Glenarvon. In Three Volumes.

Physical Description: Similarities and Differences in the First and Third Editions of Glenarvon, with consideration of the Publication and Reception History

(Different covers of Glenarvon, including one with Byron on the front. 1, 2, 3. )

            Glenarvon, Lady Caroline Lamb, née Ponsonby’s first novel was published by Henry Colburn in 1816. Colburn, a publisher known for manipulating “shoddy fabrication[s] to promote the sale of his magazine,” was also known as distributor of incendiary and salacious literature (Viets). Unlike his more refined counterpart, John Murray II, Colburn was suspected of sketchy editorial practices and it is in alignment with his doubtful character that he would have desired to magnify access to a novel, which would finalize the ruination of an early nineteenth century woman in elevated society. As Colburn’s “previous training had been largely as a bookseller and manager of a circulating library,” it is understandable that Glenarvon first appeared in three volumes, as was the standard of the day for books of a circulating library (Viets).

These three separately bound hardcover volumes can be physically examined in a 1975 AMS Press reprint of the Third Edition of Glenarvon, available in the SFU W.A.C. Bennett Library. A 1993 hardcover facsimile reprint of the First Edition of Glenarvon was published by Woodstock Books and can be found in the SFU Rare Books Collection. Digitized scans of both the original First and Third Editions can be accessed online at the HathiTrust Digital Library (accessed through WorldCat) as well. Because Colburn published both the First and Third Editions in 1816, I will be inspecting both to reconstruct a general physical description and to present the differences in paratext between them. This pursuit should hopefully provoke some insight into the publication or reception history of the novel.

(1993 Woodstock Facsimile @ SFU Rare Books Collection.  Click on photos for bigger images in pop-up.)


In terms of page sizing, a bibliographical exploration of the First Edition of Glenarvon yields limited or compromised results. The 1993 Woodstock facsimile reprint features four of the original pages at a time copied onto each large reprint page. The original pages can be distinguished by their page signatures, “B2, B3” and so on. The size of each individual original page of text is declared to be 77% of the original size, but this refers only to the size of the text and does not consider the individual margins of each page. Hence, a conclusion as to the actual size of each individual page in the original volume can be approximated but not accurately defined in this situation. However, the 1975 AMS Press reprint of the Third Edition is a good suggestion of what the original book sizing may have been. These three volumes are small, easily handheld, concealable sizes. One could imagine that a lady could easily deny reading such scandalous material if she could conveniently place a volume out of sight. At the same time, a small sized book is reminiscent of a personal diary, and readers may have enjoyed the voyeuristic effect of feeling that they were privy to the private affairs of Lady Caroline Lamb. Additionally, the HathiTrust Digital Library catalog record for both original editions lists “18cm” in its “Physical Description” line. A quick ruler measurement of the 1975 AMS Press reprint shows that its length is 18cm; thereby showing that AMS Press strove to remain loyal to the size of the original publication.

(1975 AMS Press Reprint of Glenarvon in Three Volumes @ SFU W.A.C. Bennett Library.)


The layout of the book’s format was determined through counting the number of pages between signatures, to be duodecimo, or twelvemo (12mo). There are twenty-four pages between the page signatures “C” and “D” in Volume I for instance. Clearly, the smaller the book’s structure and pages, the less paper consumed in the printing of a novel. Glenarvon in particular, a long novel in three volumes would have consumed more paper than other novels, since we have evidence that a third edition was released within the same year. This suggests that the novel was popular enough that cheaper mass production was a sufficient means of distribution and profits. The quality of the medium betrays hints as to the quality of the literature as well. It is doubtful that a scandalous and potentially libelous work such as Glenarvon would merit expensive publication methods. It is also probable that it was unnecessary to improve the publication quality, given its success in previous editions. Numerous readers were palpably interested in reading a narrative inspired by Lady Caroline’s personal love affairs. It was like the tabloid, the trash magazine, or a special collectible edition of People or US Weekly, of the day. Though scandalous, this genre of literature was sanctioned by the large number of sales it could generate.

