The Passions of Emma

Penelope Williamson, Author Warner Books $20 (432p) ISBN 978-0-446-52153-6
Set in Bristol, R.I., in 1890, Williamson's latest historical romance (after The Outsider) portrays a society so hidebound by tradition that even the mildest impropriety is treated like a capital offense. At the center of this claustrophobic world is spirited 22-year-old Emma Tremayne, a beautiful daughter of the moneyed ""Great Folk,"" who is expected to marry mill owner Geoffrey Alcott. One day after a fox hunt, however, Emma watches as a poor woman displays the mangled body of her small son, killed in an accident at the mill. Emma is shaken by the callousness of her fiance and his family. Her suspicion that there is more to life than the smug insularity of balls and teas is confirmed when she strikes up a friendship with Bria McKenna, a consumptive resident of the local Irish shantytown. Bria, intelligent and defiant despite her dying body, invites Emma to take up with her attractively primal activist husband, Shay, once Bria is gone. Unfortunately, Emma is a stock figure, the blueblood-with-a-social-conscience familiar to readers of this genre, and the price she pays for her passion and rebellion is unlikely to stir an emotional response from readers. Williamson's repetitive exposition of what counts for good manners among the elite is numbing; and even the gothic touches--a silent child with precognitive powers; a benevolent ghost; family secrets and curses; a primitively cruel insane asylum--fail to rescue this novel from the doldrums. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild alternate selection and Doubleday featured alternate. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
Ebook - 978-0-7595-7152-5
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Hardcover - 555 pages - 978-1-56895-526-1
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