Dawn Reader

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

Frankenstein Sundae, 255

All That Other Writing

I’ll confess that I was astonished to learn, early in my Mary Shelley research (the late 1990s), that she had written so many other books besides Frankenstein—books I’d never heard of, books I subsequently read and, more or less, admired. I admired them not just for her knowledge and literary craft but because I knew what she had gone through to produce them. Some she wrote and/or began while husband Bysshe was still alive; others, afterwards. In the ensuing pages, we’ll take a brief look at each—and at my experience with it.
What surprised me, too, was her range. Mary wrote travel books, futuristic books, romances, historical fiction. And—as we’ll see—she wrote for periodicals and, in an amazing stint of research and writing, a number of mini-biographies for an encyclopedia. She would not stop writing, really, until the illness that would claim her in 1851 began to assert itself most severely. And—not surprisingly—she slowed when she and her son at last gained a bit of financial security when Sir Timothy Shelley passed away on April 24, 1844 (born in September 1753, he’d lived a lot longer than the norm, a lot longer than Mary, I am pretty sure, hoped in her heart—ninety years old!).
Mary does not mention the death of Sir Timothy in what survives of her journal (by the 1840s she was not writing much in it); she does talk about it a bit in her published letters. On April 25, 1844, a day after the death, she wrote about it to Claire Clairmont.[1] Poor Sir Tim is gone at last—He died Yesterday Morning at 6 o’clock. He went gradually out & died at last without a sigh.[2]
I like that at last part. As we’ve seen, he had been less than generous with his son’s widow, refusing even to meet her, a refusal that continued for more than twenty years—dating from her return to England in 1823 after Bysshe’s drowning in 1822. Sir Timothy had grudgingly provided a maintenance allowance (not much) for Mary’s son, Percy, who would be the legitimate Shelley heir. But it was Mary’s writing that provided the income to support her and her son, who, upon the death of Sir Timothy, became Sir Percy Florence Shelley.
Mary, in subsequent letters, wrote some of her bitterness about Sir Timothy’s attitudes and behavior. In a letter to Rose Stewart (a fellow writer of whom little is known), Mary wrote on May 1, 1844: All that he could he left away from him to his wife & second son. But I do not blame Sir Timothy as much as others for the great injustice he has done his grandson.[3]
Mary and Sir Percy would live comfortably for the rest of their lives—but only with very grudging support of the estate.

[1] Claire, as you may recall, was the daughter of the woman who had married Mary’s father after his wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin had died shortly after the birth of little Mary. Claire had also run away with Mary and Bysshe—that shocking 1814 elopement—and been in and out of Mary’s life ever since. (Mary, at most times, preferred the out.) Claire, recall, had also had an affair—and a child—with Lord Byron.
[2] Letters, vol. 3, 125. Unusual capitalization is in the original.
[3] Ibid., 131.

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