In August 1823, when Mary and her son had arrived back in England, they initially stayed with her father and her stepmother—William and Mary Jane Godwin, who were living in a place on 195 The Strand, where they’d recently moved their bookshop. But Mary and the older couple had never really gotten along well—not since her elopement with Bysshe—so it wasn’t long before she knew that separate quarters would help keep everyone sane.
|The Strand, 1824|
In 1999 I walked along The Strand, which is very near the Thames at the Godwins’ old address. It was not a pleasant experience. I was returning to my hotel after seeing a performance of Oklahoma! at The Lyceum (the theater where Mary had seen the play based on her Frankenstein—though now rebuilt). My journal for May 5 records the Dark Side:
… on the Strand, people sleeping in doorways; a subway car filled—I mean filled—w/ trash (as if someone had dumped a couple of large green bags in the car; streets full of ugly, angry, dangerous-looking people. (A. Burgess had it right about the nights in A Clockwork Orange.) I was glad to be going home before [all of this]; now, I’m ecstatic! Only people with lots of money [cabs, personal vehicles]are even reasonably safe; the rest of us are prey.
The Godwins’ place is long gone, but (in any case) in less than a month Mary had found a place for her and young Percy: 13 Speldhurst Street in Brunswick Square, about a mile north of the Godwins’—another place that’s gone. But her social life accelerated a bit. She visited with John Hunt (whose brother, Leigh, had not returned yet from Italy), with the Novellos, a family of musicians whom the Hunts knew, with Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Bysshe’s old schoolboy friend (the friend expelled with Bysshe from Oxford because of On the Necessity of Atheism), with Jane Williams (whose husband, Edward, had drowned with Bysshe), and others.
Mary was also going to the theater—a life-long love—and with the Godwins saw Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale in December, a play that must have had enormous personal relevance for her—a play about profound family estrangement. And reconciliation.
Also with them that night at the theater was playwright John Howard Payne (who wrote the song “Home Sweet Home”), a young American whose presence would ignite one of the most fiery episodes in Mary’s life, an episode involving Washington Irving.