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Symphony [Paperback]

Jude Morgan

Price: CDN$ 25.11 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Dec 9 2008

“A deeply empathic exploration of obsession and art, genius and madness. . . . Morgan’s ability to bring each character to life is virtuosic.” —The Washington Post Book World

In 1827 Harriet Smithson, a beautiful young Irish actress, determined to avoid the traditional route to stardom via the manager’s bed, joins an English company in the bold experiment of taking Shakespeare to Paris.

With the ferment of revolution in the air, the new generation is longing for passionate, spontaneous art. And to Harriet’s astonishment, it is embodied in her—La Belle Irlandaise. In the midst of this frenzy she finds herself pursued by a strange, intense young composer named Hector Berlioz. So begins a painful and profound love affair. She is his muse; his idée fixe; his obsession. And Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, directly inspired by Harriet, will change music forever. 

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Griffin; Reprint edition (Dec 9 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312384785
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312384784
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 22 x 2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,405,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

The real-life marriage of Irish actress Harriet Smithson (1800–1854) to composer Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) is the ostensible subject of Morgan's latest (following Indiscretion), but the two don't meet until two thirds of the way into this thickly embellished historical romance. After initial reluctance, the young Harriet, her passion for theatre inflamed by Shakespeare, joins her family's traveling theater company. As drink dissipates her father, weight softens her mother and minimal talent limits her brother Joseph, Harriet takes charge of the family business and appears with theatrical stars of the time. But it's her magnificent interpretation of Ophelia in Paris that brings her a public, including Hector, the son of a successful doctor and a pious mother. Young Hector's path to a musical education is told in parallel to Harriet's youth. After her Ophelia, Harriet turns away Hector's ardent pursuit, but as her theater begins to fail and his musical star begins to rise, she attends a performance of his Symphonie Fantastique, inspired by her. Morgan's modernist style, with frequent shifts in tense and POV, won't be for everyone, but it lets Morgan nicely capture the multiple levels of consciousness a performer juggles on stage (the three minds) and gives the novel real texture. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“[Jude Morgan] deserves to be widely acknowledged as a writer to be read.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Morgan’s modernist style . . . nicely captures the multiple levels of consciousness a performer juggles on stage and gives the novel real texture.” —Publishers Weekly

“With empathy and formidable imagination, [Passion brings] the Romantic era to full, resplendent life.” —Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine historical novel fizzles out towards the end Feb. 15 2007
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on
This is a novel about the French composer Hector Berlioz and the Irish actress Harriet Smithson. Harriet came with a group of actors to perform Shakespeare in Paris in 1827, and as soon as Berlioz saw her performances, he became obsessed with her, worshipping her from afar: they did not actually meet for another five years, and then they married.

A great deal of research has gone into the book, but it is lightly worn. Berlioz first sees her perform about half way through the book; but in the early part we have a superb account of their lives before that time. Not only the principal characters, but the other members of their families are splendidly realized in the round, as is the social and political background of the time. Morgan also beautifully captures Berlioz' overheated Romantic sensibilities and Harriet's insecurities. His passionate wooing of her and her response are touchingly described, as is the brief period of happiness which follows.

Both had been warned that it was an unsuitable marriage; but who could have told just how it would turn out? The torture that afflicted both their lives makes painful reading.

The style is a little idiosyncratic. Sometimes events are narrated in the historic present, sometimes in the past tense; there are very many short fragments of sentences without a main verb; and I don't think I care for the intrusion at one stage of a libretto Morgan has invented, nor for the few pages of mock-Shakespearean drama that presumably presents itself to an opium-drugged Berlioz near the end. In the last 100 pages or so the power of the book slackens considerably, tragic though its material is. It is almost as if Morgan has himself lost interest. The chronology becomes too loose, and there is an unnecessary section on Mendelssohn. Personally I also think it would have been better to have put the material of the Prologue into the end of the book instead: coming at the beginning, it gives too much away. But the choice of vocabulary is always imaginative without being forced, and from a purely literary point of view, too, about three-quarters of the book is a real pleasure to read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Discordant July 7 2008
By Michael Gunther - Published on
The central matter of Jude Morgan's "Symphony" is a romantic, but eventually failed, marriage between Hector Berlioz and actress Harriet Smithson, who was Berlioz' muse and the inspiration for his "Symphonie Fantastique." The tricks that Morgan uses to tell this story include shifts in tone, chronology, point of view, and style - some, although by no means all, of the modern literary arsenal. Unfortunately, in this writer's hands, the various narrative devices that he uses seem rather complicated and "precious." This is one book that would have benefited from less cleverness on the part of its author.

