Dawn Reader

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 206

Sir Timothy Shelley is not happy to learn that Mary has published his son's poems.

And Sir Timothy Shelley was not happy to see his son’s name in print once again--although Bysshe’s writing as a schoolboy had pleased him. Bysshe had self-published a couple of Gothic novels—Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne (very clearly influenced by his early hero, William Godwin, whose St Leon he had read)—and some poetry as well (some of which was “borrowed”), Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. All of this in 1810. (Busy boy!). He was eighteen years old.
Zastrozzi, which I read in July 1998, early in my Shelley mania, deals with a deadly competition between the titular Zastrozzi and the wretched Verezzi. The novel ends with this delightful sentence (while Zastrozzi is on the rack): Even whilst writhing under the agony of almost insupportable torture his nerves were stretched, Zastrozzi’s firmness failed him not; but, upon his soul-illumined countenance, played a smile of most disdainful scorn—and, with a wild, convulsive laugh of exulting revenge, he died.[1]
St. Irvyne (which I also read in July 1998) begins in a storm in the Alps—an odd coincidence because it would not be until about five years later that he would encounter some actual storms in and near the Alps, some of which would inspire Mary’s Frankenstein. Anyway, this novel involves a guy named Wolfstein (subtle) who endeavors to poison a rival for the young woman, Megalena, whom he … craves. The whole thing ends with a host of revelations in the final pages.[2]
But then he’d gone to Oxford where, in 1811, he was promptly expelled for his co-written publication On the Necessity of Atheism, a work and an episode that humiliated and deeply angered Sir Timothy. Making it worse: He knew that William Godwin’s writings—novels, essays, atheism—had influenced (no, corrupted) his son, and he could not forgive Godwin for that.
And then, only a couple of years later, Bysshe—a married man!—had ditched his wife, Harriet (who, as we know, later killed herself), and run off with Mary Godwin—that evil man’s daughter! Who was still sixteen at the time! (She would turn seventeen while they were away that summer of 1814.)
And now Sir Timothy had to share a grandson with the Evil Godwin himself! But as long as he was Sir Timothy Shelley, he would not allow his disgraced son’s name to appear on any publications—publications that could once again humiliate him.
And so when Posthumous Poems appeared, he communicated to Mary (through an intermediary, of course) that he would cut off all financial support if she did not withdraw the volumes from circulation. As one of her biographers has written, Such bullying behaviour only increased her determination but she took care, after this threat, to move behind the scenes.[3]

[1] (New York: Arno Press, 1977), 3, 111.
[2] (New York: Arno Press, 1977), 218–20.
[3] Seymour, Mary Shelley, 342.

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