One other odd note or two or three before I summarize a bit of Mary’s final novel, Falkner. The family of novelist William Faulkner (1897–1962) had originally spelled its name “Falkner.” It was William himself who changed the spelling in 1918 when he filled out an application for (and acquired) a job at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. When my wife, Joyce, and I traveled to see and photograph Faulkner sites in Mississippi in the summer of 2004 (I was teaching As I Lay Dying each year to my high school juniors), we noticed that the many family graves we saw all said “Falkner.” Except his and his wife’s. So … the coincidence: Mary’s father writes Faulkener; she writes Falkner. All three spellings of the word derive from falconer.
|in Ripley, MS|
Mary’s novel begins in a little village she calls Treby (fictional) in coastal Cornwall—and, of course, I think of the scenic village there, setting for a British TV series I’ve loved, Doc Martin. But let’s not digress too much!
A little girl spends her days at the cemetery near the grave of her mother, and readers might recall that Mary’s father used to take little Mary herself to the St. Pancras churchyard, where lay the remains of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. In biographies of Mary Shelley, you can read how Godwin helped teach little Mary to read by tracing the words on her mother’s gravestone—and, later,in 1814, how Mary and young (married!) Bysshe Shelley would go there to be … alone. Some have even said that they first had sex there. Surely not!
Bysshe himself has contributed to speculation about this possibility. In a long letter to his university friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg, he wrote on October 4, 1814, of the moment when Mary had confessed her love to him (he was already consumed by her): No expressions can convey the remotest conception of the manner in which she dispelled my delusions. The sublime & rapturous moment when she confessed herself mine, who had so long been her’s [sic] in secret cannot be painted to mortal imaginations—Let it suffice to you, who are my friend to know & to rejoice that she is mine …. There is a rather chaste oil painting of the moment, a painting done by William Powell Frith, The Lover’s Seat (1877). Both lovers are fully clothed at the moment!