Readers who are interested in the lives of the Romantic composers may also want to check out the fine biography (it reads better than most novels) titled "Chopin's Funeral," by Benita Eisler.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an excellent story hampered by an overly elaborate style Jan. 4 2010
By Margaret Johnston - Published on
Harriet Smithson is an Irish actress; she is from a theatrical family, yet she spent her childhood resisting their calling. Hector Berlioz is meant to follow in his father's footsteps as a doctor, yet he cannot resist the music within him. When Harriet comes to Paris with an English company to act Shakespeare, Berlioz sees her as Ophelia and instantly adores her. After years of an obsession which produces _Symphonie Fantastique_ (probably Berlioz's best-known work), they eventually meet and begin a powerful, painful love affair.

I have to say first that I did not care for the book's style. Morgan switches between past tense and present tense, often with different styles of punctuation; he interpolates first-person bits in which it seems Harriet is addressing the author directly, and there are even odder bits in which the author is essentially interviewing other composers (Chopin, Mendelssohn) about Hector and Harriet. I've read books where the author's tense changes seemed to mean something (Jo Walton's Lifelode or Rumer Godden's _China Court_, for example), but here, I just found them and the other style variations confusing and self-consciously clever. Every time the style changed, I was bounced out of the narrative and had to work to re-immerse myself.

But dislike of the style aside, I always was able to dive back into the book and keep reading with enjoyment. Morgan does beautifully with the period, with the characters, and most of all, with the portrayal of life as an artist (whether actor or composer). The novel does slow in the last hundred pages or so, because once Harriet and Hector are together, the tension of wondering when that would happen is gone and replaced by a drearier anxiety over how long their relationship will actually last. On balance, though, it's an excellent story, though hampered by an overly elaborate style.
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating biographical historical fiction Dec 15 2007
By Harriet Klausner - Published on
In 1827 twentyish Irish actress Harriet Smithson believes she can become a star without sleeping with a theatre manager or a play producer. Instead, she takes the radical approach by staying with her family's troupe going to Paris to perform Shakespeare.

In France she takes over running the group as her father sinks deeper into alcoholism, her brother has no talent for the stage or business, and her mother feels her age and her growing waistline. Her performance as Ophelia in Hamlet is the rage of the city leading to acclaim and the demand by the adulating public to see her perform. Composer Hector Berlioz is attracted to Harriet, but she rejects his advances until her fame wanes while his soars especially when he credits her as his muse and the Symphonie Fantastique is performed.

Rotating perspective between the actress and the composer, readers obtain a fascinating biographical historical fiction that is not easy to read due shifting tense, but worth the time as fans obtain a rare deep look inside the mind of a performer while performing. Harriet and Hector come alive on and off stage as Jude Morgan provides a virtuoso performance with the entertaining SYMPHONY.

Harriet Klausner
1.0 out of 5 stars Where is this story going??? July 31 2012
By L. Jones - Published on
I have no idea, because the author seems to indulge in some extraordinary writing experiments, as if testing the reader's patience. Mine was certainly tested. The author would have served the reader better by trying to be much less clever, and more forthright in telling a damn good story, because the germ of a great plot was there. But with so much meandering and switching of POVs in midstream, and many other writing mortal sins, the author prevented me from even getting to the fifth chapter.

So glad I borrow books from the library than buy stuff like this.

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