By January 1836, Mary was writing what would be her final novel, Falkner, which would appear in print in February 1837. Like other novels of the day, it would initially arrive in three volumes—a procedure that helped accommodate the lending libraries so popular at the time. It was a way for more readers to have access to the novel. A person could read the first third, then return it so that someone else could start the story.
In my notes I see that I read the novel in the summer of 1997: June 24–July 1. This was very early in my research on Mary and her world—and, no doubt, I should have read it again later on. I seem not to have. But I did take very thorough notes—twelve pages, single-spaced, smallish font.
I see in my journal that the night before I began the novel, we had a visitor in our bedroom.
We were living at the time in a very old house on Pioneer Trail in Aurora, Ohio, only a couple of blocks from Harmon (Middle) School, from which I’d retired just a half-year earlier. So we had lots of visitors from various rungs of the ladder of the animal kingdom. We had issues with ants, yellow jackets, a rat (in the basement), things that went bump in the night. And now … a bat. (Appropriate, I guess, for someone reading the works of the woman who wrote Frankenstein.)
I should confess something here: Bats scare me. And my wife, Joyce, who ordinarily adores winged things (she had parakeets in girlhood, parrots during our marriage), was even less fond of bats than I was. But I had, well, the Male Burden: I had to be “brave.” Which I manifestly was not.
Here’s what my journal records about the night of June 23—24: … about 4 a.m., Joyce woke me with the news that a bat was flying around the bedroom; we got it out into the hallway, and I started closing doors when I was sure the bat was not in that particular room; I opened the window at the head of the stairs, and he may have gone out, but we’re not sure; no sign of him this a.m.
See how even a journal can lie? What this entry fails to communicate in its disinterested, reportorial prose is that I was terrified. I cowered when I heard the wings overhead. I felt my heart rate accelerate like a getaway car. I remember lying in the dark, afterwards, wondering how much respect Joyce had just lost for me—her less-than-doughty defender.
I just read through the rest of June 1997 in my journal and discovered something that seems contrived. But no. It happened. On the thirtieth (a Monday night) Joyce and I drove over to Chapel Hill Cinema (near Akron) to see a film. Batman and Robin.