The Stress of Her Regard is a recursive gothic fantasy set in the early nineteenth century world of the Romantic poets, especially George Gordon, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. These writers reacted against the cold reason of the Enlightenment by embracing the emotions that inspire “divine imagination” and opposing ideas of human perfectibility with works devoted to darker, inexplicable forces. Their collective obsession with memory and creativity makes them ideal subjects in works of recursive fiction, which treat historical people and the fictional worlds that they create as having equivalent reality. Tim Powers deals with historical and poetic material by depicting it in a supernatural context supported by a straightforward linear narrative structure. This highly imaginative text generally has been well received.
The fictional setting was developed in Powers’ earlier novel The Anubis Gates (1983). Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Byron appear in this text, but The Stress of Her Regard is wider in scope, including Byron, Shelley, and Keats, together with such members of their households as the physician Polidori, Leigh Hunt, Mary Shelley, and Joseph Severn.
Powers’ Lamiae are derived directly from Keats’s poem “Lamia” (1820), which was, in turn, based on a text from Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). This story tells of a beautiful woman who seduces a young man, offering to love and...
(The entire section is 610 words.)