Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets


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 ...

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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.

With the originality, richness, and daring of the poets themselves, Passion presents the Romantic generation in a new and unforgettable light.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Immensely entertaining, Passion chronicles the glamorous, scandalous lives of the Romantic poets Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats through the outrageous exploits of the passionate women who shared their world and their beds.

Hedonistic rogue Lord Byron perfects the art of seduction, practicing on the irrepressible Lady Caroline Lamb, and later on his own half sister. Young Mary Godwin, daughter of the feminist crusader Mary Wollstonecraft, decamps with the married Shelley on a European odyssey, taking her stepsister along for the ride. The freethinking ménage meets up with Byron, attracting the unfavorable notice of society and fermenting dangerous jealousies from within. Back in England, Fanny Brawne strives through sheer force of will to sustain the ailing Keats, the only one of the three poetic masters whose infamy will not rival his literary legacy.

The grand adventures of these men and their astonishing women are played out against the palatial backdrop of English Regency opulence, aristocratic social conventions, and the familial expectations of a culture that refuses to yield to the avant-garde arrangements of the gifted but reckless young writers. These unconventional artists developed legendary reputations, but even more remarkable is the early age at which they achieved fame and, subsequently, perished. Morgan has created a fantastical tapestry of epic proportions; equal parts history, romantic comedy, and tragedy, this book is impossible to put down. (Holiday 2005 Selection)
From the Publisher
"A wonderful book—rich, authentic, beautifully written and, yes, passionate."—Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring

"I loved Jude Morgan's Passion, which seems to me to achieve exactly what historical fiction is for, namely to illuminate the past to the present... Compellingly written, and stylish with it"—Joanna Trollope, author of Brother and Sister

"I can't remember when I last read a book that was so elegantly and stylishly written and yet at the same time so absolutely engrossing and compelling."—Diane Pearson, author of The Summer of the Barshinskeys

Nicholas Delbanco
What could have been mere melodramatic set-piece after set-piece, a bodice-ripper in pentameter, becomes an exploration of mind and emotion, art and heart. Whatever his true surname, this Jude the Obscure deserves to be widely acknowledged as a writer to be read.
— Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The attempted suicide of Mary Wollstonecraft opens this carefully researched, deeply imagined and gorgeously written novel about the Romantic poets, as seen by the women who loved them: Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary Shelley, who fell scandalously in love with then-married Percy Bysshe Shelley and wrote Frankenstein at age 19; the passionate but untethered Lady Caroline Lamb, who never got over her love for Lord Byron; charming Fanny Brawne, devoted to her consumptive fianc , Keats; and Augusta Leigh, half-sister to Byron, notorious for her incestuous affair with him. Dense, empathetic, detailed portraits of each woman lift them above their iconography; even Byron, in all his famous charm, is convincingly rendered. The poets, of course, are doomed-Byron, fighting in the Greek war of independence, dies of fever; Shelley perishes in a boating accident; and Keats succumbs to consumption. Morgan concludes with a series of carefully crafted plateaus that evocatively capture the women in varied states of acceptance, ambivalence and longing after their losses. Augusta, whose appealing calm and optimism is all the more paradoxical in light of her taboo-shattering decision to sleep with her half-brother, Byron, makes for a particularly fascinating character study. Mary Shelley, clear-eyed, solemn and terribly intelligent, also emerges as three-dimensional and compelling. Morgan (The King's Touch) brings a fascinating past to brilliant light. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
On a rainy October evening in 1795, a desperate young woman hurls herself off London's Putney Bridge only to be pulled from the cold, dark Thames by two passing boatmen. Little do they know they have just saved Mary Wollstonecraft, authoress, educator, and future wife of the celebrated radical thinker William Godwin. Thus begins this tale of impossibly tangled lives, disastrous intrigues, and tragic ends of the great Romantic poets-Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats-as told by the women in their lives. Mary Shelley, Caroline Lamb, Augusta Leigh, and Fanny Brawne, in spite of their vast differences in station and temperament, recount similar tales of all-consuming involvement with men who lived as passionately and vividly as the poetry they wrote. Morgan's (The King's Touch) deft characterizations of these women and their relationships is a tour de force, though the dialog and detail that render it so vivid slow the pacing and may diminish the force of the narrative for readers not enamored with the people and period. Recommended for larger fiction collections.-Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-This fictionalized biography begins with the suicide attempt of Mary Wollstonecraft, early feminist and mother of the famed author of Frankenstein. The other women who are the center of the work include Mary Shelley nee Godwin (Percy Shelley's lover, then wife), Lady Caroline Lamb (Lord Byron's lover), Fanny Brawne (John Keats's lover), Claire Clairemont (Mary Shelley's half-sister and Byron's lover), and Augusta Leigh (Byron's half-sister and lover). The poets are accompanied by many assorted celebrities and famous hangers-on. The interactions include incest, infidelity, children born out of wedlock, and any and all kinds of tragedy and scandal. This may sound like a rather high-toned soap opera, but the language and the situations that Morgan imagines transform and transcend the characters' actions. The portrayals are vivid, fascinating, and utterly realistic. Events move seamlessly by way of tightly packed prose and insightful detail about these interwoven lives. Teens will be intrigued by what intelligent and strong women were doing in the early 19th century-in fact, Passion may inspire a quest to learn more about the Romantic poets and the short but uniquely creative span of English literature in which they lived.-Jane Halsall, McHenry Public Library District, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Three iconoclastic British poets-Byron, Keats and Shelley-are viewed through the prism of the women who defied parents, husbands and social norms to be at their sides, from the author of The King's Touch (2004). Whether historical or romantic fiction, or a melding of the two, this is a sensational story of money, marriage and, above all, high-wrought emotion. Mary Godwin, beloved daughter of philosopher William Godwin and radical writer Mary Wollstonecraft, is destined for Shelley, the married but discontented free-thinking writer who visits her household. After their elopement, Godwin ostracizes her. Caroline Ponsonby-rich, high-born and high-strung-marries William Lamb but discovers greater excitement as the lover of beautiful, rakish Lord Byron, whose Childe Harold's Pilgrimage has made him the toast of the town. Byron's half-sister Augusta marries a ne'er-do-well colonel whose spendthrift ways cause her to turn to Byron for financial help. She too becomes his lover. It is Augusta who then urges Byron to marry Annabella Milbanke, as a means of ending their illicit involvement. But after the birth of a daughter, Annabella separates from Byron, and the resulting scandal-inflamed by obsessive Caroline Lamb's disclosures-renders Byron a pariah. Ruined, he moves to Switzerland, encountering Shelley and Mary in Geneva. During nights spent together at the Villa Diodati, ghost stories are first read, then invented, inspiring Mary to write Frankenstein. Fanny Brawne and Keats put in a late, short, tragic appearance, their intense love doomed by his tuberculosis. Although engaged, they will never marry. Keats dies in Rome, Shelley drowns in Italy and Byron expires in Greece. Augusta repents,Fanny remembers, Mary returns to her father and raises her one surviving child. A sprightly, intelligent romp through chartered territory.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312343682
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.63 (d)

