All for Love
Elyot has written three fictional memoirs about women whose passions ruled their lives. Like Helen of Troy (The Memoirs of Helen of Troy) and Emma Hamilton (Too Great a Lady), her latest heroine, Mary Robinson, was a noted beauty whose adulterous love affair reverberated down through history. Unfortunately, this brief interlude has overshadowed her more noteworthy accomplishments. Readers who know her solely as a royal paramour will learn much from this novel.
We meet Mary Darby as a child in 1765 Bristol, as her merchant father abandons his family to sail to distant Labrador—where he keeps a native mistress. Alas, Mary’s three principal lovers resemble her dashing papa all too well. Her nascent acting gifts encouraged by Garrick himself, Mary becomes the toast of Drury Lane, her every move watched, her every fashion imitated. Yet her marriage at fifteen to womanizing spendthrift Tom Robinson brings her no happiness save a daughter, Maria, and her liaison with the Prince of Wales proves but a passing fancy for His Royal Highness. Mary’s relationship with British cavalryman Ban Tarleton lasts considerably longer; meanwhile, her prolific, celebrated literary efforts pay the bills and distract her from his frequent absences.
The ornate writing style feels authentic, echoing the technique employed by the real Mary in her autobiography. As with all biographical novels that span an entire lifetime, some sections stand out more than others. Here Mary’s early career and amours take precedence, while her later life jumps years with each chapter. Ironically, in this novel about a woman who gave all for love, the moral may be to beware of faithless men, yet Mary emerges as a sympathetic and courageous figure, reinventing herself as necessary and making the most of her innate talents. And as a reminder of the fleeting nature of celebrity, Mary’s story, in Elyot’s hands, is heartfelt and believable.