This latest historical novel by Amanda Elyot, author of the acclaimed novel Too Great A Lady, follows the life of Mary Robinson, an 18th-century actress, courtesan, and Bluestocking feminist who became better known in her later years for her poetry, plays and novels.
This novel, written from the perspective of Robinson herself, begins with her tumultuous childhood, when her beloved father abandoned the family. She is married off at the age of fifteen to a man her mother believes to be a good match, with disastrous results. Lonely, bankrupt, and with a small child, Mary finds that she must use her beauty, as well as her acting and writing talents, to save her family. Almost overnight, she becomes a hugely popular stage actress and a minor poet, thrusting her into a glittering circle of aristocratic friends, and eventually catching the attention of the Prince of Wales.
Her subsequent affair with the prince makes her a constant fixture in the press - revered one day, reviled the next. When that affair ends, Mary sets off, escaping creditors and the press, and moves several times between England and the Continent, becoming a celebrated figure in France and Germany. She has notorious affairs with several men, until she falls deeply in love with a British military hero, a man who will be part of her life for fifteen years.
When she becomes a fallen idol due to her unwomanly behavior, Mary Robinson forges a new life as a poet and novelist, socializing with such luminaries as Mary Wollstonecraft and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Writing becomes her all-consuming passion, as well as her means of redemption.
Elyot stays true to the details of Robinson's life, basing the novel on Robinson's memoirs, and interspersing verses from her various poems throughout the narrative. All For Love paints a richly textured portrait of Robinson - a life full of human foibles and triumphs - but the title of the novel seems problematic. Mary Robinson was so much more than a royal mistress. She was a fascinating woman in her own right, regardless of her connection to the prince. And she was a true writing talent who inspired several famous Romantic poets. Her poems are still studied in Literature and Women's Studies classes even now.
If you like a juicy read, All For Love is a good novel to pick up. But it's also an intelligent and fresh perspective on the life of the infamous Mary Robinson.