When Goodreads recommended me Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets , I was taken aback by both its title and its cover. It looked like the kind of badly written, cheap novel I do not like reading nor being seen with. However, fighting against my first impression, I decided to read some of my Goodreads’ friends’ reviews. They were extremely positive, and coming from people with what I believe is a good taste in literature, and a high critical spirit. So, what is this book about? Why was it recommended to me in the first place? The summary reads as follows:
In the turbulent years of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, three poets—Byron, Shelley, and Keats—come to prominence, famous and infamous, for their vivid personalities, and their glamorous, shocking, and sometimes tragic lives. In this electrifying novel, those lives are explored through the eyes of the women who knew and loved them—intensely, scandalously.
Four women from widely different backgrounds are linked by a sensational fate. Mary Shelley: the gifted daughter of gifted parents, for whom passion leads to exile, loss, and a unique fame. Lady Caroline Lamb: born to fabulous wealth and aristocratic position, who risks everything for the ultimate love affair. Fanny Brawne: her quiet, middle-class girlhood is transformed—and immortalized—by a disturbing encounter with genius. Augusta Leigh: the unassuming poor relation who finds herself flouting the greatest of all taboos.
I know, right? At this point I was torn between wishful joy at having found that novel on the Romantics which gave voice to the female side of the set and years of disappointments that translated into cynical skepticism. Encouraged by its positive reviews, I decided to give this 536 pages long novel a chance. And girl, was it worth it.
Passion is a wonderfully written (and I mean, really, really well written), extremely detailed and well documented fictionalised biography of the lives of Mary W. Shelley, Fanny Brawne, Augusta Leigh and Caroline Lamb, not without the appearance of other women of the set such as Claire Clairmont, or Annabella Milbanke. The novel begins with Mary Wollstonecraft, pregnant with her first child, and ends after Byron’s death. It covers, in detail, the childhood, youth and mature age of all of the aforementioned women, as well as their relationships with the men in their lives. Much in the style of Hilary Mantel‘s excellent fictionalisation of the French Revolution A Place of Greater Safety, the novel combines monologues with playwriting, letters and prose narration, which gives the author the change to offer a different perspective into the action or into certain characters.
If you know little about the Romantics but are curious to learn more, this is the book for you. If you know a lot about the Romantics and want to spend your leisure reading time with a novel about them, this is the book for you. If you expect to find a biographically accurate fictionalisation of your favourite characters that will not make you cringe, this is the book for you.