I have no wish to pound into the ground this point about Mary’s self-references in the numerous encyclopedia entries she wrote in the mid-1830s. Just a few more …
In the first volume of her French Lives—a project by the way that mentions few women—she does have an entry on Madame De Sévigné (1626–1696). We could not, writes Mary, omit a name so highly honourable to her country … whose genius has adorned the world. And a few pages later, Mary comments about her subject’s widowhood, comments that clearly relate to Mary’s experience, as well. Left at four-and-twenty without her husband’s protection, in the midst of a society loosened from all moral restrictions, in which the highest were the most libertine, no evil breath ever tainted her fair name.
Mary—widowed also at four-and-twenty—did not, of course, enjoy any of this freedom from censure. Not only did she suffer throughout the remainder of her life from the taint of her elopement with a married man in 1814, but she also endured bitter words about the behavior of her parents—William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft—for their unconventional (and therefore immoral and shameful!) behavior.
At the end of her entry, Mary—thinking of herself?—says It is strange how people can find dark spots in the sun ….
In the second volume of French Lives, writing of Rousseau (1812–1778), Mary comments further on what she calls women’s virtue: It is not today that we have learnt, that it is not true, that when a woman loses one virtue she loses all. The true distinctive virtue of woman’s nature is her promptitude of self-sacrifice and a capacity to bind up her existence in the happiness and well-being of the objects of her attachment. Surely, she was thinking: This is what I want you to think of me!
Finally … in her entry on Madame de Stael (1766–1817) she alludes to de Stael’s fondness for Lord Byron in Geneva in the summer of 1816. The summer Bysshe and Mary were there. The famous Frankenstein Summer when she wrote the story that became the novel that has overwhelmed the world. She does not mention herself in this passage, but she does add, a page or so later, what could be a sub-theme of all of her entries: Such is the defect of human nature that we have no right to demand perfection from any individual of the species.
She could just as well have said, “Forgive me. I have, after all, forgiven myself.