Read an Excerpt

If you're going to be born towards the end of the eighteenth century of the Christian era, probably the most favourable location is England, taking into account such things as infant-mortality rates, life expectancy, freedom from natural disasters and military incursions, and comparative material wealth. And the section of English society that is most favourable to be born into is, of course, the upper section. Even the best that medical science can offer is no great matter at this date, but such as it is, the upper class can command it: likewise food, clothes, room, distance from epidemic breeding-places, warmth, safety and security.

Try to be born into the aristocracy, then. Not the lower reaches, where there are quite a few out-at-elbows lordlings squatting dismally amid their mortgaged and weed-choked acres. (There is one such to be found at Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, just at this moment: the Wicked Lord Byron, as they used to call the fifth Baron, though now the old man is more strange than wicked, living off hard cheese in brooding retirement and holding discourse only with the clicking horde of crickets that infest the filthy kitchen. He is trying to train them.) Nor is it a good idea to aim higher, and be actually born into the royal family, not riven as they are by the bitter loathing between King George III and his son the Prince of Wales -- or Whales, as the satirists will soon begin to call the dandified scapegrace when fat claims him as hungrily as he would claim the throne.

No, better by far, best of all, be born into one of the highest aristocratic families -- rich as kings, only less powerful, and unhindered by responsibility. And surely the most eligible of all is the great Whig clan that includes the Duke of Devonshire, owner of no less than six country houses, and his spectacular young wife Georgiana, who has accumulated sixty thousand pounds' worth of gambling debts since her marriage and, most piquantly, is no quite sure how. So, how about Georgiana's sister, likewise a beauty but not so intensely subject to public scrutiny, and well married to a man who will be Earl of Bessborough and has no obvious vices? There will be a country place, of course, but try to be born in town, at the family's London mansion, where medical attention can be more swiftly summoned, and the rooms more easily heated, as the date appointed for the birth is November (summer with its muggy fevers being the worst season). And as the mother in this case already has two boys and fancies a change, try to be born a girl.

There. Every chance is now maximized. It is hardly possible in 1785 to enter the world more auspiciously. Draw your first breath, Caroline Ponsonby.

"Now there is a child," says the physician who has attended the birth to the accoucheur at the door of the Cavendish Square house, "who will never want for anything."

And the fairies popularly supposed to gather around the cradle -- do they hear those words, and smile ironically? Fairies, if anyone, surely know about the deceptiveness of appearances.