First Title Page: Lack of Author’s Name

Up to this point, the bibliographical features of both editions have been relatively similar. What stands out as a point of interest are the differences in title pages as well as the supplementary material added to the beginning of Volume I of the Third Edition. In the First Edition, there is a first title page for Glenarvon followed by a blank page, and then a second title page bearing an Italian epigraph. Both indicate the volume number, which evidently changes from volume to volume. In Volume I, this original first title page features the title, “Glenarvon.” This is followed by “In Three Volumes”, “Vol. I.” and the imprint near the bottom of the page, “London: Printed by Henry Colburn.” and the year of publication, “1816.” There is no indication of the author on this first title page, to presumably protect his/her reputation. In Lamb’s case, it was crucial that the content was not immediately associated with her character, though it may have been too late by this point in time. The scandal of the affair between Lady Caroline and Lord Byron was highly publicized and she consequently faced “social shame and exile in the face of attackers” (Tuite 35). Moreover, “Lamb argues that she wrote the novel when she thought that she had nothing left to lose after the scandal of the affair itself,” so the attempt at anonymity may have been to protect others instead (Tuite 35).

Second Title Page: Two Different Epigraphs

The second title page features an Italian epigraph, which comes from Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy.” It reads, “Disperato dolor, chè il cor mi preme / Gía pur pensando, pria ne favelle” and roughly translates to “desperate grief, which wrings my heart, even at the very though, before I tell thereof.” Those in the know of Lamb’s badly terminated affair with Byron would understand that this quote likely speaks the real sentiments of Lamb’s heart. This epigraph is identically reproduced in all three volumes and the page placement is the same, following the first title page. Another observation of note to add is that no edition number is designated on the first title page, a characteristic often typical of first editions. Subsequent editions would carry the number denoting the edition on the title page.

This edition number is one of the first differences to be found in the Third Edition of Glenarvon. The title page of the 1975 AMS Press reprint shows that a Third Edition of Glenarvon in 1816 now bears the author’s name: “Glenarvon. In Three Volumes. By Lady Caroline Lamb Vol. I.” Due to the high publicity of her affair of Byron, the amount of details known by society rendered it hardly necessary to continue omitting Lamb’s name on the work. Again, an imprint for the publisher is at the bottom of the page, this time with the inclusion of Henry Colburn’s premises at Conduit Street. As mentioned, “Third Edition” is printed. Interestingly, it is in a Gothic type. This may reflect the fact that Glenarvon contains many Gothic Romance settings and language, but it is curious that the novel’s title is not in the same script. Rather, it is in a standard serif font.

One of the biggest changes to the title page is the epigraph. Dante’s Italian has been exchanged for Voltaire’s French. Besides his fame as a French Romantic and philosopher, Voltaire was mentioned in Byron’s CHP III, Stanza 106. This is intriguing since Glenarvon was published shortly after Byron’s departure from England in 1816. Even if this is reaching for a connection between the two lovers, the epigraph’s meaning cannot be ignored as a crucial thematic summarization of Glenarvon:

“Les passions sont les vents qui enflent les voiles du vaisseau : elles le submergent quelquefois, mais sans elles, il ne pourrait voguer. Tout est dangereux ici-bas, et tout est nécessaire” (Voltaire).


“Passions are the winds that fills the sails of the ship: sometimes they sink it, but without them, it cannot sail. Everything is dangerous here below, and everything is necessary.”

While the Italian epigraph of the First Edition seems to express the inner turmoil and anguish that Lamb must have felt in the immediate aftermath of her tumultuous affair with Byron, the French epigraph of the Third Edition might express an acceptance and admission of the ever-mutable course of love or life. Basically, the quote suggests that “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” (Tennyson). The transition of the epigraph from Italian to French might also be a nod to the French roman à clef genre. Literally meaning “novel with a key,” the genre proposes that the key to the interpretation of a novel is foreknowledge of an author’s biographical details. An epigraph in French could place emphasis or clarity on the fact that Glenarvon can be unlocked with exclusive knowledge.

Other Paratext: Third Edition Engravings

Another noteworthy modification to the Third Edition, according to the 1975 AMS Press reprint is an engraving on the page before the title page in each volume. To support the authenticity of this Third Edition change, the HathiTrust Digital Library catalog record for the Third Edition of Glenarvon also includes a note: “Each vol. has added t.-p., engr.” There are three engravings all done by Henry Meyer, and each seems to relate to a theme in Glenarvon. The name of Calantha, the title character who represents Lady Caroline, appears in one of the images. This suggests that the engravings were commissioned specifically for these publications. In addition, there is a caption in French under each engraving, in stylized script. The French captions complement and underscore the French epigraph that follows and the caption in Volume II, “Mon plaisir me coûte la vie?” seems best to represent overall the events that transpire. The literal translation, “My pleasures cost me my life?” is particularly striking as it accompanies the image of a winged cherub watching a butterfly who is drifting too close to a flame that rises from an altar. The reader is persuaded to see Calantha/Lady Caroline as having been seduced by the beauty of a bright flame (Glenarvon/Byron) and having come too close to it, is burned in consequence. Again, a truism, “don’t play with fire” can be evoked here. She can be held responsible for having flown too close to the fire, but the implication is that Byron is “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” a description of Byron often attributed to Lady Caroline.

