Early in February, Betty wrote about her ongoing frustration with the pace—and length—of her manuscript. She told me that she’d gotten Mary Shelley only to 1831 (she would live twenty years more) but had already written more than 1500 pages in her first draft. She saw no end in sight—and she was worrying about all the revision that would have to ensue.
And she was not feeling well—physically, emotionally. She had some kind of infection that she was not recovering from—and her grief about the recent deaths of her daughter-in-law and father was not abating. She said she was now in the stage of anger about those losses—anger at them for leaving, anger at me for staying.
A week later—back from Massachusetts, where my mother’s cataract surgery had been no problem (not for me, I realize now)—I wrote in admiration of Mary Shelley’s … what? … endurance? How she managed to keep going is astonishing, I wrote. At 25, she’d buried three children, suffered a near-fatal miscarriage, buried a husband, endured a wrenching estrangement from her father …. For me (and my young readership) this, I think is one of the principal messages: first surviving, then carrying on.
Betty replied a few hours later, saying these last few days I feel as if I am coming out of a strange world of loss & illness ….
A week later we exchanged Valentine’s greetings. I told her about something I’d seen on America On-Line (remember that!), something called a “Valenstein”—sort of an anti-valentine, I said, complete with a Frankenstein-creature-face in the shape of a heart. (I don’t think the idea caught on, though. Today—November 28, 2014—I had a hard time finding a Google Image of the thing.)
Later in February, we wrote back and forth a bit about a recent review in the London Review of Books of Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley. Betty did not want to read the review because, still at work on her own biography, she did not want to be influenced by what Seymour had done. I told her that the piece had praised her (Betty) highly, and I sent her a couple of examples—here’s one:
She is also able, largely thanks to Betty Bennett’s painstaking and brilliant recovery of the history of Walter Sholto Douglas … [this is a story I will get into later] …
Betty replied a few hours later—Thanks so much for the quotes.
More than a month would pass before our next exchange.