The year 2000 commenced. The first year of my life when I did not have a father. A couple of weeks earlier, 20 December 1999, Joyce and I had celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. I’d called ahead at a pricey restaurant in the area—being careful to let them know that this was a special day for us. They assured me they’d be attentive.
Fat chance. An excerpt from my journal: Instead, we were plunked down in a small room where there were two birthday parties + a large collection of raucous/drunken young businessmen arguing about the Browns, the Internet … my fillet was tough, the potatoes were watery and tasted as if they’d been on the warm-up line for a while ….
Throughout January I was sticking to my research routines—reading books for Kirkus I would later review, continuing to read about Mary Shelley and her circle (I was reading about actress Fanny Kemble early in the month), going to movies and plays. I also had a scholar’s horrible experience: I read and took notes on a book—then discovered I’d already read and taken notes on it. Advancing dotage? I also had started reading biographies of Coleridge, who had been friends with William Godwin—and who had visited the Godwins when Mary was just a little girl.
I notice, too, that I was also active on eBay, bidding on and buying items related to Mary and friends—for example, a nineteenth-century engraving of Villa Diodati, Byron’s place in Geneva, the place where Mary began to conceive the idea for Frankenstein that summer of 1816. And now—nearly fifteen years later—I’m trying to figure out how to get rid of all those things I was pursuing so vigorously.
On January 4, 2000, Betty Bennett and I resumed our correspondence. I told her the story about re-reading, re-note-taking that book (it was Richard Church’s 1928 biography, Mary Shelley). Betty wrote about her discouraged frame of mind—about life’s losses, she said. Sometimes, she added, the solitary writing life feels like solitary confinement.
I wrote back about my own continuing grief. My father’s loss. Death ended it all, I said, put a period at the end of a wonderful sentence. … Old age brings an awful anonymity; once you enter a care facility, you become like everyone else. And then some updates on my contacts with agents and publishers—not much happening—and the news that I would be giving a talk on Mary Shelley at Hiram College.
A day later I wrote to tell her that I’d recently bought an autograph letter written by Washington Irving. I was acquiring things about him because he’d had a relationship with Mary—after the death of her husband—and I was very curious about the choreography of that dance. (I will devote a chapter to this—later on.) Anyway, I told Betty that I’d been unable to read some of his handwriting, so I’d gone to the scholarly edition of his letters to see what it all was. Found out. Then also discovered, in the notes, that the framed letter hanging on my wall belonged to Marietta College.