a pause to refresh the screen
So today—July 13, 2016—I pause to think about what I’m doing. That’s generally a good thing to do every few years. And it was a few years ago that I thought it would be fun to write a memoir about my adventures chasing the story of Mary Shelley (1797–1851) all over the place. I’d begun my passion for her in mid-1990s when, my Jack London passion cooling, I’d begun using the Frankenstein story with my eighth grade students. No, we did not read the book (a bit much for a thirteen-year-old—not all of course, but most, I would say). But we looked at the cultural phenomenon of the creature—the movies, TV shows (The Munsters!), postage stamps, books, mugs, Halloween masks, ad infinitum. And then I had the kids writing their own story about the creature, whom they discover right in our Harmon Middle School building. They were fun to read, those stories.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before I was truly obsessed, especially after I retired in January 1997 and could devote virtually every waking hour to her and her circle and her story. And before it all ended—has it ended? surely not—I had read everything she’d written, all the books by each of her dazzling parents, her husband, many of her family’s friends, and on and on. I’d traveled to Europe to see what I could see of what remains of her world (more than I’d thought, less than I’d hoped). And then I settled in and wrote a YA biography about her, The Mother of the Monster: The Life and Times of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, which I published on Kindle Direct in 2012. I’d tried a couple of traditional publishers, but by then, in a struggle with metastatic prostate cancer, I decided I didn’t have time to fool around, to dicker with publishers and agents and the like, so I just published the damn thing myself.
By then—2012—I’d actually been away from her story for a while. I’d returned to part-time teaching for a bit (2001–2011) at nearby Western Reserve Academy (I walked to work; walked home for lunch), and I’d “moved on” once again (just as I had with Jack London), and I was reading and writing and traveling to get Poe’s story in my mind (which I also wrote and published on Kindle Direct).
And one (unforeseen) consequence? Mary’s story slipped away. Well, the details did. And when I began writing and serializing this memoir, I realized after a while that I’d forgotten so much of it, and I found myself actually telling more of her story than the story of my own pursuit. Can’t be helped: I need that detail back. And the only way to get it back is to go back through all that I did—and, sadly, to re-do a lot of it.
And so we come to yesterday—and the occasion for this rest stop of my freeway. I’d reached the part of the story—1827—when Mary got somewhat involved with Fanny Trollope and Fanny Wright. The latter, as we’ll see, tried to get Mary to go with her to America—we’ll see why in the ensuing posts.
So, yesterday, I went back to Mary’s published letters to see when she and Fanny Wright had first connected—and how. And I found Mary’s first letter to Wright—with a footnote to Wright’s earlier letter. I tried to find the latter letter (!) online (no luck—though I probably didn’t exhaust all my options there), but I noticed that in her footnote to Mary’s letter, editor Betty Bennett said this: Frances Wright had written to Mary Shelley in her letter of 22 August 1827 from Paris (see S & M, IV, 1092–95).
Those of you with foul minds will look at S & M and think of things your mother would be ashamed to hear you’re (still!) thinking about, but for me it triggered a couple of memories that had lain hidden in my fading brain for more than a decade.
TO BE CONTINUED ...