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Mary Shelley

April 11, 2010

It has been hard to get going on her half of the book. But now she is about three years old and is enjoying being the apple of her father’s eye. She is about to meet her new step-mother, the plump histrionic Mary Jane Clairmont who everyone hated. Charles Lamb wrote, “Mrs. Godwin grows every day in disfavour with God and man.” Godwin’s best friend was shocked by her “undisciplined and uncontrolled” temper. Another friend referred to her as “the infernal devil.” Of course, all of these men had known and loved Mary Wollstonecraft, Godwin’s first wife and the mother of Mary Shelley. It would have been hard to follow in Wollstonecraft’s shoes. But Mary Jane does sound objectionable. She was tactless, gossipy, and a liar. She had a very big bottom (not that there is anything wrong with that). But her worst sin is that she did not love little Mary Shelley. She was a shameless promoter of her own daughter over Wollstonecraft’s girls. A cliche, really, to be the evil stepmother and it is certainly very sad and embarrassing, historically speaking, to go down in the biographies as so mean spirited. Maybe she was nicer than everyone says. I am too tired to try to ferret out her strengths. Someone’s unpublished letters? Strangely, Aaron Burr liked her. But I do not feel like explaining why Aaron Burr was in London. Maybe I will just take everyone’s word on Mary Jane. That would be easiest.
Given how gripping all this drama is, I am not sure why it has been difficult to get back into the book. Maybe it has something to do with student papers, classes, violin recitals at nursing homes, and looming presentations on The Woman Who Named God.

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