To acquire a reading copy of Mary's 1830 novel, Perkin Warbeck, I employed the services of my wife, Joyce, who was teaching at Hiram College at the time. Through interlibrary loan, she found me a copy, and I see in my journal that on May 12, 1997, Joyce delivered Perkin to me when she got home from work that Monday afternoon. I began reading it a few days later, and I see in my journal that I started it at the McDonald’s in Aurora, Ohio; we were living there at the time, and it had become my customary spot for early-morning reading—a fairly easy walk from our home on (appropriately) Pioneer Trail. Black coffee and Mary Shelley.
Several coincidences appear in my journal, as well. I see that the interlibrary loan copy had come from Wittenberg (Ohio) University—Joyce’s alma mater (she’d graduated in 1969; we met about a month later in a Kent State University classroom; we married just five months after that!). In a less relevant coincidence: My father had been in Wittenberg, Germany, during World War II. Wittenberg—just about 300 miles northeast of Castle Frankenstein.
And the third coincidence? Hang on a bit. First, my final entry on Perkin: 29th: Up at 8; raining, so drove to McD’s to read a couple of chaps of PW; home: fussed with computer; finished PW; found myself in tears as Katherine and Perkin bid farewell; her grief is so clearly the grief of MWS at the loss of [Bysshe] Shelley & her children; made me want to find out more about Warbeck, the historical figure; typed final notes …
As you can see, I was already noticing in these, the early months of my Mary Shelley research and reading, that she was infusing her fiction with emotions that she had experienced most painfully herself—something many (most) writers do, of course. Our emotional oceans, formed of tears, are full of fictional creatures that flourish in such waters and require some effort to coax to the surface, where we can see and identify—and employ—them. Over and over Mary wrote about the things she knew most: hope and loss and love and loss and ambition and loss. She knew—far too early—that life is not so much about acquiring as it is about losing.
I still have those notes I typed into my computer on Perkin Warbeck back in the spring of 1997. Fourteen single-space pages in a smallish font. So … how about a quick summary of the story—as Mary conceived and wrote it?