There’s a coda here. I had originally printed out all—well, most, it seems—of my correspondence with Betty, filing it all with my Mary Shelley things, knowing I’d probably need to refer to it now and then as I was writing and revising my biography. But then I went back to teach at WRA; I started working on Edgar Poe; I wrote to Betty only rarely; I forgot about that thick file.
Until I started working on this memoir. Going through my folders, I found it, was dazzled by its dimensions. But what to do with it?
In late October 2011 I found out that Betty’s papers were being handled by the outstanding Shelley scholar Charles Robinson—her dear friend on the faculty of the University of Delaware. I emailed him and told him what I had, and he thought it would be a good thing to add to her papers, which he was collecting for the Bennett archive—though its location, at the time, was uncertain. He told me there had been an auction of some of her collection—but many things had not sold.
On October 29, I drove to a nearby OfficeMax and photocopied the entire set of email exchanges (bought a thick notebook, as well, to stuff it all into); on Halloween—how fitting!—I mailed it all to Robinson in Delaware (saving a copy for myself, of course).
He and I exchanged a few more emails on the subject, and he sent me the texts of the remarks he’d made at her memorial service at American University on September 16, 2006, and of his tribute published in the Keats-Shelley Journal (an annual) in 2007. Everything he said about her resonated most profoundly with me. (I also learned from those remarks that her library had gone to the Byron Society Library at Drew University—not sure if our correspondence was among those items.)
After I read his wonderful tributes, I sent this note to him (excerpted):
I just finished those extraordinarily moving tributes to Betty—and I was not at all surprised to learn that she was as generous with others as she was with me (as the correspondence you’ll soon see reveals). I remember being so stunned that she would write to me—a middle school teacher (at the time) who knew, initially, so little about MWS et al. that it was, well, probably laughable. She didn’t laugh. She guided me all the way, shared things with me that I know she was planning to publish one day herself ... for me, she was a model of what a true scholar is. I come from an academic family (both parents were profs; both brothers, too, for a while), so I know how rare was her behavior in the groves of you-know-where.
I wish, as I’ve said, that I’d been a better friend to Betty in her final struggle. Although I am not part of her family, was not part of her inner circle of friends and colleagues, had met her only once, I know there was both a scholarly and a personal intimacy in our correspondence.
As I also said, when I was working on this (far too long) chapter, I intentionally did not “read ahead” in the correspondence. I wanted to reconstruct, insofar as such is possible, the novelty—and the excitement—of it all.
And, doing so, I rediscovered the wonders of Betty Bennett—and felt overwhelming gratitude for her generosity and kindness. They have been among the great gifts of my life.