13 July 2014
A few days ago I was flipping through my Rolodex (yes I still have—still use—one), and I came across the card for Betty Bennett. On the front, her address and phone number and email; on the back, directions to her place in Washington, D. C. When I saw the card, a number of feelings surged through me—happiness, loss, regret, gratitude. The happiness and gratitude will be easy to write about. The others … not so much. So let’s do the easy ones first.
I’ve known all along that I owe Betty a chapter of this book—and much more (you may remember that I dedicated it to her). This book certainly would not have existed without her. Betty T. Bennett, 1935–2006, was for much of her adult life the principal Mary Shelley scholar in the world—and hers is a world populated by some very remarkable scholars. She spent much of her career at American University in Washington, D. C., both in teaching and administration. But her passion was the life of Mary Shelley, and at the time of her death in 2006 she had spent many years working on what would have surely been the definitive biography. She already had a contract for the book with Harvard University Press. I don’t know what the status of it now is.
Early in 1997, when I began my adventures with Mary, it was not too long before I came across Betty’s name, for she had written and/or edited some of the fundamental publications in the field. She edited the masterful three-volume edition of Mary’s letters (The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980–1988); she co-edited The Mary Shelley Reader (with Charles Robinson, another great scholar who will appear in a bit; Oxford University Press, 1990); she wrote Mary Shelley: An Introduction (Johns Hopkins, 1998); she wrote Mary Diana Dods, A Gentleman and a Scholar (William Morrow, 1991), an amazing piece of literary sleuthing about one of Mary’s friends who “passed” as a man. There are others.
I see in my journal that it was 26 October 1998 when I went online and found Betty’s email address. Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day—just a brief note: found Betty Bennett’s email address at American U and sent her a fan note.
That Halloween week (appropriate for the author of Frankenstein!) I had no idea what would ensue because of that email—what wonders would ensue.