Dawn Reader

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 192

All right. Time to return to Mary Shelley’s story—to her efforts to become a playwright. Pamela Clemit, who has edited the scholarly edition of the two plays, notes that Mary and Bysshe more or less worked together on these two short projects in 1820 in Pisa. (He wrote the lyrics for songs that appear in both plays.) Clemit believes, as well, that the plays were designed for a young audience. She adds that Mary could have been influenced by “Mrs. Mason” (whom Mary's mother had tutored) because it was for that daughter of that friend—as I wrote above—that Mary wrote Maurice, the children’s story not published until 1998, not long after its discovery.[1]
Proserpine is a retelling of the story of Persephone (Mary used the Roman rather than the Greek spelling), and the play begins as Proserpine is begging her mother, Ceres, not to leave her, but her mother, recognizing her duty to serve the gods, says, My lovely child, it is high Jove’s command.[2]
Of course, it’s hard to read this little exchange without thinking of Mary’s yearning for the mother she’d never known, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who had died not long after delivering little Mary.
Anyway, Ceres tells Proserpine not to separate herself from the two nymphs who attend her, Ino and Eunoe, but, of course, she does. Ceres returns later in the day, finds her daughter missing.  And she vows (ending Act I) I will away, and on the highest top / Of snowy Etna, kindle two clear flames. / Night shall not hide her from my anxious search, / No moment will I rest, or sleep, or pause / Till she returns, until I clasp again / My only loved one, my lost Proserpine.[3]
And once again I think: By the time she had written these words, Mary had already buried a premature daughter, her daughter Clara, her son William. And so these lines, for me, shudder with the grief of a bereft mother, a grief that Mary did not need to imagine but only to remember.

[1] “Mathilda, Dramas, Reviews & Essays, Prefaces & Notes.” The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley. Vol. 2. (London: William Pickering, 1996), 69–70.
[2] Koszul, 6. All subsequent page references will be to this 1922 edition, which is the one I read well before I acquired Clemit’s scholarly edition.
[3] Ibid., 25.

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