Anyway, Mary takes us back twelve years and tells us Lord Lodore’s story. He’d taken his three-year-old daughter, Ethel, to Illinois (a wilder place in them-thar days), where they lived in solitude in the wilderness. He threw himself into study and reading—just as Mary herself had done at the most painful times of her life. (Just as I have done.) Mary tells us about Lodore’s education of Ethel, and my notes show that I was reminded when I read the book both of the widowed Godwin teaching little Mary—and, of course, of Prospero’s educating Miranda in The Tempest.
Then we flashback even farther—to Lodore’s own boyhood and education (he’d ended up at Oxford). But he was a loner—and, as we’ve seen, would remain so.
Back to the “present”: Lodore and Ethel, now 15, are leaving Illinois to return to England. And then … the scene at … Niagara Falls!
I can’t type those words—Niagara Falls!—(with an exclamation point) without thinking of that old Abbott and Costello film Lost in a Harem (1944), where they performed a famous vaudeville skit in which Niagara Falls! is the trigger. (The scene is easily available to watch on YouTube—and the comedy pair repeated it on some other occasions.) In the film, Lou is in jail with a derelict, who, when he hears the words Niagara Falls, freaks out, for it reminds him of chasing down the lover of his wife, finding him at the Falls … and … (Link to video clip.)
And I guess this connection (Mary Shelley and Niagara Falls and Abbott and Costello) shows—about as well as anything else—the massive clutter in my mind, the mixture of high and low, of pop culture and “high” culture, of the sublime and the ridiculous, of my fourth-grade self and my Ph.D-self; yes, my mind is an eccentric's attic jammed with cartoons and comic books, the Cleveland Orchestra and my love of “Ape Call” (that 1956 hit by Nervous Norvus), Shakespeare plays and 50s TV shows (especially cowboy shows!), of memories of visits to literary archives and boyhood trips to Saturday morning double-features in Enid, Oklahoma—front row: Coke, popcorn, Snickers, newsreels, cartoons, Westerns (The Three Mesquiteers, Johnny Mack Brown, Bob Steele) … and on and on and on and on.