Last time--I'd just discovered that my framed autograph letter by Washington Irving was the property of Marietta College!
That sent a surge of worry through me. Am I in possession of stolen property?
On January 4, I sent an email to the library at Marietta College, explaining. And waited. A day later, here’s what I wrote in my journal: nice e-mail from Marietta College (the letter is mine! it had been sold at auction at Sotheby’s in 1992 to raise money for [the college] …).
How do you spell relief? That framed Washington Irving letter remains on our wall, and I still think about Marietta every time I walk up and down the stairs and see it hanging there—and muse about how I once thought it would hang me.
Betty replied a day later with some comments about death and loss in her own life. At the time, she was not in what we so superficially call today “a Happy Place.” But soon we were back in our usual mode—sharing information about Mary Shelley. I wrote on January 6 to tell her that I’d photocopied up at Cleveland Public Library the three plays that Mary had seen on her “date” with Washington Irving. I offered to send copies if Betty didn’t have them. She didn’t; I sent them. And, responding to some comments she’d made about our emerging friendship, I wrote, it’s wonderful to know you’re only a click away.
Every now and then there was some humor in our correspondence. On January 10, 2000, I wrote to tell her about how I’d planned to take a course in Italian at a nearby university so that I could function more intelligently during my trip Italy to see the relevant Shelley sites there. I registered for the course, paid the fee, and then … But when I walked into the room and saw it full of folks who looked like my grandchildren, and when the teacher spent the entire first hour explaining how we ought to organize our notebooks, I marched over to the Registrar and retrieved my tuition and went ignorant to Italy.
That’s something I regret, by the way—dropping Italian. I had my most difficult time there. Unlike Germany and Switzerland, where most of the people I dealt with knew enough English to help me (and probably a lot more), I had a difficult time in Italy—beginning with my getting on the wrong train in Florence, where, of course, right outside the station, a Gypsy woman picked my pocket cleanly, then, flashing a wicked smile, handed my wallet back to me. I was so upset I went back to my hotel and took a weepy nap.
As January rolled along, I was becoming more and more deeply mired in the claim of the Shelleys’ friend Edward John Trelawny that he had swum the rapids of the Niagara River, just below the Falls, in 1833. Mary had written a novel—Lodore (1835)—that has a key scene at the Falls, so, of course, I had to go and check things out. (She had never seen the Falls, however—had never been to America.) Perhaps her connection with Trelawny had given her some information? Or not. There were many published accounts of that natural wonder.
Anyway, I’d been to the Falls, had looked at the rapids (somewhat calmer now because of hydroelectric and other uses of the Niagara River), and had figured there was no way Trelawny could have done it. No surprise, really: He was a notorious liar.
But who was he? And how did he get into Mary’s life?