Passion tells the stories of the Romantic poets from the points of view of their women. It begins with each as a young girl, starting before Romanticism with the broad strokes of the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Godwin Shelley’s mother, a famous early feminist, writer, and philosopher.
Mary Wollstonecraft dies shortly after childbirth. Her daughter, Mary Godwin, grows up worshipping her mother and taking seriously the ideals of her father, William Godwin. However, he compromises his principles (he doesn’t believe in marriage) by marrying Mrs. Clairmont, a woman Mary detests. Her ideals and the poisonous atmosphere at home make her open to the advances of Percy Byssche Shelley, even though he is already married. She runs off with him at the age of sixteen, unfortunately accompanied by her stepsister Jane (who later calls herself Claire).
Lady Caroline Lamb loves her husband, but she is prone to a certain instability that her husband’s family deplores. When she sets eyes upon the famous Lord Byron, she is entranced and is soon engaged in a flagrant affair. When he breaks with her, she stalks him, sneaking into his rooms, following him around dressed as a boy. Her behavior is a scandal.
The only woman George Byron really loves is his half-sister Augusta. Even she succumbs to his charms. After he makes the mistake of marrying a self-righteous and vengeful woman, his worst secrets come out and he must leave the country.
Fanny Brawne comes late to the novel. She falls in love with a neighbor, John Keats, but he is a victim to a family weakness, consumption.
This material could be sensationally or romantically told, but it remains at a distance from us, more like biographical writing. We do feel sympathy for some of these women, especially for Mary Shelley, but I was not drawn right in. Although the book is named Passion and we know that this emotion was an important force for the Romantics, we don’t really see much of it in the novel, nor truly understand just what the attraction is to this group of neurotic young men. Sometimes I could catch a glimmer of the attractions of Byron, the only one who did not seem permanently deluded about the virtues of humanity. Still, for firmly setting a background for bits and pieces of information I picked up over time, I mildly enjoyed this novel. Although I admire the intent of Morgan’s more serious depictions of figures from literature, I have so far enjoyed most his romance novel, Indiscretion.