Dawn Reader

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 229

On the evening of June 25, 1825, Payne and Mary went for a walk, and Payne, unable to endure the uncertainty any longer, declared his affections and desires. And Mary told him she liked him … as a friend—the words no man in the history of the species has ever wanted to hear. And then Mary (was she really so clueless about the workings of a man’s heart?) asked Payne if he would mind, you know, working as her agent to discover if Washington Irving might be interested in her.
And Payne, no doubt crushed, agreed.[1]

But Washington Irving seems to have felt about Mary Shelley the way Mary felt about John Howard Payne. Let’s be friends. Although Irving was truly not all that interested in friendship. As we’ve seen, he’d just had his hopes dashed by young Emily Foster, 18, who had dazzled fortyish Irving, whom testosterone propelled around the Foster family like a drone. As we’ve seen, she’d said OMG! No! when she’d realized in early April 1823 that his interests in her were not paternal nor avuncular nor mentorial. Actually, she responded, apparently, with much more tact and compassion, but she had clearly let the author of “Rip Van Winkle” know that she would have preferred the young version of Rip.[2]
And now, barely a year later, here was Mary Shelley knocking at a door he refused to open. As Jones says in his biography of Irving, the only words he ever wrote about her in his journal about this triangle that refused to ring when struck was this: Read Mrs. Shelley’s correspondence before going to bed.[3] Thoughtful Payne had let Irving read Mary’s letters, the ones alluding to Irving himself.
And so it ended. Quietly. Mary, realizing how the cards lay on the table, gradually grew silent on the whole thing, and we are left to wonder about what might have been—the author of Frankenstein, the author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” joining lives, perhaps, later, moving to Sunnyside, Irving’s home near Tarrytown, New York—near Sleepy Hollow, New York—where, perhaps, Mary might have recovered some peace, might have, once again, found love.
I have this feeling that I’ve written about this before (I don’t look back: a failure, I know), but we also wonder why Irving “passed” on Mary. All reports of her in her mid-twenties are that she was a very attractive woman—obviously bright and gifted. Irving’s equal—maybe more.
Perhaps that alone was sufficiently daunting—her talents. (Some men can’t handle that). Or, perhaps (as I’ve written earlier, I know!), Irving preferred men (though, if that’s so, Emily Foster remains a mystery). Or maybe it was Mary’s reputation—damaged since 1814 when she’d run off with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a married man (a father!). Maybe Irving just couldn’t abide the faint odor of scandal.
Or maybe—simpler—he just didn’t feel anything in her presence. Love is not logic. The heart listens to no argument. Love happens; it doesn’t. End of story.

[1] Letters, vol. 1, 493n.
[2] See account of this in Jones, Washington Irving, 209-12.
[3] 230. The full citation from the journal: Tuesday, August 16, 1825. Appears in The Complete Works of Washington Irving; Journals and Notebooks, Vol. III, ed. By Walter A. Reichart (Univ of Wisconsin P, 1970), 510.

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