The Passion
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4.04 / 5

"The Passion" Summary

By L.J. Smith

young adult | 387 pages | Published in 1998

ISBN_13: 9780380790944
ISBN_10: 0380790947

Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

A sweeping tale of love, obsession, and adventure set against the backdrop of wartime Europe.


In this book summary, we delve into Jeanette Winterson's captivating novel "The Passion." Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars and filled with themes of love, desire, and obsession, this novel takes readers on a captivating journey through the lives of two unique protagonists.

Brief Synopsis

"The Passion" is a historical novel that primarily takes place during the Napoleonic Wars. The story is divided into two distinct parts, each following a different protagonist. The first part introduces us to Henri, a young Frenchman who enlists in Napoleon's army. As he travels from his small village to Venice, he becomes enthralled by the mythical city's enchanting beauty.

The second part of the story focuses on Villanelle, a young and adventurous Venetian woman. Born with webbed feet, she is considered a strange and exotic creature. Villanelle becomes involved with a bisexual gambler and begins working as a spy for the British Navy.

As the lives of Henri and Villanelle intersect, their stories intertwine, leading to a tale of forbidden love, desire, and the mysterious power of passion.

Main Events

1-3Henri's journey from his village to enlist in Napoleon's army and his arrival in Venice.
4-6Henri's fascination with Venice and his meeting with Villanelle.
7-9Villanelle becoming involved with the gambler and her recruitment as a spy.
10-12The romantic relationship between Henri and Villanelle deepens.
13-15Henri's capture and imprisonment by the Russians, while Villanelle searches for him.
16-18Henri's escape and Villanelle's transformation into a swan.
19-21The climax of the story as Henri and Villanelle finally reunite.

Main Characters


Henri is a young Frenchman who enlists in Napoleon's army. He is drawn to adventure and mesmerized by the beauty of Venice. Henri's character reflects the romantic ideals of the time and his deep desire to uncover life's mysteries.


Villanelle is a fascinating character who is both charming and mysterious. Born with webbed feet, she is considered an outcast by society. Villanelle is independent and adventurous, and her journey unfolds against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.

Themes and Insights

Love and Obsession

"The Passion" explores the complexities of love and the devastating impact of obsession. Both Henri and Villanelle become consumed by their feelings for each other, leading them on a tumultuous path. The novel showcases how love can both drive individuals to great heights and push them to the brink of destruction.

Identity and Otherness

The theme of identity plays a significant role in the novel. Both Henri and Villanelle struggle with their sense of self and their place in society. Villanelle's physical difference, her webbed feet, serves as a metaphor for otherness and the challenges of being an outsider. Through their experiences, Winterson explores the notion of finding acceptance and connection amidst difference and adversity.

Consequences of War

As the novel is set during the Napoleonic Wars, the consequences and impact of war are evident throughout the story. Winterson vividly portrays the chaos, violence, and disruption caused by the conflicts of the time. The characters' lives are profoundly impacted, highlighting the lasting effects of war on individuals and societies at large.

Reader's Takeaway

"The Passion" is a captivating and lyrical novel that delves into the complexities of love, desire, and the human experience. Winterson's lyrical prose and vivid storytelling transport readers to historical settings while exploring timeless themes. This book leaves readers contemplating the power of passion and the choices we make in pursuit of it.


Jeanette Winterson's "The Passion" intertwines the lives of two fascinating protagonists during the Napoleonic Wars, exploring themes of love, desire, and the repercussions of war. Through the lyrical prose and captivating storytelling, Winterson offers readers a profound exploration of the human experience and the power of passion in our lives. This novel is a must-read for those seeking an immersive and thought-provoking historical fiction experience.

The Passion FAQ

  1. What is the plot of 'The Passion'?

    The plot of 'The Passion' revolves around two main characters, Henri and Villanelle. Henri is a young French soldier who becomes a cook for Napoleon's army. Villanelle is a beautiful web-footed Venetian girl who works as a lock-picker. The story follows their separate journeys and eventually brings them together, exploring themes of love, obsession, and war.

  2. Who is the author of 'The Passion'?

    'The Passion' is written by Jeanette Winterson.

  3. When was 'The Passion' published?

    'The Passion' was first published in 1987.

  4. Is 'The Passion' based on a true story?

    No, 'The Passion' is a work of fiction and not based on a true story.

  5. What are some major themes explored in 'The Passion'?

    Some major themes explored in 'The Passion' include love, desire, obsession, war, identity, and the blurred lines between reality and imagination.

  6. Is 'The Passion' appropriate for young readers?

    While 'The Passion' is a highly acclaimed novel, it contains mature themes and content that may not be suitable for young readers. It is recommended for mature readers.

  7. Is 'The Passion' a standalone book or part of a series?

    'The Passion' is a standalone book and not part of a series.

  8. What is the writing style of 'The Passion'?

    The writing style of 'The Passion' is lyrical and poetic, with vivid descriptions and evocative imagery.

  9. Has 'The Passion' won any awards?

    Yes, 'The Passion' won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1987.

  10. Is 'The Passion' available in e-book format?

    Yes, 'The Passion' is available in e-book format for digital readers.