Early in August, Betty wrote from Oxford (yes, that one), where she’d been spending some time at the university’s Bodleian Library doing more research. That was a daunting thought for me: Betty Bennett needs to do more research! But I don’t? Hmmm.
I wrote back with an idea that had been percolating recently: a new, illustrated edition of Mary Shelley’s History of a Six Weeks’ Tour. Betty told me it was already in the Pickering & Chatto edition (which I knew—but it was a limited, scholarly edition), but I had in mind something that would have more general appeal, something including illustrations from the early nineteenth century (1814 was the year of Mary’s elopement) and from today, for contrast. Betty was encouraging, but somewhere along the line I dropped the idea. Too bad: It was a pretty good one.
In subsequent days our correspondence changed to other questions—like: Did Bysshe Shelley have “relations” with Jane Williams (the wife of his friend Edward) shortly before Bysshe and Edward and Charles Vivien drowned? I’d read such a speculation in one of the Shelley biographies. Betty replied swiftly: I don’t believe it for a minute—for a variety of reasons.
In the same note containing my question I gave Betty an update on our son’s wedding. Things were heating up. Family were arriving; the rehearsal dinner loomed; my brothers had given me the “assignment” to drive my mother back to Pittsfield, Massachusetts (her home), after all the festivities ended. I was annoyed about that. More than 1000 miles there and back. The very thought of it now makes my kidneys file a protest, with vigorous support from my bladder.
I told Betty a bit later that I’d bought an autographed photograph of Kenneth Branagh, whose 1994 film of Frankenstein I’d seen. Branagh appears in the photo in his Victor Frankenstein character. Betty told me she had reviewed that terrible film for the Times Literary Supplement on November 18, 1994.
I just dug through my files and found the copy of the review that Betty had sent me after our exchange. It’s a damning one. Here’s a little stiletto of a paragraph that appears near the end:
Make no mistake: this is not “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but Kenneth Branagh’s. Every hyperbolic moment, every note of predictable, significance-laden music (ominous = fear; soft = love) makes clear that the book’s complex issues have completely eluded the director-star and his scriptwriters.
On August 15, I wrote to give Betty an account of the wedding. I told her that the Dyer men are notoriously blubbery in family settings (we weep on a moment’s notice), so it was a wet weekend … I told her, too, that during the service they’d played an old recording of my father singing “The Lord’s Prayer”—and that Steve had sung Handel’s “Where’re You Walk”; both vocals had dissolved the Dyers.
Early in September—I asked Betty if she’d ever seen Tim Burton’s short film Frankenweenie. She had not. And that occasioned some amusing exchanges.