Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets

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.

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Do not be fooled by the terrible cover! It’s actually very good.

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. 

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Summer of 1816: Creativity and Turmoil conference

Two weeks ago I had the chance to participate in the conference Summer of 1816: Creativity and Turmoil at Sheffield University.  The experience, my first in the conference world, proved to be an excellent one. I had the most wonderful time, I learnt so much and I was left with a very positive feeling and a reassurance that Romanticism is the career I want to pursue and devote my life to.

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Mappin Building, where the talks took place.

The organisation (Maddie and Angela, along with other members of the Sheffield University staff) was not only hard-working and professional, they were also incredibly kind and welcoming, and made me feel at home. They crafted an exceptional few days: a great number of talks, great food for the breaks and even extra academic activities in the afternoon! Outstanding job. Thank you very much for your dedication, and thank you very much for having me!

The keynote speakers were excellent. Jane Stabler, Michael O’Neill and Jerrold Hogle gave very interesting, engaging plenary lectures. They also proved to be very generous individuals. They were with us at all times, introducing themselves to everybody, offering their help and experience to people ranging from professors to MA candidates like myself, with no exception.

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Professor Hogle’s plenary lecture at Mappin Hall: on Romanticism and the Gothic.

About the talks themselves, there were so many and I regret not owning a time-turner. The ones I did attend were quite different from each other: from Frankenstein and alchemy to Jane Austen’s Emma. They even had space for me discussing Dacre’s Zofloya! And for scientific talks as well: there were two panels on scientific matters, and one on ecoRomanticism.

I learnt so many different things and enjoyed every second of it. There is a strange, wonderful feeling in being in a room full of people who care so much about the same things you care about. Never in my life had I laughed, together with the rest of the room, at Romantic references and anecdotes! It made me feel like I was among friends.

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Blurry proof that I was there. Thank you to everybody who came and listened to me, I am grateful! And thank you to Dr. Andrew McInnes and Dr. Bill Hughes for your questions!

I look forward to meeting again all the academics I got to know this year in Sheffield. Even though I am shy by nature, I was welcomed with open arms by everybody, and I will always remember and I appreciate the gesture. Thank you to the organisers for having me, and thank you to Sheffield for being my home for a few days!