I was wrong. Once again.
As I began reading through all the Lives, I very quickly began to notice something: In the lives of her subjects Mary was, from time to time, highlighting experiences that in one fashion or another paralleled her own. Someone once wrote that biography is as much about the biographer as the subject. I’ve read lots of biographies, and I believe I agree with that old bromide—or keen insight, depending on your attitude and experience!
How about a few examples …?
• Of Petrarch, she writes: He believed that travelling was the best school for learning. Well, this is certainly a belief that Mary shared with Petrarch (1304–1374), the Italian poet who popularized what has become known as the “Petrarchan sonnet”—a fourteen-line poem, iambic pentameter, usually with the following rhyme scheme: abbaabba cdecde.
Travel had long been important for Mary—as we’ve seen throughout this account. She loved her mother’s book about her travels in Scandanavia, and, of course, her 1814 elopement with Bysshe Shelley took her through France and Switzerland. The summer of 1816—the famous Frankenstein Summer—took her and Bysshe again to Switzerland (where she would later set some key scenes in Frankenstein). Later—following her marriage on December 30, 1816—she and Bysshe, in March 1818, traveled to Italy, moving up and down the boot like a shine cloth before his drowning in the summer of 1822 ended Mary’s European sojourn.
But just for a while. As we will see in the ensuing pages, in the 1840s she took another extensive and extended trip to Europe—and wrote a book about it. So … travel to Mary was a trigger for her imagination. As it has been for countless writers throughout literary history. (But there are writers, as we know—great ones, like Emily Dickinson—for whom travel was an unnecessary trigger.)