More about Mary Shelley's novella "Mathilda."
Mathilda grows up reading the few books available in her aunt’s thin but intellectually sturdy library (Shakespeare, Milton, Pope), and fantasizes about disguising herself as a boy, then running off to search for her father. But she doesn’t.
Then on her sixteenth birthday a letter from her father arrives. He is coming to see her. Their reunion is wondrously happy for her. Then—even better—her aunt dies after a couple of months, and Mathilda goes to London to live with her father. But there, her relationship with a young man collapses suddenly, mysteriously, and her father whisks her off to Yorkshire, where he previously lived. And Chapter Four ends with this: I gained his secret and we were both lost for ever.
Hmmmm … his secret? Tell me more!
Nearly a year passes. Concerned about her father’s habitual moroseness, Mathilda convinces him to go for a walk with her in the woods on a lovely evening. She confronts him: What is wrong? Why are you sad all the time? He won’t speak at first. She presses the issue. And he blurts it out: Yes, you are the sole, the agonizing cause of all I suffer, of all I must suffer until I die. …[Y]ou are my light, my only one, my life … I love you.
Oops. Bad Dad. Very Bad Dad.
Mathilda sprints away, collapses in her room, resolves never to see him again. She falls into a sleep, has a dream about her father on the edge of a cliff. Screaming, she awakens. A servant gives her a letter: Her father has left. Terrified because of her dream, she chases after him (in a violent thunderstorm, natch) but arrives too late at the cliff. She swoons.
Later, she decides she will fake her own death, then find a remote place to live, a place where she will not encounter people very often. She considers, then rejects, suicide: I believe that by suicide I should violate a divine law of nature ….
Two years pass …