I was surprised by the size of La Spezia, I wrote in my journal on Friday, April 23, 1999. In the Shelleys’ Italian days (1820s) the area was small, undeveloped—fishing and other Mediterranean-related enterprises were the occupation of most people. Five kilometers away –a swift train ride—were San Terenzo and Lerici, the latter the once-tiny place where the Shelleys had rented a summer place—the Casa Magni—which stood—and stands—right near the shore.
It is a lovely small village, I wrote of San Terenzo/Lerici, and a bay with deep blue water and a new promenade that protects the house from the sea. In the Shelleys’ time the sea was right at their lower doors, where boats were stored. I wandered around the little town on a gorgeous, cloudless day, taking pictures and easily finding the Casa Magni, still absolutely recognizable from the 1820s. On the house now there are plaques declaring its significance in English literary history—and on the waterfront is the Shelley Bar, which I photographed but did not enter. (Now, of course, I wish I had.)
In the summer of 1822 Mary Shelley was not at all happy about her life. She would suffer a life-threatening miscarriage in mid-June, and Bysshe’s insistence that she sit in tub of ice (which took hours to acquire from San Terenzo) probably saved her life by slowing, then stopping the bleeding. Her hope was at one of its lowest ebbs. She had buried two children in recent years—and now this. And Bysshe was spending all day frolicking with Byron and Trelawny—or out on his boat with Edward and Jane Williams, flirting wildly with Jane. Oh, and stepsister Claire Clairmont was there, as well. In a beautiful spot she nonetheless felt as if she had sunk into hell.
Mary’s journal entries are brief—mentions of what she was reading and studying (Homer, Virgil) with only the vaguest note about her physical problems: I am ill most of this time. Ill & then convalescent.
Meanwhile, things were about to get more complicated. Their friend Leigh Hunt was arriving. Shelly, Byron, and the others had resolved to start a journal, The Liberal, which Hunt, a poet and essayist but also the only journalist among them, had agreed to edit. But with him he brought his wife, Marianne, and their six children (they would have four more), children who were—to be generous—rather … active. And generally uncontrolled. Mary dreaded the day when they would all pack themselves into the Casa Magni, a place she already found unpleasantly public.
|Casa Magni--back then|