Elizabeth Hand is the author of twenty multiple-award-winning novels and six collections of short fiction. She is a longtime reviewer for numerous publications, including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her noir novels featuring punk photographer Cass Neary have been compared to the work of Patricia Highsmith and are being developed for aUK TV series. Her most recent novel, A Haunting on the Hill, is the first book authorized by Shirley Jackson's estate to be set in Jackson's iconic Hill House. Hand teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing and divides her time between the Maine coast and North London.

Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

In the Victorian Age, a mysterious and irresistible woman becomes entwined in the lives of several artists, both as a muse and as the object of all-consuming obsession. Radborne Comstock, one of the early twentieth century's most brilliant young painters, is helpless under her dangerous spell. In modern-day London, journalist Daniel Rowlands meets a beguiling woman who holds the secret to invaluable—and lost—Pre-Raphaelite paintings, while wealthy dilettante-actor Valentine Comstock is consumed by enigmatic visions. Swirling between eras and continents, Mortal Love is the intense tale of unforgettable characters caught in a whirlwind of art, love, and intrigue that will take your breath away.


•So often, works of weird literature are rooted in myth and fantasy, though not necessarily constrained by the tropes associated with them. Such is the case here, in this masterpiece of weird fantasy by the prolific and staggeringly talented Hand. She grounds this ambitious novel in the myths of muses, the godlike entities said to inspire great works of art. From there, she builds a tale that sprawls across multiple eras, protagonists, and universal human themes, creating a tapestry that explores the relationship between art and artist in brilliant and unforgettable ways. Once you dive into this dazzlingly original work, you won't want to come up for air until the end…and the imagery and incidents will stay with you for the rest of your days. Hand is that kind of writer, a genius of dialogue and detail who is able to deftly weave together aspects of a multitude of inspirations to create something so absolutely fresh and beautiful that you can scarcely believe it exists, and you are reading it. – Robert Jeschonek



  • "A literary page-turner. Deeply pleasurable. Hand's lushly worded tale is consistently gripping…. A delightful waking dream."

    – (****) — People
  • "The novel succeeds as both a thriller and a meditation on the mysterious nature of inspiration."

    – Village Voice
  • "Explores the theme of artistic inspiration and its dangerous devolvement into obsession and madness through three interwoven narrative threads in this superb dark fantasy novel…. Hand does a marvelous job of making the ineffable tangible, lacing her tale with references to the work of artists ranging from Algernon Swinburne to Kurt Cobain and capturing the intense emotions of her characters in exquisitely sculpted prose."

    – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)



Part One

The Green Girl

In 1839 there was published a Method of Designating Colors as a solution of the problem proposed by the first chairman of the Inter-Society Color Council, E. N. Gathercoal, who said, "A means of designating colors…is desired; such designation to be sufficiently standardized as to be acceptable and usable by Science, sufficiently broad to be appreciated and used by Science, Art, and Industry, and sufficiently commonplace to be understood, at least in a general way, by the whole public."

Under proper conditions the color names agree well with common usage. Use of other light sources will yield object colors not correctly described by these names.

—The Inter-Society Color Council Method of Designating Colors"


Lost on Both Sides

The letter was written in German. Learmont recognized the hand as that of Dr. Hoffmann, head physician at the mental hospital in Frankfurt—his friend and colleague, a man who had played host to him three decades earlier, in 1842. Since then their friendship had been maintained exclusively through correspondence, despite Hoffmann's written adjurations that Learmont was always welcome at his home, and that Hoffmann's wife, Therese, wished to be remembered to him with all good grace, and (more recently) that the three Hoffmann children were now no longer children but themselves nearly as old as the two physicians had been when first they met.

We would not recognize each other now, Thomas my friend, read Learmont. I pray that Time has been gentler to you than it has been to those poor souls in my care.

Learmont lifted his head to gaze out the window of the inn where he was staying, near Wallingham in Northumberland. Sleet spattered the stony path that traversed a long incline toward the moors, all but invisible behind a shifting veil of gray and white. We would not recognize each other now. Thomas Learmont thought wryly that quite the opposite was true: Hoffmann would have no trouble at all recognizing his old friend, because in thirty years Learmont had aged not a whit. With a sigh he glanced back down at the letter.

It is a distressing topic I now wish to draw to your attention, dear Thomas, and a puzzling one. I know that you recall many years hence asking me to inform you if ever one of my female patients should exhibit certain traits, of which you have long made practice of examining and treating. My own hospital continues to deal first and foremost with children and young persons whose infirmities cause them great turmoil as they forge their ways into respectability. So it was these five months past that a young woman was commended into my care by an acquaintance who requested that I not question him as to his relationship with her. I think you will understand my meaning here. My friend is a composer, promising though not well known, and this woman had sought him out after hearing a recital of his music at a small party. She gave her name as Isolde, but my friend said this was a romantic affectation, that as a child she had seen the modern opera performed—a wicked parental betrayal if true!—and that her Christian name was Marta.