Although she would write no more novels after Falkner appeared in 1837, Mary Shelley had not finished her writing life. Nor had she shut down her intellectual life, a life she’d cherished since she was a little girl in the household of her father, William Godwin—novelist, philosopher, political theorist, social reformer.
She continued working on the encyclopedia entries that we’ve already dealt with; she wrote some stories, some other pieces. And there would be one more book about her European travels in the 1840s.
But her life was changing in fundamental ways. Her son, Percy, began his tenure as a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1837, about five months after Falkner appeared. She continued her correspondence, her social meetings with friends. And in August, 1838, she finally acquired permission from Sir Timothy Shelley to publish an edition of his son’s poems. He insisted, though, that there be no biography attached.
Clever Mary agreed—then appended annotations to the poems, annotations that provided all the necessary biographical information on Percy Bysshe Shelley. Originally published early in 1839 (and edited by “Mrs. Shelley”), the four volumes were collected together in 1994 by the Modern Library (see image below), and her opening sentence in her Preface says much by saying little—and is a tribute to the pasive voice! Obstacles have long existed in my presenting the public with a perfect edition of Shelley’s Poems, she began. These being at last happily removed, I hasten to fulfil an important duty,—that of giving the production of a sublime genius to the world, with all the correctness possible, and of, at the same time, detailing the history of those productions, as they sprang, living and warm from his heart and brain.
In the rest of her brief Preface she waltzed very near the edge of Sir Timothy’s disapproval by writing briefly about Bysshe’s life and death and influence. But, as I said, it was in her notes on the poems that she supplied the biographical information she felt was necessary. In her “Note on Poems of 1820, by Mrs. Shelley,” for example, she wrote about their time in Florence, in Leghorn, in the Baths of San Giuliano, and Pisa, where the extreme mildness of the climate suited Shelley. And she made some observations that remain very affecting.
But for our fears on account of our child, I believe we should have wandered over the world, she wrote, both being passionately fond of travelling. But human life, besides its great unalterable necessities, is ruled by a thousand lilliputian ties that shackle at the time, although it is difficult to account afterwards for their influence over our destiny.