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Interviews & Essays

What was the inspiration for your book?
A lifelong interest in the Romantic poets -- but particularly the "back seat" or passive role taken by the women in their biographies. What was their side of the story? Who are your favorite authors? What authors have influenced your work?
Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, E. M. Forster, H. E. Bates, and F. Scott Fitzgerald What kind of experience has writing the book been for you (fun, exciting, agonizing, etc.)?
Passion was my dream project and it was a great (and grueling) experience. Tell us anything about you as a working writer that you think might be interesting or unusual:
I have published much in genre (thrillers, historical detective fiction) and feel that this has been a valuable apprenticeship before tackling the "big" work that I hope Passion is. Did you have any interesting experiences when you were researching your book, or getting it published?
Being given a guided tour of the preserved offices of John Murray publishers, where Byron hung out and much of his memorabilia can be seen, was an enormous inspiration. In your opinion, what is the market for your book?
Fans of historical fiction, but not only those, as I've tried to apply a contemporary sensibility to the story, with such topics as the cult of celebrity (Byron).
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1. Passion is called, "A Novel of the Romantic Poets." Do you regard Passion as the life-stories of Mary Shelley, Lady Caroline Lamb, and Augusta Leigh-the wives and lovers of the poets--or the stories of the poets themselves, as seen through the eyes of the women?

2. The word "passion" can connote sexual desire; ardent affection or love; an intense, driving feeling or conviction; or suffering. What does "passion" mean for the characters in this novel?

3. In what ways are these women's lives enriched and/or undermined by their involvement with the Romantic Poets?

4. The book opens with the attempted suicide of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley's mother and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. How does this scene influence your interpretation of Mary Shelley's life? Why does the book begin here?

5. In some ways Augusta seems to start out as the most docile and least rebellious of the women in this book. How does she come to step so far outside the usual bounds of society? As for Byron, do you believe he was madly in love with Augusta, or did she merely represent another taboo he wished to break?

6. Lady Caroline Lamb famously described Byron as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." Is he wholly responsible for her downfall, or could she have taken a different path?

7. Do you fault Mary for remaining loyal to Shelley when she knew that he would never remain celibate or loyal to her? How did their relationship influence her own work?

8. In what ways are Keats' illness and his love for Fanny the same? The illness is described as "a demanding presence, and this one was doubly demanding because of the love." Did Keats' love for Fanny speed his death?

9. When Fanny imagines visiting Keats' grave, she cannot bring herself to look at the tombstone's inscription. Keats' tombstone in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome reads, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." What does this inscription mean to Fanny?

10. If this book were narrated by the poets, how would the women be represented differently? Do the poets see them as muses? Distractions? Rivals? How did they view the women's own work and concerns?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2006

    Fascinating Historical Novel

    If you love historical novels that include real-life persons as characters and that interweave multiple plotlines, you will love Passion. Dense but engaging, its 500+ pages leave you longing for more. Morgan manages to avoid the gothic and melodramatic drek that so often flaws novels of the Romantic era poets, giving us instead characters who seem like real people with real lives. I'm ordering the author's other book, The King's Touch, ASAP.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2006


    One of the greatest novels I have ever or may ever read.. Morgan does the impossible by putting words into the lives of some of literature's most revered authors, the poets Byron, Shelley, Keats, and the women who loved them, foremost among them Mary Shelley, the daughter of esteemed feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who plays an essential character from start to finish. The novel speaks beautifully from every theme known to the human language, and sets your own life adrift with new ideals and questions that demand answers. It's a book every person can relate to.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    An intriguing biographical fiction novel

    The mother of feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft, fails at her attempt to commit suicide, but by 1797 dies eleven days after giving birth to Mary Shelley. Mary and three other Wollstonecraft disciples Fanny Brawne, Augusta Leigh and Caroline Lamb grow up in relative comfort while the Napoleonic Wars occur....... Augusta meets her half-brother, Lord Byron, but soon turns to George Leigh for marital protection. Caroline marries William Lamb, but prefers sleeping with Byron, who has tasted the harem of sultans. When he drops Caroline to sleep with Augusta, his ex lover becomes his stalker. Meanwhile Mary elopes with her father¿s protégé Shelley, who already has a wife, her stepsister the trio move tougher to Switzerland where Byron, physician Dr Polidori, Keats and his squeeze Fanny join them until tragedy strikes............... PASSION is an intriguing biographical fiction novel that looks deep into the romantic poets of the early nineteenth century and the prime women who hung with them. The tale grips the audience especially once the players are in place as when they gather in Switzerland. Interestingly the four females clearly are the better characters as they seem alive and real while the more famous male counterparts (Mary Shelley aside) seem limpid in comparison perhaps because one would want Byron or Shelley to be more like their poems. Fans of the Regency era will want to read this strong insightful glimpse at some of the more famous expatriates of the period............ Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2009

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