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Where do I end and my stories begin? The tricky business of writing fiction about your own life

Detail from MC Escher’s Drawing Hands
Detail from MC Escher’s Drawing Hands (1948) Credit: © The M.C. Escher Company, The Netherlands. All rights reserved. www.mcescher.com

In the autumn of 1817, a year after Byron separated from his bluestocking wife, Annabella Milbanke, he moved to Venice and began an affair with Marianna Segati, the wife of his landlord, a draper. “Her great merit is finding out mine,” he wrote to his publisher in London, John Murray. “There is nothing so amiable as discernment.”

Murray used to share Byron’s long gossipy letters with the coterie of writers who showed up at his office in Albemarle Street. News of other relationships followed, and eventually Murray suggested to Byron that he “give me a poem, a good Venetian tale describing Manners formerly – from the Story itself – & now from your own observations & call it – Marianna”. It was...

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