Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets

Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets

by Jude Morgan

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Overview

Theirs was a world of obsession, genius, and above all…

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312343699
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/05/2006
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 975,246
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.25(d)

About the Author

JUDE MORGAN, who lives in England, studied creative writing with Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter.

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.

Reading Group Guide

Romantic poets Byron, Shelley, and Keats were infamous for their vivid personalities and tragic lives. In this spellbinding novel, we see those lives through the women who loved them—intensely and scandalously. There's Mary Shelley, whose genius rivaled that of her poet-husband; Lady Caroline Lamb, who learned all too intimately that Byron was "mad, bad, and dangerous to know"; quiet Fanny Brawne; and Augusta Leigh, who would flout the greatest taboo. Brilliantly written and imagined, Passion takes us inside all the glory, tragedy, and longing of the Romantic generation.


Reading Group Questions

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's 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's love for Fanny speed his death?

9. When Fanny imagines visiting Keats's grave, she cannot bring herself to look at the tombstone's inscription. Keats's 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?

Interviews

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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