I see in the front of my copy of Mary’s Collected Tales and Stories (edited by Charles E. Robinson) that I read them all in July of 1997, in the infancy of my Mary-Madness that would consume ten years of my life (and that still takes nibbles, even bites, from me from time to time—witness: this memoir).
I had retired from public school teaching in January 1997, was slowly moving away from an earlier ten-year obsession with Jack London and The Call of the Wild, and had settled on Mary Shelley (as I probably wrote earlier) because in my final few years of teaching eighth graders I’d started talking with them about Frankenstein around Halloween, started having them write little Frankenstein-inspired narratives of their own. (I even showed them Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948, a hoot of a film I still enjoy watching (link to trailer).) I was slowly reading about Mary and her most famous novel, and the more I read, the more interested I got. Jack London dissolved into Mary Shelley, and a new fixation reigned in my imagination.
There are twenty-five stories in Robinson’s edition, and although they demonstrate that Mary was not the greatest of short-story writers, each one presents tangible evidence of her scholarship, of her habitual use of places she knew in her fiction, of her facility with English, of her recognition, even at an early age, of the sorrows of life. As Robinson says in his Introduction, It is also possible to read Mary Shelley’s fictions as idealizations of her own life.
As I sit here now—nearly twenty years after I read those tales—I cannot remember much, if anything, about any of them. Fortunately, I took (and kept!) many notes—did my usual underlinings and annotations in the text itself—and so, flipping through the pages today, I’m amused (sometimes touched) by what I underlined, what I wrote in the margins. A couple of times, for example, I wrote tale within a tale, a device Mary’s father had used in his fiction, a device she herself would use over and over again, perhaps most famously in Frankenstein when Victor confronts his creation on the (once-) vast glacier, the Mer de Glace, in the French Alps near Chamonix. On that surface, frozen as hard as Victor’s emotions, his creature tells the story of the miserable life he’s had since Victor, after bringing his creature to life, fled from the sight in horror. And then the creature himself fled.