Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 134

The lovers--Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley--return from their elopement--to find ...

In late September 1814, when the impecunious lovers—Bysshe and Mary, in company with Claire Clairmont—returned to London some six weeks after their European elopement, Mary was devastated to learn that her father refused all communication with her. And, in fact, William Godwin would not speak with her again until the very end of 1816—more than two years after her return to England—until, because of the suicide of Bysshe’s first wife, Harriet, Mary and Bysshe married. Now they were “legal”; now Godwin would speak with his aching daughter who—without her father’s comfort—had suffered the loss of an infant, had delivered a healthy son, whom she’d named William in the hope, surely, that this might mollify her father.
 But Godwin—as you may have inferred from these pages—was something of an Odd Duck. Although Mary Wollstonecraft’s love altered and maybe even softened him somewhat (shall we resist an ugly-duckling-into-swan analogy? Nah!), when she died in September 1797, he quickly slid back into his curmudgeonly persona. He proved a major disappointment to Bysshe, who had idolized him, who had considered him a mentor. Bysshe had read Godwin’s treatise Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793—revised in 1796 and 1798), had read what disdainful Godwin had written about marriage in that massive volume:
The method is for a thoughtless and romantic youth of each sex to come together to see each other, for a few times under circumstances full of delusion, and then to vow eternal attachment. [1]
• And how about this beauty? So long as I seek, by despotic and artificial means, to maintain my possession of a woman, I am guilty of the most odious selfishness.[2]
• Or this? Certainly no ties ought to be imposed upon either party, preventing them from quitting the attachment, whenever their judgement directs them to quit it.[3]
Bysshe found in these words, of course, some of the justification for abandoning his wife, for swooping up teenagers Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont and whisking them off to Europe. He had previously told Godwin that, despite being married to Harriet, he was in love with Mary and wanted to be with her. He—naively, perhaps—thought Godwin, author of Political Justice, would go for it.
Godwin was horrified at the prospect. Funny how theories of interpersonal behavior alter when they collide with our own families. He told Bysshe to stay away. Which, of course, he didn’t.
Anyway, after the elopement Godwin refused any direct communication with Mary—but he did stay in touch with Bysshe, whose money Godwin desperately wanted and needed.
And poor Fanny Wollstonecraft? She was in a horrible position, having to side (at least feigning to do so) with the adults in the house—but also very much wanting to see the Tarnished Ones Who Had Run Away. And so she did.

                [1] (New York: Penguin, 1985), 762.
                [2]  Ibid.
                [3] Ibid., 764.

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