Lady of Passion: The Story of Mary Robinson
She was once “a leader of fashion, the doyenne of Drury Lane… the adored mistress of a royal prince,” but when Mary Robinson begins her story in 1800, she is 42 and dependent on friends to keep her out of debtors’ prison.
The daughter of a doting mother and an absentee father, the young Mary is bright, talented, and well-educated. She wants to be an actress, but her mother prefers to see her safely married and, at the age of 15, Mary is wed to a pleasant wastrel. When they drift into a relationship that demands little of either, Mary embarks on her theatrical career.
Mary’s beauty brings her to the attention of the Prince of Wales. The 17-year-old son of George III (who opposes his son’s relationship with Mary) promises much but delivers little in the way of income. The American war provides background for the years in which Mary, beautiful and infamous – her picture is on sale all over London – has a series of affairs with men of power and/or money to survive. Ironically, she finds the love of her life and her talent as a writer only after contracting a crippling disease, but neither the man nor her career brings her the security she craves.
We reach the final chapter of Mary Robinson’s life with a better understanding of her struggles, and with affection for a spunky woman who might have prospered better in the modern age. Lightfoot’s latest novel is based largely on primary sources, including Mary Robinson’s memoirs, which makes it surprisingly moving. Recommended.