I think it’s official — I am going to have to admit Jude Morgan to my elite Pantheon of Historical Fiction authors. Which creates some gender issues, because it used to be the Pantheon of Historical Fiction Goddesses, but I’m just going to have to work around that.
Symphony is the kind of book I love — a novel that recreates the life of a real person whose story has largely been lost to history. The person in this case is Harriet Smithson, a famous Irish actress of the early 19th century who was a big hit performing Shakespeare on the stages of Paris, and who eventually married composer Hector Berlioz. Around that brief historical footnote, Morgan has woven a brilliant tapestry rich with period detail and peopled by characters real enough to break your heart.
As he did in Passion, Morgan also plays games with language, experimenting with styles and genres to suit different moods and characters (one chapter is written as the text of an operetta). Sometimes it annoys me when writers show off too much with language, but when Jude Morgan does it, it always enhances story and character rather than drawing attention away from them.
I was intrigued by the glimpse into the nineteenth-century theatre and particularly what life was like for actresses in an era when “actress” was still not considered a completely respectable profession. Harriet was a vividly drawn and sympathetic character, and I thoroughly enjoyed this foray into a corner of history I’d never visited before.