Her tale “The Heir of Mondolfo” told of a young man named Ludovico, son of a territorial noble. Ludovico has no apparent skills or interests (he hates reading). One day—hunting—he comes across a remote cottage, where he sees a young woman, Viola. To say he’s smitten is a bit of an understatement: She might have been mistaken for the angel of heaven waiting to receive and guide the departing soul to eternal rest ….
Soon, people begin to notice that Ludovico is changing—for the better. He and Viola secretly marry, have a child. This does not make Daddy happy when he learns of it. He arranges to have the wife and child kidnapped and shipped off to Spain so that Ludovico can marry someone more … appropriate. She escapes in a storm, but Ludovico believes she and their child have been lost at sea. He decides he might as well kill himself. And off in the woods, about to Do the Deed, he notices, sleeping nearby … Guess Who?
Well, the families reconcile, and Daddy does not repine that the violet girl should be the mother of the Heir of Mondolfo.
Once again, Mary’s own life pulses through the arteries of one of her stories. She knew about the fracture of families. When she’d run off with Bysshe in 1814, her father froze, hard, and had refused all communication with her for two years. (Not until she married the recently widowed Bysshe did he thaw.)
And now? Sir Timothy Shelley, Bysshe’s father, was horrified by their relationship, a union that had gone against all he had believed in. As we will see, he came to blame Mary for his son’s death and for the rest of his long life (he would live some twenty years beyond the composition of Mary’s tale, dying on April 24, 1844, at the age of 90, an almost unthinkable age at the time) he refused all direct contact with her. All communications between them came through a third party. He was deeply frustrated because Bysshe and Mary did have a legitimate living child, Percy Florence Shelley, and English inheritance laws recognized PFS as the heir to the Shelley estate. (Though, as we shall see, the Shelleys managed to find every loophole in the law—and to dance gleefully through it.)
Mary’s story about the heir of Mondolfo was not published until 1877, long after Mary and all the other principals in her story were dead. The story’s editor, Charles Robinson, notes that the manuscript appeared among the papers of Leigh Hunt, family friend and prolific writer. It’s possible Mary had sent it to him for suggestions. And he had filed and forgotten it.