Mary also returned to the Vatican; she and Bysshe had been there in March 1819. And now once again, in 1843, she went to the Sistine Chapel to see the ceiling paintings of Michelangelo. They have, she writes, that simple grandeur that Michael Angelo [sic] alone could confer on a single figure, making it complete in itself—enthroned in majesty—reigning over the souls of men.
Then it was on south to Naples, about 135 miles down the western coast of Italy. There, she would again see the ruins of Pompeii. A greater extent of the city has been dug out, she writes, and laid open since I was there before [December 1818], so that it has now much more the appearance of a town of the dead. You may ramble about and lose yourself in the many streets.
“A town of the dead.”
Mary does not say so, but she must have had this feeling in Rome itself—where lay the remains of her husband, her children. Indeed, every place she visited in these journeys—in Germany, in Switzerland, in Italy—must have seemed to her entirely haunted by ghosts of Bysshe, of her youth (and health), of the hope that once reigned in her life, only to sink in a storm-ravaged boat off the coast of Viareggio.
Rambles ends in Naples, ends with these comments: … it is a joy … to see the calm sea spread out at our feet, as we look over the bay of Naples—while above us bends a sky—in whose pure depths ship-like clouds glide—and the moon hangs luminous, a pendant sphere of silver fire.
And thus ends Mary Shelley’s Rambles in Germany and Italy, 1843—the final sentence in the final book she would write. A quarter-century earlier her career had begun with a travel book, History of a Six-Weeks Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, 1817, a year before Frankenstein. And she ended with another travel book, an account that tells of her return to the places that she had adored, the places that had shattered her heart.