cover image Passion


Jude Morgan, . . St. Martin's, $24.95 (536pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34368-2

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 fiancé, 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.)