It’s always risky to look at a writer’s work in search of autobiographical shadows haunting it. Most biographers say something like this—then go right ahead and speculate anyway. Which is what I’m going to do right now.
I’ve written earlier—at some length—about Mary’s deep girlhood affection, even adoration, of her father, William Godwin. Their relationship seemed impossible to fracture. But, as we’ve seen, it was far more fragile than either of them had thought. When she ran off with the already married Bysshe Shelley in July 1814 (she was only seventeen years old), Godwin was horrified. And when the impecunious couple returned not even two months later, he refused all direct contact with Mary—a situation that would endure until near the very end of 1816 when, now a widower, Bysshe married Mary. Now Godwin was all smiles—and eager to drink from the faucet of Bysshe’s (potential) fortune.
But, as we’ve also seen, Bysshe’s own father, Sir Timothy, was likewise horrified by the behavior of a child—his eldest son, who, under English law, would inherit the lion’s share—and wanted as little as possible to do with Bysshe and Mary. The money spigot from the Shelley fortune merely dribbled to Bysshe, who, although he’d promised to share generously with Godwin, was unable to do so.
But Godwin didn’t care. Bysshe had promised him money (and Godwin was a horrible home economist—continuously in debt), and he wanted—no, demanded—it. In fact, one of the reason that Bysshe and Mary fled to Italy so eagerly was to avoid Godwin’s endless pleas for funds, pleas that didn’t stop when they were far, far away but continued to compose much of the content of the letters he sent them. It got annoying, to say the least.
Anyway—this did take a bit of explaining, didn’t it—Mary, since the beginning of her elopement, had deeply felt the estrangement from her father. She had thought—based on his liberal writings about personal relationships, based on his own experiences with Mary Wollstonecraft (they had lived together before they were married), that he would be … understanding.
Funny how our philosophies alter when our own children are involved.
So, to me, it’s not at all surprising that in Maurice she would write about the emotional, rich reunion of a child and father, a father who had long searched for the son he loved, a son who had been stolen.