On July 18, I wrote to tell Betty that I’d just finished reading Janet Todd’s biography of Mary Wollstonecraft. I said that I remained impressed with it, but I had a few small complaints—not enough footnotes (where could I find some of the things she mentioned?), not enough reminders of dates in her text (what year was this?).
I added that I was about to head off to the University of Rochester to read a pamphlet on vegetarianism by John Frank Newton, a person and a publication with quite an influence on Bysshe Shelley for a while. (I’ll write a bit later about that journey—about what I discovered there.) Within four days, though (July 22), I wrote exultantly to Betty: I finished the draft of the PBS chapter! I did not tell her how long it was, but I just consulted my digital copy of that early draft, and I can report that it was forty-eight pages—a bit much for just the youth of the man who would become Mary’s husband. (By contrast, the final draft—now on Kindle Direct—is only fifteen pages. Oh, the pain of slicing!)
Betty sent her congratulations (and said I was about to catch up with her in the story: I am mid-1825.). She also told me that her son had visited her recently and had coaxed her out onto the tennis court for the first time in four years.
In my answer on July 23 I told her that I’d been a varsity tennis player at Hiram College for four years—and I was fairly honest, too, noting that I was on a very bad team. I also noted that I’d just helped my son and daughter-in-law move and doing so had renewed my appreciation for the women in PBS’ life who had to be ready to pick up and go on virtually a moment’s notice. What an impulsive lad!
I also wrote about how—as a father of a young man—I understood more clearly the feelings (and rage!) of Timothy Shelley, Bysshe’s father. Sir Timothy (he was a baronet) did not cover himself with glory during all of this, but what father—especially one in the early 19th century—would handle well what PBS hurled his way? Expelled from college, eloped with a sixteen-year-old [Harriet Westbrook], borrowed money against his estate, rejected religion, and on and on.
As older parents know, parenthood does not ever end; it just changes—and often in ways that are painful to experience. There’s something so impossibly sweet about a young child, grasping your hand as you cross the street, admiring you so entirely that he dresses like you, reading books that you love, throwing himself into activities that you prefer, and on and on. And then, gradually, allegiances shift, new interests emerge, independence arrives—often noisily, and no one but a ghost grabs your hand in the crosswalk.