And then Falkner—like Trelawny and Byron—resolves to go join the Greek War of Independence (1821–32). He leaves written narratives behind, stories that reveal both his own mysterious biography (not to be read until he has died) and his discovery of Elizabeth—who, by the way, goes with him to Greece—though she remains removed from the war zones.
Some years pass. Elizabeth gets word that Falkner has been wounded in battle, is suffering from malaria, and is near death in a remote Greek village. She rushes to him …
Of course, readers who know the story of the death of Lord Byron will see the similarities here. Byron, too, fell ill in Greece, resisted the recommended treatment (bleeding), then submitted to it. And soon died.
But Falkner’s story is a bit different. Elizabeth nurses him back to something near health; they set out to travel north—and he falls desperately ill again. Slowly, they work their way back to England (she has seen that young man Neville again in Marseilles—and Falkner is again alarmed); they’ve been gone for four years. And Falkner’s health has waxed and waned as they traveled.
A year later, Elizabeth falls ill herself, and they go to Hastings, which lies about seventy miles south of London, on the English Channel; there, she hopes to recover in the home of Lady Cecil. Staying there, too, is one of Lady Cecil’s relatives, a melancholy youth named Gerard. Elizabeth quickly improves—as does Gerard, whose very soul, writes Mary in her most Romantic and romantic way, drank in gladness at the sight of her.
But there is some stress in the Gerard’s family, particularly between him and his father, and Mary, who knew something of family fractures, says Family contentions are the worst of all. I would guess that as she wrote each letter of that sentence, memories of her unhappiness with her stepmother, of her once-broken relationship with her father, of her enduring difficulties with the Shelley family mixed with the ink on the page.
Then we get one of Mary’s famous devices—a story within a story. She employed this most famously in Frankenstein—which features stories within stories within stories—and here Mary stops the progress of her narrative to allow Lady Cecil to relate the background of her family—and its mysteries.