Too soon, our conversation was over, and we were back on the road to Ohio, and Joyce was telling me how she’d loved watching the dance. I’d promised Betty to send her copies of some of the great maps I’d found at the LOC, and I did, and soon we were sending each other things fairly regularly—and our email correspondence accelerated for many months.
I see that in late May and early June 1999, we were still talking about the Frankenstein name—and where Mary might have learned it. One theory: She learned it from Byron—but on his Rhine trips (I checked) he was not near the site of the castle. Still … during those evenings of ghost stories during that rainy summer of 1816 in Geneva, it’s possible the name could have come up from any of the other participants—Byron or his personal physician, Dr. John Polidori, for example. But—so far—no one knows.
(As I write this, I’m realizing that what I said a little earlier—that Betty did not tell me about her Frankenstein-name theories—is not true: In June both of us were writing lengthy emails on the subject.)
Throughout June, Betty was also asking me about the photographs I’d taken on my month-long European odyssey. She wanted copies of some of them; I sent them.
Our conversations sometimes veered from Shelley and her circle. In a note to her on June 7, I told her that I had just started reviewing books for Kirkus (I told her I’d done about a dozen; as I type these words, on July 27, 2014, I have done 1244 Kirkus reviews … time marches on). And even a gentle teasing tone sometimes emerged.
On June 8 I told her not to worry about the cost of duplication and postage for the items I was sending. The amounts are trivial, I wrote, and I’m happy to be a tiny part of what you’re doing. And I added: In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the thought of your feeling guilty ….
She replied: Guilt?? You want to give MORE guilt to a New Yorker, who, as a category, admit our cup runneth over???
Soon we were writing again about Mary’s lost infant child. We were wondering if the baby was lying in bed with her mother when she died—but Betty’s evidence suggested, no: She and Bysshe had bought a cradle.
And then we were talking about our own writing … how much a day? what hours are best? I told her that a former (and fine) professor of mine (Sanford Marovitz at Kent State) had said he always stopped for the day in mid-sentence: That way he knew he already had a start on the next day’s work. (I still sometimes do that—especially on longer projects, like this one.) I told her about Anthony Trollope’s amazing work habits—and that I was starting to read Trollope’s complete novels (he wrote forty-seven). By the time I completed that project (October 22, 2007), Betty Bennett had been dead for over a year. And I didn’t even know it.