And then … in late April 1844 … news of another death arrived, a death that would transform Mary’s life.
Sir Timothy Shelley, 90, passed away, and his title passed directly to the son of Mary and Bysshe, who was now Sir Percy Florence Shelley. The Shelley family members were not exactly gracious in the transfer of title. They took items from the house (Field Place), made things about as awkward as they could be. Sir Percy attended the funeral; Mary—who had been persona non grata for decades in the family—did not.
But now, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley would be financially comfortable for the rest of her life, a status and stature perfectly alien to her.
A few months later, on August 1, 1844, publisher Edward Moxon brought out—in a two-volume edition—Mary’s final book, Rambles in Germany and Italy, in 1840, 1842, and 1843. The reviews were kind (for the most part). Some praised her for her knowledgeable narration of her travels; others, for her comments about the political situations in the countries she visited.
The book is epistolary in design and structure, comprising twenty-three letters to an unnamed correspondent. My notes remind me that I read the book between July 28 and August 12, 1997, only months after I’d retired from public school teaching (mid-January 1997). I see, too, that I had acquired a replica edition of the book via interlibrary loan at nearby Hiram College (my alma mater, where my wife, Joyce, was teaching).
In my journal for those days, I see that I was still running five miles per day—unthinkable now, nearly twenty years later—and our son, Steve, had begun his career as a young journalist at the Akron Beacon-Journal, a position he would keep for ten years before heading off to law school (he’d seen the imminent decline of print journalism). His work at the paper was particularly touching for Joyce, who’d grown up in Akron and whose family had subscribed to the Beacon her entire life. As had the generations preceding her and her parents.