Exploring the Boot of Italy
As we’ve seen, newlyweds Mary and Bysshe Shelley did not stay long in England once they’d exchanged their vows at St. Mildred’s, Bread Street on December 30, 1816. A little over a year later they—and Claire Clairmont with her fourteen-month-old daughter, Allegra (whose father, recall, was Lord Byron)—were on the way to Dover to sail for Italy. With the Shelleys, as well, was their son, William, about two years old. It was a journey that would transform them all and would place a dark, dark period at the end of the sentence of their youth.
Part of the plan for my journey to Europe in April 1999 was to follow the Shelleys to Italy—which, I knew, wouldn’t be all that easy. The peripatetic Bysshe could not stay in one place for very long. During his four years in Italy, they visited and/or lived in (sometimes more than once) Pisa, Leghorn, Bagni di Lucca, Venice, Ferrara, Bologna, Rome, Naples, Florence, San Terenzo. They were up and down and around the boot of Italy like shoeshine cloth.
Well, my masters, Time and Money, would not allow me to go everywhere. But I did the best I could given my masters’ restrictions. My biggest regret: I did not make it to Venice, over on the northeastern side of the boot. For me, it was pretty much the western side, the side where they were living when Bysshe never returned from a sailing excursion in July 1822, washing up ten days later at Viareggio, where local officials required he be cremated on the beach.