A digression (I just can’t help it!).
Last Friday (December 18, 2015) I was in the local coffee shop (as I am just about every morning), when I saw a recent former student who had just graduated from college and is now in the process of applying to graduate schools. Oddly, before I went over to say hello, I saw a Facebook post from her that featured a painting that resembled “The Nightmare” (1781) by Henri Fuseli (1741–1825); others have been inspired by that painting (or have sort of stolen the idea), so it could have been one of the others. I wasn’t sure. Her post indicated the nightmarish qualities of the application process.
Anyway, I was amused because—as writers know (writers who are obsessed with a subject)—everything seems to relate to the subject you’re working on. With my own Mary Shelley research I’ve done since 1997, for instance, I see connections from Mary (and her circle) to just about everything else I’m doing. And so it is with Fuseli (pronounced FYOO-zuh-lee), who while in his twenties moved to England but had been born in Switzerland, where his name was Johann Heinrich Füssli.
Known today for his innovative paintings and works of art, he’s had an enormous influence on other artists—then and now—including the younger William Blake, who, if you recall, did some illustrations for the second edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s children’s book Original Stories from Real Life (1791). By the way, you’ve got to love the entire title for this book—and think about how it illustrates the differences between childhood then and childhood now: Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations, Calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness. Not exactly Horton Hears a Who.
And here the story gets juicy. After Mary had become a sort of controversial (minor) celebrity because of her publications (principally, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790, and her still-popular A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792), she became acquainted through her publisher, Joseph Johnson, with Henry Fuseli and his wife. And she felt a powerful attraction to this brilliant, talented man. She began to think they might be able to work out an … arrangement.
Which is interesting. Wollstonecraft biographer Janet Todd points out his various qualities—physical and otherwise—that made him less than an attractive figure to the romantically inclined. Todd says he was irascible and his short, slight stature, white hair and trembling hand … belied his vehemence. He was known for his malevolent wit [and] must have been a dominating presence at the dinner table.