Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 47

My note to Betty on October 4, 1999, has a special poignancy for me now as I read it for the first time since then. I’ll get to that in a bit.
I told her that I was heading off to Bloomington, Indiana, to read a rare book, Shelley and Mary, a collection of letters and other documents about the Shelley family—nearly 1200 pages—in special collections at the University of Indiana’s Lilly Library. Mary’s surviving son, Percy Florence Shelley, had arranged for a private publication in three volumes in 1882. There were only twelve copies.
I also told Betty that while I was in the area, I was going to visit New Harmony, Indiana, over on the southwestern edge of the state, lying along the Wabash River. Robert Owen had bought the town—called “Harmonie” at the time—in 1825. Here’s what the town’s website says about Owen and his dream:
Robert Owen’s ambition was to create a perfect society through free education and the abolition of social classes and personal wealth. He encouraged world-renowned scientists and educators to settle in “New” Harmony. With the help of his partner, William Maclure of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, the Owen/Maclure community introduced educational and social reforms to America.
So why was I going there? Well, the Owens had a connection with Mary’s father, William Godwin. Robert Owen had consulted with Godwin about his (Owen’s) plans to create a more just society for workers. According to one of Mary’s recent biographers, Miranda Seymour, Owen gave his workforce of semi-destitute people proper schooling, housing and rules of behaviour, [leading] … to a better understanding of citizenship [84]. This is just the sort of thing Godwin would have loved, for he wrote all his life about a just, humane society.
Later, Mary became good friends with Owen’s son, Robert Dale Owen, who was a few years younger than she. There was some … electricity … between them, but he sailed off to America with Frances Wright, who was going to found a settlement, Nashoba (near Memphis, Tennessee), where she would train for employment former slaves (whom she would purchase and free). I’ll get into the Nashoba story a little later (I visited the site), but I wanted to see the New Harmony community because of its connections to the Owens and, by extension, to Godwin and his daughter Mary.
I see from my journal in late September 1999 that I was reading every day about Frances Trollope and Frances Wright (both, by the way, went by “Fanny” with their friends, a name that has always made (immature) me laugh because it was a word that my dad always used to refer to his posterior[1]).
I left on my Indiana trip on the afternoon of October 5, a Tuesday—a sunny & beautiful Ohio fall day, I wrote in my journal that night. I stayed in a Comfort Inn south of Indianapolis, and I’m smiling right now as I read about that night, about how I, using a dial-up modem, accessed America On-Line to send an email to Joyce (after we’d already talked on the phone).
Early next morning, I hit the Lilly Library, where I went through their strict security protocols (as I’ve said, it’s their special collections facility). I quickly obtained their copy of Shelley and Mary and typed frantic notes for two and a half hours—Not a lot of stuff, I wrote later, but some golden stuff—especially the letters from Godwin to Mary, unpublished most other places.
I just now dug through my myriads of folders and found my Shelley and Mary file—including the notes that I’d typed that long-ago day. And there are some lovely exchanges, including this, in a letter Godwin wrote to Mary on March 30, 1820. I cannot conceal from myself, he wrote, that the time must come when I must rest from my labors, and that my life and my power of intellectual production may not go out together.
The fear of all of us as we age. Godwin would live another sixteen years—and was able to continue his intellectual life and productivity for virtually all of that time. A lucky man. My father was not so fortunate.

[1] An example. On long car trips, Dad, driving, would lean back and rise a few inches out of his seat from time to time. His explanation: “Just cooling my fanny.” My mother did not find this charming.

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