As you know, my brain has frazzled and I now only read children’s books. Slowly. Using my index finger and mouthing the words while frowning intently (actually the frowning intently bit is true – anyone for botox?).
Anyhow, I am reading “Maurice or The Fisher’s Cot” which is a recently discovered children’s story by Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. A lot of the book is intro about the Shelleys and their friends. Poor old Mary Shelley had a miserable life. Consider the following from the introduction:
“Mary….was the child of …the philosopher and novelist William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, famous for her pioneering statement of women’s rights…the birth of the younger Mary killed her mother….When she was sixteen, Mary met…Shelley. He was only twenty-two, with a wife Harriet and a small daughter…Shelley and Mary eloped…leaving…a desperate Harriet, pregnant with her second child. [Mary’s] first child died… Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont had become part of their household….Claire involved herself briefly with Byron and became pregnant by him [more of this later], but it was always Shelley who made himself responsible for her welfare, and many people believed that Mary and Claire shared his sexual attentions..
[I]n 1816 [Mary’s] half-sister Fanny…committed suicide…Shelley’s wife Harriet drowned herself… Shelley married Mary…in the hope of winning custody of his children by Harriet, but failed to do so. He and Mary left for Italy with their two children accompanied by Claire and her daughter by Byron, Allegra…their children died and Mary fell into deep depression”.
But that’s not all, wait until you hear what happened to poor little Allegra. Claire had given Allegra up to Byron (who was in Venice) believeing this to be in the child’s best interests. Allegra was “fifteen months old and never before parted from her mother”. Byron put her into the care of the British Counsul and his wife. Claire got no news of her from Byron but the Consul’s wife “wrote coolly..about Allegra wetting her bed and losing her gaiety of spirit”. The poor little thing. Claire went to Venice in August and Byron allowed her to keep Allegra with her to the end of October when he insisted on having her back. When Byron took Allegra back, he refused to allow Claire to visit or to tell her about Allegra’s health or whereabouts. When she had not seen Allegra for 18 months, Claire wrote begging Byron to let him have her for the summer. He refused. He continued to refuse to let her see Allegra and she continued to beg for access to her daughter. Byron placed Allegra in a convent, she was the youngest child to be admitted and still her mother begged to be let visit her to no avail. Allegra never saw her mother again. She died in the convent;she was only 5. “Mad, bad and dangerous to know” indeed. Isn’t that a heart-rending story?