The Passions of Emma Author:Penelope Williamson Born to luxury and privilege, beautiful Emma Tremayne knows that it is her duty to marry well, maintain her social position, and avoid scandal--all of which she fully intends to do. But the brutal death of a young boy in the mill belonging to her fiance affects her life in a way she never expected, and when the compelling Irish activist Shay McK... more »enna comes into her life, nothing is ever the same again. Set in Victorian Rhode Island, this compelling novel hovers between fiction and romance and deftly draws the contrast between the worlds of the haves and have-nots.« less
It was hauntingly beautiful, a book that will stay with me for a long time. Not at all what I was expecting from the title, though. Emma is a rich, straight-laced New England heiress circa late 19th century. She's engaged to marry a wealthy man from a powerful family. One day, after church, she sees a poor Irish pregnant woman, Bria, (a mill worker in her fiancee's cotton mill) collapse in the street after a religious procession. Emma takes her home in her carriage and cares for her for a few days until she's feeling better. Emma visits her frequently, they become close friends, and Emma learns the woman is dying of comsumption. Emma grows to love Bria, her children and the entire family. Bria notices that Emma seems to like her husband, so she tries to arrange for them to be alone together, hoping they will fall in love and marry after she's gone.
The story is one of the most beautifully written I've ever read, and it's a huge tearjerker. It's as much a tribute to friendship as romance. This is not a one or two-hanky book. It's a box of kleenex book. It has some of the best characterization I've ever read and I fell in love with Emma, Bria and her whole family.
With skill and beauty, Penelope Williamson conveys the power and poignancy of many kinds of love in this moving story of an all-consuming, forbidden passion between a high-society beauty from late-19th-century Rhode Island and the impoverished Irish revolutionary who is married to her new friend. Emma Tremayne, bound by duty in a luxurious, highly restricted world, unconsciously yearns for something more. Gradually she reaches out to a poor Irish woman, a pregnant millworker with a husband and two children, who is dying of consumption. In Bria McKenna, Emma finds a soul-deep friend who quietly transforms her, opening her eyes to new joys and possibilities. Observing Bria's rock-solid love for her husband Shay, Emma begins to find within her own heart a previously unknown capacity for passion and devotion. Yet Emma dares not reveal to Bria that she's fallen in love with Shay. Williamson captures this time and place, and these complex relationships, in vividly realized, highly visual scenes, creating a memorable novel of real and enduring characters, with language whose elegiac tone captures the fleeting beauty of life.