Preface to the Second Edition

Finally, there is a “Preface to the Second Edition” that appears before the first chapter in Volume I of the Third Edition. Ten pages long, it is an attempt on the author’s part to exculpate him/herself upon the “language of resentment [that] is generally more violent…bitter and acrimonious” (Lamb, Vol. I, i-x). S/he explains what was intended to be the moral lesson in Glenarvon: “it was intended to enforce the danger of too entire liberty either of conduct…no advantages, can ensure happiness and security upon earth, unless we adhere to…the principles of religion and morality” (Vol. I, vi). One has the impression that Lamb is trying to divert the reader’s focus from her original purpose of implicating Byron’s character. If anything, her assertion that “unless that object be delineated with such clearness…it is vain to suggest and point it out in the preface” (Vol. I, ix). By way of a disclaimer denying accusations about her work and intent, Lamb’s preface is likely a response to the novel’s primary reception. Her written rejection of having imitated true to life personages and of having had any other purpose but to teach moral conduct, inversely confirms these original intentions, and this ironic effect in itself appears intentional as well.

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Content Analysis: Glenarvon by Lady Caroline Lamb, 1816



Summary: Points of Similarity between Glenarvon and the Author’s Biography

Born in 1785, Lady Caroline Lamb was an Anglo-Irish aristocrat and novelist whose first work, Glenarvon, made her a celebrity to a pejorative audience. What may have been intended as a revenge piece of writing against Lord Byron for spurning her continued advances following their brief four-month love affair in 1812, did not really cause any harm to his character. Instead, the novel, originally an anonymous publication, led to Lamb’s eventual exclusion from her usual social circles and may even have boosted Byron’s popularity. Many of Lamb’s peers were interested in Glenarvon, as it was a roman à clef with thinly veiled descriptions of her own life as well as of those critically involved. Besides the disastrous love scandal with Byron, who is mirrored in the character of Glenarvon, other incidents in Lamb’s life show that she identifies herself in Lady Calantha Delaval, the main heroine.

Like Lamb, Calantha embarks on an early marriage to Lord Henry Avondale. Lamb herself was married at nineteen to the Honourable William Lamb. Though it was a love match, her son was born with several mental deficiencies, while her daughter was born prematurely and did not survive. In Glenarvon, Lady and Lord Avondale’s son and daughter are healthy and live out of their infancy. The couple’s children bring them happiness and feelings of great blessing, and this diversion from the reality seems to express Lamb’s wish of having a thriving nuclear family. Indeed, the probable autism of her son and death of her daughter only created and increased the rift between Lamb and her husband.



At the age of twenty-six, Lamb met Lord Byron and their whirlwind romance began in March of 1812. Though it is uncertain whether Lamb initially rejected Byron’s pursuit as Calantha does Glenarvon, it appears that Lamb wished to portray Byron as an unprincipled individual who will relentlessly pursue anyone woman whose “ruin will make the misery of a whole family – point out to him an[other] object more worth the trouble and pain of rendering miserable, and he will immediately abandon [her]” (Lamb, Vol. II, 357). That Lamb/Calantha was married made no difference to Byron/Glenarvon, and Lamb paints Byron in the character of Glenarvon as a man who maliciously seeks to ruin even the poor – Alice MacAllain is abandoned with child, and the innocent – Elinor St. Clare was raised in a convent, yet she was seduced and morally loose from that moment on.

Another incriminating part of the narrative for Byron/Glenarvon strikes at a crucial moment. Calantha has been persuaded to stay behind in Ireland with her family, who attempt to separate her from Glenarvon and put an end to their appalling affair. After several weeks of silence, Calantha finally receives a blunt and short letter from Glenarvon declaring the end of his attachment to her. This letter is believed to be a reproduction of one that Lamb received from Byron, written with the same intention. At the risk of amplifying her own involvement in the affair, it can be conjectured that Lamb found it more valuable to prove Byron’s callous personality to her readers through the inclusion of his own writing, than to protect what was left of her reputation.

