SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY
SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
Justin Evans has written an intriguing and creepy novel inspired partly, I’m sure, by the year he spent at Harrow School. That’s right, the Harrow school in The White Devil is a real place situated about 40 minutes from London’s West End. From the look of its website, it’s prestigious and slightly stuffy.
The White Devil cashes in on verisimilitude of another sort: Lord Byron was once a pupil at Harrow. Byron (George Gordon Byron 1788-1824) was quite notorious, even in his own life time and not just for his Romantic poetry. He was sexually voracious and had several lovers including his half-sister. It has long been speculated, although likely not by Byron’s peers, that he was bisexual.
Andrew Taylor, the novel’s 17-year-old protagonist, has been sent to Harrow in a last ditch effort to make him agreeable to American universities. He’s been turfed from his own school back home for drug-related crimes and this is his last chance to get his shit together – so to speak. From the moment he arrives at Harrow, though, Andrew feels out of place. He doesn’t understand the humour or the customs or how he’s going to survive a year in this place that is “dank, cramped and old.”
When Andrew’s first friend at Harrow is found dead under somewhat suspicious circumstances, things start to go a little hairy at Harrow. For one thing, Andrew is the person who found the dead boy. For another, he thinks he saw the person who did it. And he’s been having these dreams. Because there’s apparently a ghost at Harrow. And for some reason the ghost seems focused on Andrew. By lucky or rather unlucky (as it turns out) coincidence, Andrew is a dead ringer for the dead poet.
As the ghost at Harrow becomes more menacing, Andrew tries to figure out who it is and what it wants. He’s not alone. Helping him are Piers Fawkes, the school’s tortured poet-in-residence; Judith Kahn, a crisp librarian and Persephone, the headmaster’s daughter and the only female student at Harrow.
The White Devil is delightfully twisty and I’ll tell you one thing, it made me very curious about Byron’s life. I have read other novels featuring Byron: the YA novel AngelMonster by Veronica Bennett and Tom Holland’s excellent Lord of the Dead, but The White Devil really brought its A game: it’s well-written, smart and a lot of gothic fun.
Evans talks about the book here.