The Swan's Nest

A Novel


By Laura McNeal

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$38.00 CAD

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An engrossing novel about the unlikely love affair between two great 19th-century poets: Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning

On a bleak January day in 1845, a poet who had been confined to her room for four years by recurrent illness received a letter from a writer she secretly idolized but had never seen. “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,” Robert Browning wrote, “and I love you too.”
Elizabeth Barrett was ecstatic. She was famous for her poetry but too frail for the kind of travel that Browning used to fuel his unsuccessful, innovative poems, which were full of spellbinding villains. The two began a passionate correspondence, but Elizabeth kept delaying a visit. What would happen when he saw her in person? Could she trust his emphatic promises? And would she survive if she secretly turned over the rights to all the money she earned to a man who promised he could take her to the bright, healing sun of Italy? 
McNeal brilliantly dramatizes the perils of falling in love in the Victorian world, where family duty was the most important value of all, married women could not own property, and the fight for freedom and equality was funded by sugar crushed and boiled in the West Indies. Lyrically written, as rich as a Brontë novel, The Swan's Nest will immerse readers in the radical hope of two people who believed love in practice could be as enduring and faithful as love in poetry.

  • "A delicately shaded portrait of a marriage only Elizabeth and Robert could perhaps have envisioned."
    Alida Becker, New York Times
  • “Let me count the ways I love The Swan’s Nest: as a transporting romance, as a meticulous recreation of history, as a compelling examination of social hierarchies, and as an expose of the evil that can lurk behind fortunes. It’s a bold feat to enter the minds of geniuses, but Barrett and Browning, as well as the wonderful cast of supporting characters, are as believable as they are beautifully written. Laura McNeal has constructed a gorgeous, faithful, and gripping rendering of poetry’s most enduring love story.
    Nina de Gramont, author of international bestseller The Christie Affair
  • “What a lovely, lyrical novel this is!  Tender in its sympathies, meticulous in its research, and mercifully attentive to the fraught conditions of love, loneliness, and loss, it seems like an antidote to so much contemporary fiction.  The restorative romance and marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning is familiar to many readers of British poetry, but Laura McNeal has made it feel so new and fresh and nourishing, like a sea breeze from the West Indies cleansing away the soot and smoke of 19th century London.”

    Ron Hansen, author of The Kid
  • “Laura McNeal is one of my favorite writers and The Swan’s Nest is a stunning accomplishment. Assiduously researched, gorgeously brought to life, this literary love story will keep you up all night.”
    Lily King, author of Five Tuesdays in Winter
  • “Compelling, convincing and richly woven, The Swan’s Nest conjures the lives of two legendary poets with true drama and nuance. In McNeal’s talented hands, we are intimately drawn into the age the Barrett-Browning’s lived and loved in, with all of its cultural complexity; into the thorniness of well-meaning but destructive families, and into the fascinating and evocative entanglement of two peerless minds. Gorgeous and provocative storytelling. “
    Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun
  • "Sinking into The Swan’s Nest is like being cocooned in a down comforter. Laura McNeal’s deeply researched historical novel is an ode to the great love between two 19th-century English Romantic poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning… McNeal’s achievement is to dramatize how Elizabeth’s great escape from a severely limited life came to pass. In suitably lyrical language, The Swan’s Nest thrillingly captures a marriage of true minds and the triumph of hope, love–and poetry.”
    Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor
  • “McNeal capably evokes her protagonists’ poetic sensibilities both with dialogue… and with her own lyrical descriptions… This insightful novel is a must for devotees of the romantics.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “This delicately rendered novel offers much that will appeal to fans of the Victorian poets.”
  • “A moving, well-written novel and a fitting tribute to the power of love and poetry.”​
    Historical Novel Review
  • “[THE SWAN’S NEST] doesn’t shy from social injustices and exploitative aspects of the British Empire, exploring colonial privilege alongside a realistic portrait of the legendary couple.”​
  • "Written with elegant prose, The Swan’s Nest by Laura McNeal explores the relationship between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett and the risks they made for love while also exploring important social issues and the source of the Barrett family’s wealth.”
    History Through Fiction
  • "An irresistible page-turner and an exquisite tribute to true love."
    Toronto Star

On Sale
Mar 12, 2024
Page Count
320 pages
Algonquin Books

Laura McNeal

About the Author

Laura McNeal is the author of Dark Water, a finalist for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature in 2010, the historical novel, The Practice HouseThe Incident on the Bridge, and four critically-acclaimed novels co-written with her husband Tom, all of them published by Knopf Books for Young Readers. She holds an MA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and has been awarded a 2022 research residency at Baylor University. 

Learn more about this author