While in reality, the affair ends with Lamb’s fall from social grace and an eventual separation from her husband, she writes for Calantha a merciful death after Calantha receives forgiveness from Lord Avondale. In this way, Calantha does not live to “[perish], by slow degrees, of the cruelest of all maladies – disappointment, regret, injured honour, and blasted happiness” as Lamb must have experienced (Vol. III, 160). No doubt she would rather have lain “on a bed of death…insensible to the present, as to the past” (Vol. III, 161). Additionally, Lamb punishes Byron/Glenarvon in the novel by having his castle burned and destroyed under the vengeful direction of Elinor St. Clare, and ultimately kills him off. While he is at sea on his ship, he begins to see visions of the souls he corrupted – Calantha and Alice amongst them, and they haunt him for days before he goes mad and throws himself overboard. As he sinks into the depths, a voice, presumably that of God, condemns Glenarvon for his hardened and sinful ways. Since Byron was known to travel to southern European countries around the Mediterranean Sea, it can be assumed that Lamb might have hoped that such an end would find Byron there and adequately punish him for “bask[ing] in the ray of prosperous guilt” at the expense of women like herself (Vol. III, 321).

Social and Cultural Issues in Glenarvon

Besides Lamb’s vitriolic representation of Byron/Glenarvon, there is a feminist narrative woven into her novel. Firstly, there appears to be a social critique of the hypocrisy of conduct culture surrounding women. Calantha is not the only woman who participates in an extramarital or scandalous love affair. Early in the novel, Lady Mandeville, who has three lovers and several children of dubious paternity, befriends Calantha. Society does not seem to completely shun Lady Mandeville. Yet, when Glenarvon rejects Calantha, she meets with disapprobation from “the weak, the base, the hypocrite, [who] are the first to turn with indignation from their fellow mortals in disgrace” (Lamb, Vol. III, 64). Here, Lamb is denouncing the unequal leniency that is applied to a female individual according to her original social status. The higher she is, the farther she falls, and it seems hardly fair that those who regularly commit sins are permitted to judge.

Secondly, in recognition of the injustice that men do not seem to publicly suffer from indulging in affairs, Lamb inverts the idea of original sin in her characters. Original sin usually implicates a woman as being responsible for the downfall of man and of herself, but in Glenarvon, the eponymous hero is often described with the “eye of the rattlesnake,” “a serpent that is cherished in the bosom” with a “venomed tongue” (Lamb, Vol. II, 105; Vol. II, 353). In Glenarvon, if the woman is responsible for original sin, it is the man, or Glenarvon, who represents the snake of Eden, the one who leads the female to temptation in the first place. She becomes tainted, but he is immoral through and through. It is clear that Lamb truly desires for Byron and for men in general to be held accountable for their crimes.

Adam and Even with the Snake of Eden

Thirdly, Lamb sheds further doubt on the idea that women should be considered solely responsible for what befalls them. In many instances, Lamb describes everyone around Calantha as being always kind, forgiving, accepting of Calantha’s faults or follies. Lamb implies that Calantha’s friends and family overindulge her to the extent that she is not capable of the self-discipline required to restrain herself when the time comes. The husband in particular is also to blame, for being too indifferent or neglectful, “too easily deceived,” and too “engaged with the duties of his profession” (Lamb, Vol. II, 244-5). When Lord Avondale goes away on business, “it was as if her last hope of safety were cut off” (Vol. II, 248). With this last statement, Lamb suggests that men should be at home, keeping their wives and female relatives safe and virtuous. When men are taken away from home, due to military occupations or business, when then happens to their families? As Austen demonstrates in Emma, they can fall apart, as when Mr. Weston prioritizes business and pleasure over raising his son. Consequently, Frank Churchill lacks some of the moral qualities that would make him a true gentleman. In Glenarvon, women are not safe without their husbands; they can be preyed upon by others and cannot remain virtuous. Poor, unmarried, and unprivileged women have even less protection, as in the case of Elinor St. Clare and Alice MacAllain in Glenarvon, and Harriet Smith and Jane Fairfax in Emma, but Lamb shows that all women, even women of nobility are in danger from corruption outside the immediate family circle. In denouncing all others who contribute to her course of disaster, Lamb attempts to redeem her own character. Guilty as she is of guilty love, she is not the only guilty one.

