Release Date: October 5, 2020
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s brief and turbulent life was as passionate and haunting as his poetry.
Romantic, idealistic and impulsive, Shelley had several intense love affairs.
When Shelley drowned at sea, he took his secrets with him.
Did a beautiful, lovelorn lady really follow him throughout Europe, as he claimed? Did Mary Shelley ever learn about this rival for her affections?
Shelley and the Unknown Lady is a carefully researched imagining of the true-life tragedy behind the mystery.
This novella is a stand-alone story excerpted from Lona Manning’s Mansfield Trilogy.
This stand-alone novella, excerpted from Ms. Manning’s hugely popular Mansfield Trilogy, brings her character, Mary (Crawford) Bertram* to Italy, where, while riding alone (gasp) in a forest, she meets the enigmatic, and unabashedly buck-naked Percy Bysshe Shelley.
During their brief, but oh, so memorable first meeting, they discover they had met before, and it wasn’t a pleasant meeting at all. But Shelley, being a man of words, was able to turn a would-be disastrous second meeting into the promise of more interludes to come with the beautiful Mrs. Crawford. (Mrs. Crawford is traveling incognito and thus, has dropped her married name in favor of her maiden name.)
Mrs. Crawford and Shelley have several things in common in terms of intellect and passion, and what woman doesn’t want to be a poet’s muse? But that’s where the similarities end.
The sparks fly between the two from the first—or should I say second meeting—but it is clear this is a doomed relationship from the start. Mary Crawford is cool and calculating and has Percy’s career path planned out. All he has to do is dump his wife and kids. She will be his patroness, and eventually, she will be free of her husband as well so they can marry. Simple. Right? Not so much.
Percy is a free spirit, tethered to nature. A man who believes in free love and though married, he repudiates the ideals of marriage. A true romantic of the Regency period having numerous passionate flings and discarding women like old shoes when he tires of them. Though he would spout resplendent poetry, he was a scoundrel and a cad in every sense. This was not something Mary Crawford would abide by for long.
This book was difficult to review because the lead protagonist, Percy Shelley, was based on a real person. While the romantic in me swooned at the lyrical strains of Shelley’s flowery poetry, the feminist in me wanted to give him a sharp tongue-lashing about how to treat women and the value of true and enduring love versus superficial and fleeting love or just plain lust.
While a somewhat strong and unconventional female protagonist, Mary Crawford, was also a limp noodle where Shelley was concerned, and her scheming and machinations make me believe the two deserved each other.
Essentially, I was none too fond of Percy Shelley or Mary Crawford. I didn’t find either character very sympathetic or likable, though I’m sure Percy Shelley was very charismatic in person. The fault of that does not, however, lie with the author. Ms. Manning could not have changed Shelley if she had wanted to and remained faithful to history, and the illustrious Jane Austen had already established the character of Mary Crawford. Ms. Manning worked with what she was given and used history she had researched to weave in Mary Crawford as the “Unknown Lady” to fill in creatively where history was lacking. I don’t blame her for the route history took her.
What was outstanding about this book was Ms. Manning’s writing and research. There were a few grammatical and typographical errors that a good editor would have caught, but the skill in which Ms. Manning coins a phrase or describes a scene is simply remarkable. When the book concluded, Ms. Manning included page upon page of additional research on Shelley and the “Unknown Lady,” and if the reader didn’t take the time to read those extra pages, they truly missed out on the heart of the book.
Overall, this book is a compelling read on a brief time in Percy Shelley’s life embellished with Shelley’s prose and expounded upon from the author’s vivid imagination and extensive research.
*Mary Crawford is a character in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Lona Manning’s series based on the book, Mansfield Trilogy.
**I was given an ARC of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Lona Manning loves reading, choral singing, gardening and travel. Over the years, she has been a home care aide, legal secretary, political speech writer, office manager, vocational instructor, non-profit administrator and ESL Teacher. She has also written true crime articles for www.CrimeMagazine.com. She began writing A Contrary Wind, her award-winning debut novel, while she was teaching English in China. Manning and her husband raised their family in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. You can follow her on Twitter or Goodreads or at her Facebook page, “A Contrary Wind” where she posts on all things Jane Austen.
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