Dawn Reader

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Frankenstein Sundae, 72

In Mary Shelley’s life there are many moments I wish I could have witnessed. Shelley’s courtship of her, the Frankenstein summer, and on and on. But one of the most intriguing, for me, was early in 1822 when she and some significant others were gathering in Pisa: Byron, Thomas Medwin (Shelley’s college friend who would later write a biography of the poet), Edward John Trelawny (a rake of the first order who entered the orbit of thttp://old.post-gazette.com/books/20030914oharaside0914fnp2.asphese powerful stars and enjoyed the glow). Trelawny would outlive almost all of them—and would arrange (he died in England) to have his ashes buried alongside Bysshe Shelley in Rome. On his stone are some lines of Shelley’s, lines he wrote shortly before he drowned:
These are two friends whose lives were undivided.
So let their memory be now they have glided
Under the grave: let not their bone be parted
For their two hearts in life were single-hearted.
Anyway, in Pisa these folks were always looking for novel things to do. Here’s what William St Clair (one of Trelawny’s biographers) wrote about this epoch:
On a typical day the men would practise boxing or fencing or shooting. Byron would travel the 400 yards to the city gate in his carriage to avoid being stared at, and then mount his horse and ride a couple of miles with the others …. The evenings would be spent in visiting or at the theatre …. On one occasion Byron proposed that they should themselves act Othello in the great hall of his palace (Trelawny, The Incurable Romancer, 1977, 59–60).
We know some of the assigned parts. Byron was Iago (appropriate); Edward Williams (who would drown with Bysshe that summer), Cassio; Medwin, Roderigo; Desdemona, Mary Shelley; Emilia, Jane Williams. They rehearsed a few times, but the project collapsed because of the complaints of Countess Teresa Guiccioli—Byron’s latest squeeze—who spoke no English and felt excluded. I suspected that the mid-April arrival in Pisa of Claire Clairmont—mother of Byron’s illegitimate daughter—was a factor, as well.
On January 27, 2001, I wrote to Betty: Don’t you wish you could have witnessed one of those Othello rehearsals with MWS, Byron, et al.? Oh my.
She replied fifteen minutes later but did not respond to my question. Mostly she rehearsed for me some of her many activities—from teaching, to going to meetings, to reading, to ….
I wrote back a week later to tell her I was heading to Massachusetts to help my mom, who was about to undergo cataract surgery. (As I type, I’m remembering my own recent visit to my eye doctor, who told me cataracts were forming in my eyes now.) I also said that in my own account of Mary’s life I’d reached the point—the awful point—of the drownings. I have much sadness to write about in the ensuing days, I said.

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