Click here to read reviewer Br. Benet Exton's take on Liszt's Kiss.
Composer Franz Liszt is the focus of Dunlap’s Victorian-flavored novel set in 1832 Paris, music and theater popular venues for the educated classes, creativity a cause celebre. Unfortunately, the city is beset with the plague, a terrible counterpoint to the beauty of music and art.
Liszt is a minor player in this drama; three other pivotal characters carry the weight of the story. Countess Anne Barbier-Chouant, is a sheltered young woman; when her mother dies of the plague, her father, the marquis, enforces even stricter rules on his household, even padlocking the music room. Anne not only finds solace in music but has considerable talent that her mother encouraged. She chafes under her father’s restrictions.
To escape her father’s scrutiny, Anne forms a relationship with Marie d’Agoult. Marie hosts popular salons attended by Paris’ cultural elite. Under the guise of preparing for her introduction to musical society, Anne plans long afternoons at Marie’s villa practicing. Skilled at the manipulation of circumstances to suit her own agenda, Marie acquires Liszt’s services as Anne’s tutor, although the composer has eyes only for d’Agoult. The composer has a reputation as a lothario, and Anne mistakes the attentions meant for Marie.
Meanwhile, the marquis has invited a distant cousin, formerly studying for the priesthood, hoping to arrange an advantageous marriage for his daughter. Appalled, Anne has no intention of marrying her cousin but seizes the opportunity to use his attentions to escape to Marie’s house for her lessons with Liszt. While Anne is practicing, Armand de Barbier volunteers his time in a local hospital, where he eventually falls ill and is operated on by a dedicated physician, Pierre Talon.
Though restricted by a meager budget, Pierre first sees Anne at a concert where she faints from emotion after seeing Liszt’s performance. Attending Anne, Pierre falls instantly in love. When he delivers the still-healing Armand to Anne’s home, the physician has another chance to see his beloved. What follows is a comedy of errors as the protagonists engage in romantic confusion and expectations run amok - Anne and Liszt, Liszt and Marie, Armand, and Pierre, who despairs of ever having Anne’s hand in marriage.
On the darker side, the marquis is bedeviled by serious problems and no little danger. Anne questions her father’s intentions on her behalf; Armand languishes, unable to recover from his surgery; and Marie, with an agenda of her own, only realizes Liszt’s interest when she has badly muddled her plans to match Anne with the proper gentleman.
With Armand’s survival at stake and menace lurking in her home, Anne is nearly stupefied with confusion, her incapacity too often a plot device. A final confrontation leaves the characters stunned, albeit gratified that their worst fears fail to be realized. This sometimes farcical Victorian drama is redeemed in the final pages, while Paris quakes in the deathly embrace of cholera.