Passion by Jude Morgan

This novel was about four women who loved Byron, Shelley, and Keats. The four women were Caroline (who was Lord Byron’s lover at one time), Augusta (more on her in a minute), Mary (Shelley, obviously), and Fanny (engaged to Keats when he died).

I knew next to nothing about these Romantic poets, so when I started I was a bit confused. Luckily, Wikipedia was available for me to brush up on these stories.

Aside: I know that we read some poetry by these men in high school, what I don’t understand is why some of the history wasn’t explained. If, for example, we’d read Byron’s Epistle to Augusta and the teacher explained that, hey, this is Byron’s half-sister with whom he was reported to have had an incestuous love affair, well, I probably would have paid attention. I think one of the reasons I usually think that I’m not a poetry person is that it’s hard to read poetry without knowing some background information. Just like songwriting, really – knowing what a song is about illuminates it so much, at least for me. (But I think even the least poetic ears are going to perk up if you explain Augusta and Byron’s relationship, don’t you?)

(Anyway, that explains Augusta. She was Lord Byron’s half-sister, and history seems to believe that he was the father of her younger daughter.)

What this book was able to do for me was take the vague names of Byron, Shelley, and Keats and make them real people with real relationships. What struck me especially was how young they all were. Shelley was not yet 30 when he died, Lord Byron was only 36 at his death, and Keats died before his 25th birthday. Not much time to write all that poetry and have all those disastrous love affairs.

The other thing that struck me was how unhappy all the women around these men were. Lord Byron seemed to destroy everyone around him, Mary Shelley struggled to balance the ideals of free love with her own desire for a more conventional relationship, and Keats had a jealous mercurial nature. There were other women, too, who were mentioned – Lord Byron’s wife Annabella, Mary Shelley’s stepsister Claire (who had a baby by Lord Byron, and, history reports, possibly one by Shelley, though that’s not part of this story). You can see how convoluted the relationships were. I think it’s easy to have a vague notion that, “Oh, it would be wonderful to be so famous and be with a man who wrote poetry about me,” but these people were, frankly, making each other miserable.

The novel seemed to line up with the known facts – what it did very well was explain plausible reasons for things we don’t know for sure. For example, it doesn’t appear that history is quite clear on how Annabella knew about the relationship between Lord Byron and his sister. In the book, Jude Morgan has Lord Byron tell Caroline Lamb about his love for his sister, mostly to scare Caroline Lamb off. Which brings Caroline Lamb to tell Annabella, for revenge, which she later regrets. The women wove in and out of each other’s lives, and I enjoyed watching that happen.

This book was quite an education for me, as well as being well-written and compelling. It was long, but I enjoyed it a lot. My one complaint was that Fanny Brawne’s character wasn’t as integrated into the story as the rest – I know that we don’t know as much about her, but her exclusion until the end was kind of glaring. Other than that, I enjoyed thinking about what it must have been like to be a Romantic poet . . . or to be a woman who loved one.

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    Passion by Jude Morgan – Through a Glass, Darkly

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