An observation I will insert somewhere later.
November 16, 2016—to insert somewhere later on
This reminds you of that. Not all that profound an observation, I realize, but I’ve noticed over my years of writing about various literary figures—Jack London, Shakespeare, Poe, and now Mary Shelley—that when I’m pretty well submerged in the seas of their lives, all the marine creatures that swim into my view when I’m doing other things (reading a newspaper, a detective novel; seeing a film; just randomly ruminating), these creatures somehow metamorphose into something that reminds me of … London, Shakespeare, Poe, Shelley, et al.
This morning, for example, I was reading a Colson Whitehead novel (Zone One, 2011). I love Whitehead’s work, but I’d somehow let this one slip by me—or, rather, let it slip down in my pile of things I want to read until I’d pretty much forgotten about it. But after I read his latest novel (The Underground Railroad, 2016), I remembered the forgotten one, extracted it from the Tower-of-Pisan pile in our family room and started to read it.
It’s the ultimate post-apocalypse, zombie novel. Literate, funny, horrifying, illuminating—even dazzling at times. It’s about a guy—known to his teammates as “Mark Spitz” (because he can’t swim)—who’s part of a group of “sweepers” who are dispensing with the “skels” who remain after the plague has devastated humanity. The skels eat people. Better to, you know, kill them first. The sweepers leave the bodies for other crews to pick up and incinerate.
Well, today, I was reading about the device they employed to incinerate the remains of the skels:
Here, it burned the bodies of the dead with uncanny efficiency, swallowing what the soldiers fed into it and converting it to smoke, fly ash, and a shovelful of hard material too stubborn to be entirely consumed. Hearts, mostly. That thick muscle (187).
And, of course, reading, I immediately remember that day in August 1822. On the beach near Viareggio, Italy. The cremation of the drowned Bysshe Shelley on August 15. And how his heart had refused to burn thoroughly. And how his friend Trelawny had snatched the heart from the fire (burning his hand in the process). And how the Shelleys’ friend Leigh Hunt claimed the heart. (Mary was not present.) About how Mary, learning of the heart’s existence, asked Hunt to give it to her. About how he refused. About how Mary got Lord Byron to intervene. About how Mary kept that heart the rest of her life. About how her son, Percy Florence Shelley, discovered it after her death with his poem “Adonais.” About how he arranged to have it buried with her in Bournemouth. About how I stood at the Shelleys’ tomb in 1999. And thought about all of this.