In April 1831 (not long after she shunned the apparent marriage offer from Trelawny), Mary became involved in the republication of a novel by her father, William Godwin. Caleb Williams, 1794, was one of his most successful novels—and deservedly so. It’s an exciting story about a young man who discovers a Dark Secret about his employer, who subsequently chases him all over the place. It’s one of the books I read very early in my Mary Shelley research. I see in my journal that I was reading it in mid-August, 1997, a time when Joyce and I were dealing with the sale of our Aurora house, the purchase of our (current) Hudson house, moving, and quite a few other things. But I loved this book that I finished on August 22.
In 1831, a publisher had decided it was time for a re-issue, and Mary would write a brief memoir of her father as part of the publication. Now included as part of The Novels and Collected Works of Mary Shelley, the “Memoirs of William Godwin” takes up about seven pages of text.[i] And as I sit here looking at it, I realize that I have notes on it elsewhere.
I just pulled the file from the drawer and see a note I’ve scrawled on the folder: Photocopied by Brian Brookhart, BGSU [Bowling Green State University] Library, fall 1998. I had taught Brian (eighth-grade English), one of my finest students, and when I learned that Mary’s memoir was available on microform at BGSU, and when I realized that Brian was a student there, I sent him an email, and he hurried over to the library and copied the item for me. (There were others, too, I think.) As I type this (January 20, 2017), Brian is now the assistant principal at Aurora High School, his alma mater.
Once again, of course, I’m reminded of the rapid changes that have occurred in research. Back in 1998, I had to coax a former student into going to a library, finding, threading, reading some microform for me. Now—I just looked—Godwin’s 1831 novel (and Mary’s memoir) are available from a number of sources online. Were I beginning my research today, I would not have to bother Brian—I’d just click and print and accomplish in moments what took him considerably more than that.[ii]
Well, what did Mary have to say about her father?