Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 143

By the time Fanny Godwin killed herself, Mary and Bysshe were firmly together (with Claire in tow), and when the dark dust settled from the suicide of Harriet Shelley, Bysshe, now free to marry again, promptly did so. Two and a half months later. He briefly pursued custody of his two young children, then gave up. And never saw them again.
On December 30, 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin became Mary Shelley in a service at St. Mildred’s Bread Street. As I wrote above, that building is entirely gone now—destroyed by the Luftwaffe in World War II. I stood at the site and saw nothing. But imagined much.
One of the most direct results of that marriage? Mary’s father, William Godwin, finally spoke to the daughter with whom he’d refused all forms of communication after her elopement with Bysshe in late July, 1814. Nearly two and a half years of bitter silence had ensued, a silence that had devastated Mary, who’d adored her father. Godwin and his wife, Mary Jane, attended the service at St. Mildred’s.
Once Godwin broke his silence, he wrote to family and friends announcing that Mary had, well, married up. To his brother he wrote: “Mary has now (most unexpectedly) acquired a status and character in society. Shelley is not without his faults [!!!], but he is also not without many good and even noble qualities ….”[1] Godwin also accelerated and intensified his requests to Bysshe for money. Godwin was terrible about managing it, and he had cash problems his entire adult life.

The next fifteen months were productive and peripatetic for the newlyweds—and highly stressful. Immediately after the marriage, the couple lived with the Godwins for a bit—and with Leigh Hunt and family (who would emerge significant later in the story). They moved to a place called Albion House in Marlow, a little over thirty miles west of London.
Less than a year later, they sold the place and moved to 119 Russell Street in London, just off Drury Lane and right around the corner from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane on Catherine Street. Years later, on January 26, 1824, Mary would see the great Edmund Kean play Richard III there. “His wonderful looks,” she wrote in her journal, “his tones, his gesture—transported me.”[2] She resolved to write a tragedy herself. It didn’t work out.
The day I’d planned to go to Russell Street, there was a downpour, but I learned subsequently that the place is long gone anyhow—a busy urban neighborhood. All I would have seen would have been confused ghosts.
And then Bysshe decided he and Mary (and Claire) should move to Italy. This seemed sensible to him for a variety of reasons. For one, it would get Godwin off his case (the pleas for money had become ever more odious). For another, living expenses were much cheaper in Italy. For another, they would get to see the places they’d read about all their lives—Florence, Pisa, Rome, Naples.
But there was another, more pressing reason: Claire Clairmont had delivered the child of Lord Byron on January 12, 1817. Incredibly, they’d managed to keep the whole thing hidden from the Godwins and others. She named the little girl Alba, but Byron, hearing, decided Allegra would be a better name. Claire had little choice but to change it. Anyway, Claire and Allegra would travel with the Shelleys to Italy, where Byron was living, and deliver the child to him—as per his insistence.
And finally—before they left for the Continent, Mary published her account of her 1814 elopement as a travel book (with no mention of the reason she’d gone to Europe), History of a Six Weeks’ Tour (1817). The complete title goes on and on.[3]
And on New Year’s Day 1818 … Frankenstein appeared. Published anonymously.

                [1] Qtd. in William St Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family (London: Faber and Faber, 1989), 417. St Clair had consulted the text of the original letter at the New York Public Library. Godwin’s letters are slowly being edited by the terrific scholar Pamela Clemit and published by Oxford University Press, but only two volumes are now in print—and the letters have not as yet reached beyond Mary’s childhood.
                [2] The Journals of Mary Shelley, 475.
                [3] History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland: With Letters Descriptive of a Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni.

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