Glenarvon and the “Year Without Summer”



The theme of tumultuous emotion and passion that runs through Glenarvon reflects the dark and stormy climate of 1816, better known as the “year without summer.” This was the same summer during which the Shelley and Byron circle at Lake Geneva produced inspired Gothic fiction – Polidori’s The Vampyre, Byron’s Fragment of a Novel, and most notably, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Glenarvon’s Gothic narrative and setting would not be out of place amongst these works. For instance, the foreign, isolated setting complete with medieval castles is a frequently occurring element:

            “Castle Delaval…was situated in a valley sheltered from every keen blast by a dark wood of beach and fir. The river Elle, taking its rise amidst the Dartland Hills, flowed through the park, losing by degrees the character of a mountain torrent, as it spread itself between rich and varied banks in front of the castle…The town of Belfont stands close upon the harbor, and from one of the highest cliffs, the ruins of the convent of St. Mary…may yet be seen, whilst Heremon and Inis Tara, raising their lofty summits, capped with snow, soar above the clouds. The abbey of Belfont, and the priory of St. Alvin…had fallen into ruin, and Belfont abbey…exhibited a melancholy picture of neglect and oppression” (Lamb, Vol. I, 6-7).


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Then, there are several doppelgängers for Calantha, who is also Lamb’s fictional double. One of them, Alice MacAllain, a poorer girl who is seduced and abandoned by Glenarvon, represents for Calantha the tragic outcomes of pursing an affair with Glenarvon. Alice’s sufferings are also presented as a story within a story, a narrative that Alice writes to her father when she is ill and expects that she may die.

The presence of a mysterious identity is also realized in the novel, when it is revealed that Glenarvon is also Count Viviani, an Italian who had pursued Calantha’s aunt, Lady Margaret Buchanan in the past without success. Out of his obsession with Lady Margaret, Viviani/Glenarvon agrees to kill an infant child in the hopes of gaining Lady Margaret’s favour. This revelation prompts the reader to question whether Lady Margaret may also serve as another double for the author herself.

At the end of the novel, the Gothic plot takes a turn for the supernatural when Glenarvon is faced with the ghosts of his past. He falls into a deep and sudden slumber, during which the dead are seemingly reanimated in his dreams. “Visions of death and horror” appear before him at times when he is awake, “madness to phrenzy [comes] upon him” and he hears the inexplicable knell of a church-bell tolling a death (Lamb, Vol. III, 316, 320).

“Visions of death and horror persecute me,” cried Glenarvon. “What now do I behold – a ship astern! …Is it that famed Dutch pirate, condemned through all eternity to sail before the wind, which seamen view with terror…” …Glenvarvon watched the motions of that vessel in speechless horror… (Vol, III, 316-317)

The threat and manifestation of warfare is predominant as well, in the lengthy descriptions of the Irish Rebellion. Not only does this historical event emphasize the Gothic emotional setting of fear and melancholy, it also confirms Glenarvon as being the opposite of Emma. The inclusion of real political conflict shows a much wider scope of reality and incident than Emma, which has been described as Austen’s most insular novel. It has been suggested that if Emma Woodhouse’s inner dialogues were removed from Austen’s novel, it might appear that not much actually transpires over time. Glenarvon would be at the other end of the spectrum; so many dramatic and swift occurrences take place that it was necessary for this reader to keep seven pages of handwritten notes on the plot in order to avoid forgetting about a character or an incident.


Apart from the novel, Lady Caroline too, finds a place in the 1816 literary world, which does not seem to treat literary genius too kindly. While Byron goes into self-exile and departs England for the last time, Coleridge suffers from a stigmatized addiction to opium, and Lady Caroline is cast aside in “Regency social hell” (Tuite 40). Regrettably for the mental health of these writers, it is their personal anguish that produces such striking reads even two hundred years later. Lady Caroline Lamb’s literary accomplishment is exceptional, given that women were less frequently published than men at this period, and Glenarvon is one of few novels in 1816 that offers a woman’s “unvarnished presentation of raw experience” (Tuite 35). Despite a rich furnishing of Gothic Romance novel tropes that portrays women as being simply sentimental and silly, the social, political, and cultural issues raised in Glenarvon provoke a deeper questioning into the treatment of the female sex. In doing so, Glenarvon places Lady Caroline Lamb amongst the forerunners of the strain of feminism initiated by Mary Wollstonecraft.


Works Cited

Lamb, Caroline. Glenarvon. 1993 Facsimile Reprint, Woodstock Books, 1993.

Lamb, Lady Caroline Ponsonby. Glenarvon. 3rd ed., Reprint, AMS Press, 1975.

Tuite, Clara. Lord Byron and Scandalous Society. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Viets, Henry R. “The London Editions of Polidori’s “The Vampyre”.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 63, No. 2, 1969, pp. 83-103. JSTOR, 13 Sep 2016.


Audrey Ling
Engl 376: Romantic Authorship and Publishing in 1816
Fall 2016, SFU Undergrad

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