And then son Percy found a woman he wanted to marry, Jane St. John.
Her biography fits right in with the Godwins and Shelleys. She was an illegitimate child; his first husband died just three years after their marriage in 1841. Her late husband, by the way, left behind an illegitimate son. Jane met Mary’s son, Percy Florence, in 1847, and they married on June 22, 1848.
From the beginning, Mary adored the woman who would become her daughter-in-law. Mary first mentions Jane in a letter in March 1848, calling her a prize indeed in the lottery (not as rich) being the best & sweetest thing in the world— In that same letter, however, Mary makes another comment about Jane’s (lack of) wealth—so in some ways we see—don’t we?—that Mary has become someone quite distant from her own family history.
Unfortunately (for us), Percy Florence and Jane had no children. So today there is no one walking around carrying the genes of Godwin-Wollstonecraft-Shelley. Instead, all that genetic material lies in the ground—and in the pages of countless books, books by them, books about them.
On October 6, 1999, I drove to Bloomington, Indiana, where I planned to visit the Lilly Library, which houses the rare books and manuscripts for the University of Indiana. There, I’d found online, was a copy of Jane Shelley’s four-volume compilation of papers, Shelley and Mary (1882), an assortment of letters and other documents that she published in a limited edition. The Lilly had only the first two volumes. (I would read the others thanks to microfilm I acquired from the Hiram College Library on interlibrary loan, January 31, 1999.)
Here’s an excerpt from my journal later that day: I was the only patron for a while, and so they quickly brought me the two volumes of Shelley and Mary, and I was thankful I had this laptop: the books were, well, books, not microfilm, so I had to type the notes I took. Not a lot of stuff, but some golden stuff—especially the letters from Godwin to Mary (unpublished most other places). After about two ½ hours of typing, I was ready to leave for New Harmony, so off I went.
Today, as I look at the printout of the notes I took that day nearly twenty years ago, I find one extract that makes me smile even today—this excerpt from a letter that Mary’s father wrote to her in late November 1822 after reading the manuscript of her novel Valperga (1823). Here’s Godwin with his typical paternal bluntness: Frankenstein was a fine thing; it was compressed, muscular, and firm; nothing relaxed and weak; no proud flesh. … [Valperga] is a work of more genius; but it appears, in reading, that the first rule you prescribed to yourself was, I will let it be long.