Mary and Claire run off with Shelley, leaving stepsister Fanny behind. July 1814.
But Fanny Wollstonecraft, who’d adored Godwin since her early childhood, could not leave the only father she'd ever known. In July 1814 when Bysshe Shelley ran off with two of the three young women living in the Godwin household (Mary and Claire), Fanny, just 20, remained behind.
She was in Wales at the time, possibly to visit some of the family of her mother (Mary Wollstonecraft), and Godwin asked stepson Charles Clairmont, 19—temporarily back with the Godwins from his sojourn as a printer’s apprentice in Edinburgh—to write to her to get her to come home. But not to reveal the reason, not directly. Discretion, you know. And home she came.
We can only imagine what Fanny felt when she realized the meaning in the message. Bysshe had run off with Mary and Claire—horrifying enough. But maybe even worse? He’d gone without her—had gone when he knew that taking her along was not even an option. Wouldn’t we like to blend into Fanny’s head for a discreet visit?
Why did he go without me?
Perhaps he left only when he could leave? If I’d been home, maybe he …?
What must I do now? Maybe he will send for me?
And if he does? What will I do …?
But he didn’t send for her. And there was Fanny, back with the Godwins, dealing with the psychological crises that crackled around her. Mary Jane Godwin—Claire’s mother—had actually caught up with the runaways just across the Channel in Calais—had even persuaded Claire to return with her. But then Claire changed her mind again, and Mary Jane went back to Godwin with the grim news. The girls were gone. Lost.
Fanny must have endured fierce questioning from her elders. What do you know? Why didn’t you tell us? That sort of thing. As Janet Todd put it, “As the only young woman in the house, Fanny bore the brunt of the Godwins’ disappointment.” Can’t we see the looks on the adults’ faces? The skepticism? The suspicion (the certainty?) that Fanny was lying to them?
And then on August 10, 1814, young William Godwin, 11, probably sick of all the wailing and moaning and finger-pointing and drama, ran away for a couple of days. He claimed, says Todd, that “he felt ridiculed at school.” A pretty good lie.