley, and other poets are always Prokosch’s interpretations of Byron’s views, they are well observed and consistent with what is known of the real Byron’s judgments. Prokosch is unflinching in his depiction of Byron’s diverse sexual impulses, but his interpretation has the support of scholarship and is always credible. Even though the important historical events in which Byron participated remain mere backdrops in the novel, Missolonghi and its foul climate are put to good literary use: They hover in the background as an appropriate pathetic fallacy complementing Byron’s moroseness. Many of the less well-known people in Byron’s life, such as Mary Chaworth, are introduced without much comment, but their significance to Byron is always clear, and any biography of the poet will provide whatever background is needed on them.