Back to Mary in 1827, when she meets Frances Wright, the great social reformer.
On August 22, 1827, Mary received a significant letter. For the nonce, she was living in Arundel, about sixty miles slightly southwest of London, near the Channel, and only about seventy-five miles east of Bournemouth, where her remains now lie.
She liked it there in Arundel, a market town, where she had moved on September 3. Her friend and fellow widow (from that 1822 boating accident that took Bysshe Shelley’s life), Jane Williams, had since remarried to an old school friend of Bysshe’s, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, who, once upon a time, had made moves on Mary herself. Anyway, in a September letter to Jane, Mary told of her affection for Arundel, praising the beauty and … scenery of the town, especially its park, its streams and woodland glades … sources of never ending pleasure. She also mentions that they have not seen the Castle, the traditional home of the Duke of Norfolk. I saw it from a train on April 15, 1999, on my way to see Bysshe’s boyhood home. In my journal that day I commented about the glorious castle of that name [Arundel], seat of the Duke of Norfolk, whom PBS and his father both employed to help in their estrangement after PBS’s expulsion from Oxford & his elopement with Harriet.
Mary occasionally received letters from people who’d admired her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and her father, William Godwin. And this August 22 letter was one of those. It was from social reformer Frances Wright (1795–1852), a woman whose lifespan was almost identical to Mary’s (1797–1851). We’ll get into Fanny’s reform passions in a moment, but let’s add a little more here first.
Fanny’s hand-delivered letter came via Robert Dale Owen, son of the founder of the New Harmony utopian colony in Indiana, the founder who’d been a friend of Mary’s father. So there are many fibers in this particular web of friendship and association. The younger Owen had met Fanny Wright earlier, knew Mary, and it was no doubt through him that she learned about Mary Shelley. Fanny believed the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft must surely be an ally in causes of social reform. And she had an amazing one in progress (more later!).
Fanny begins the letter by effusively praising Mary’s (liberal/radical) parents. Then she turns to Mary herself, observing that, surely, you share at once the sentiments and talents of those from whom you drew your being.