"Passion: A Novel of the Romantic Poets"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAR 22, 2006)
"The act of imagination…is the clay which the mind moulds and shapes according to its own will. Here the visionary and the poet stand upon the same ground, above all I would say when young—for I observe the more we have seen, the less we have to say. So it is, alas, with me—where once my mind was a magus conjuring nature into a thousand chimeric shapes, now it is a mere house-steward, pottering in flapping slippers, the drudge of the dullest work that nature can devise to mock our waning, forced to think of bills and tradesmen's circulars. And yet I wonder is this very disappointment not in itself a spur to new reflection?"—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, speaking to Mary Shelley, 1822.
Focusing on the women in the lives of the romantic poets—Byron, Shelley, and Keats—rather than on the poets themselves, Jude Morgan recreates the years from 1812 – 1824, during which time Mary Godwin, Augusta Leigh, Caroline Lamb, Claire Clairmont, and Fanny Brawne fall in love, encourage the poets in some of their finest work, and ultimately, learn to cope with the poets' premature deaths.
Mary Godwin, daughter of journalist/philosopher William Godwin and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, is the linchpin of this biographical novel. Brought up by her father and his second wife, the widow Mrs. Clairmont, Mary, whose father is a friend of both Wordsworth and Coleridge, falls in love with Percy Bysshe Shelley at age sixteen. When Shelley's wife Harriet refuses to grant him a divorce, Shelley and Mary run away to the continent, where, eventually, their three children are born.
In contrast to Shelley, Lord Byron has many lovers. Augusta Leigh, his half-sister, has grown up apart from him and does not meet him until he is fifteen and she is twenty (and married to George Leigh). When they finally meet, their illicit love overwhelms them, and Augusta lives in fear that their secret will be discovered. Caroline Lamb, married to William Lamb, is one of the public pursuers of Lord Byron, conducting a long affair with him, and she continues to pursue him even after he marries her cousin, Annabella Milbanke (mother of his daughter Ada). Later Claire Clairmont, stepsister of Mary Godwin Shelley, becomes his lover and mother of another daughter, Allegra.
The story of Fanny Brawne and John Keats does not unfold until almost the end of the novel. As Keats seems not to have much direct connection with Byron and Shelley, and as Fanny is far more conventional in personalitym, and less fully developed than any of the other women, the addition of this story line feels a bit disconnected. Though it fleshes out the view of the romantic poets, it is not integrated into most of the action.
The tangled relationships of the romantic poets and the women in their lives involve many common connections and interrelationships. Most tragic, as seen in the book, is the effect of Claire Clairmont, Mary Shelley's stepsister, on Mary's marriage. Accompanying Mary on her flight to Europe with Shelley, Claire never separates herself from Mary and Shelley, even when she is having her affair with Lord Byron, and Mary must constantly share her home and her husband's attention with her stepsister. Even the publication of her novel Frankenstein when she is twenty-one, does not give Mary Shelley the kind of personal satisfaction she longs for.
Jude Morgan fictionalizes these biographies by recreating conversations and fleshing out the daily lives of these characters, creating scenes that are often dramatic and sometimes moving. His careful attention to detail and his immense research create a full picture of the life and attitudes of the times, and the context in which these women lived. In concentrating on five female characters, however, he sometimes moves without transition from one woman to the next--from Mary to Augusta or Caroline--and the reader must pay careful attention to detail to figure out who is the focus of the changing scenes. Occasionally even the point of view changes unexpectedly, from the third person viewpoint of Augusta to the first person viewpoint of Caroline, for example.
For those interested in the romantic poets, Morgan's novel offers many new insights and a fascinating glimpse of early nineteenth century life, as romanticism emerges from the neoclassicism of the past, and people explore new philosophies and ways of living. He assumes that the reader will bring some knowledge of the poets and their works to the novel, spending little time discussing the works themselves, and concentrating on the poets' relationships instead. Mary Shelley, Augusta Leigh, Caroline Lamb, and Claire Clairmont, all early feminists, flout conventions and pursue their own happiness, sacrificing all for love, and they often behave more romantically than the poets. Carefully researched, Passion offers much fascinating information within an uneven narrative structure.
- Amazon readers rating: from 4 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The King's Touch (2002)
- Passion (November 2005)
- Indiscretion (June 2005; November 2006 in US)
Written as T.R. Wilson:
- The Master of Morholm: A Novel fo the Fenland (1987) *
- The Ravished Earth (1989) *
- The Straw Tower (1991) *
- Beauty for Ashes (1992)
- Heartsease (1993)
- Roses in December (1993)
- A Green Hill Far Away (1994)
- John Twopenny (1995)
- The Strawberry Sky (1996)
- In a Child's Eye (1998)
- The Poppy Path
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- PeterboroughToday on Jude Morgan
- Guardian Unlimited review of Passion
- The Washington Times review of Passion
- Doubleday Book Club review of Indiscretion
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About the Author:
Jude Morgan is the pen name for Tim Wilson. Tim was born and brought up in Peterborough on the edge of the Fens and was a student on the University of East Anglia. He studied under the MA Course in Creative Writing under Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter.
Tim has written over 25 novels. Although he writes full-time he is also a tutor at the Peterborough College of Adult Education.
Tim lives in in Brookfurlong, Ravensthorpe, with his wife, Mary-Anne and their young son Adam.