(portrait by Thomas Phillips,1813)
Offspring of a family of noble stock, George Gordon, Baron Byron suffered from an unhappy infancy due to a libertine and dissolute father and to a psychologically fragile mother. Though handsome and brilliant, he was born with a lame foot: the thought of this disability, that he was brought to consider as a sign of physical inferiority, tormented him for the whole of his life and is probably to be seen as one of the factors lying behind his peculiar lifestyle and literary work.
After having taken a degree in Cambridge (1808) and having taken his seat in the House of Lords, Byron left England for Southern Europe and the Middle East: the Grand Tour provided him with suggestions and experiences that he was able to exploit and develop in some of his best works (notably, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage).
The sudden literary notoriety he gained after his return to England enabled him to join the circles of high Whig society, but also lead him towards restlessness and socially disreputable behaviour: the scandal caused by his affair with his half-sister Augusta put an end to his marriage and lead him to the choice of voluntary exile.
His life in Switzerland and in pre-unitarian Italy was interspersed with love affairs and marked by an even stronger political commitment: after having taken part in the Carbonari movement against the Austrian rule, he devoted himself to the cause of Greek independence. He died of marsh fever in Missolonghi, Greece, while engaged in training rebel troopers.
Main works and stylistic features
Byron was a quite prolific poet and, although he died at the age of 36, he was able to see some 30 of his works collected and published during his lifetime. His production includes lyric poems (Hours of Idleness, 1807), verse tales (Oriental Tales, written and collected between 1813 and 1816), verse dramas (Manfred, 1817), satirical poems (The Vision of Judgement, 1822 - Don Juan, 1819 to1824) and the four cantos of his well-known autobiographical poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.
That peculiar blend of rationalism, political commitment and spiritual restlessness, that characterised Byron's own life, was also the main feature of his mysterious and tormented heroes: in them, the aristocratic taste for individualism and the titanic strive towards "glorious things" are mingled and projected upon nature and political events.
From the stylistic point of view, Byron retained a solid link with Pope and the great 18th Century tradition. His use of the Spenserian stanza [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spenserian_stanza] (eight iambic pentameters followed by a iambic hexameter) and of the ottava rima (eight-line stanza with a predefined pattern rhyme abababcc) allowed him to play with a wide range of registers and to exploit the potentialities of colloquial and satiric language.
Sources for this topic
Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia: useful information on life, works, criticism, sources.
The Literature Network: a rich source of information about life and works.
Romanticismo Inglese: sources for the Italian-speaking reader.