In 1999 I was in Europe for nearly a month (from April 11–May 6), trying to visit every extant Wollstonecraft-Godwin-Shelley site—and any number of places where nothing really stands any longer but where something significant happened. For example, on Friday, April 23, I got off the train in Viareggio, Italy, and walked along the Mediterranean beach. It was there, in August 16, 1822, that Edward John Trelawny, in accordance with local law, cremated the drowned and barely recognizable body of Percy Bysshe Shelley that had washed up (he had drowned on July 8). It was there on that beach that, the cremation nearly complete, Trelawny snatched from the fire the remains of Shelley’s heart.
I’m going to write much more about my journey in subsequent chapters, but it was this trip—or my report of it, anyway—that drew Betty and me closer together. When I finally got home (and I was so ready for that!), I wrote Betty on May 10 with an account of my travels. I told her what I’d learned from my visit at Castle Frankenstein—that it was impossible (as I noted earlier) that Percy and Mary had visited it during their elopement journey down the Rhine in 1814. I also mentioned a few other key places I’d been—Field Place (the estate where Bysshe Shelley grew up), Tan-yr-allt, the Welsh house where Bysshe and his first wife had lived for a bit—and where he claimed he’d battled an assassin late one night.
And this: I will be going to the Library of Congress map room in the next few weeks; there I will try to find an early 19th century map of the Rhine to see what I can determine about the course of the river in those days. I’ll let you know if I discover anything of interest ….
Remember: The Library of Congress is in Washington, D. C. (duh); American University is in Washington, D. C.; Betty taught at American University. I can’t remember, of course, all the ulterior motives that were banging around in my head at the time I wrote to Betty, but I’m betting one of them was this: I’m letting her know I’m going to be in Washington … let’s see what happens.
Less than an hour later, Betty wrote back. She thanked me for sharing the details about the trip—agreed with my Castle Frankenstein comments and said, mysteriously, I have a different theory about the Frankenstein name … but it remains a theory. I never did find out what she meant about that.
But here was the good news: Let me know when you are in town—perhaps we can meet. … With kind regards …
And that, my friends, would turn out to be one of my life’s finest gifts.