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One night

February 17, 2011

eight year old Mary (Shelley) snuck out of bed and hid behind the sofa in the front parlor of her house to spy on her father and his friend. Her stepmother had made her go to bed early, but Mary was furious: Why should she miss out on the excitement, just because of her evil stepmother. She crept downstairs and saw the candles, the shadowed room, the marble mantlepiece, the fire — all was as it usually was — and then a ghost ship sailed in, an albatross flew by, Death rolled the dice — her father’s friend was reciting his most famous poem, the one he had just written, the one with the short lines, like nursery rhymes, the one where Death-in-Life wins a sailor’s soul. To Mary, the poet and the poem blurred. Was her father’s friend the sailor? The one who killed an albatross? The one cursed to tell the story? To me, this is one of those astonishing moments in history that one never learns about in English class. I never knew that Mary met Coleridge when she was a little girl, that she heard him recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in her living room. The irony is that she was punished for it. Her stepmother found her, dragged her out, kicking and crying — humiliated.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Therese Sellers permalink
    February 19, 2011 10:23 pm

    What a wonderful story! It is stories like this that bring history to life. Thanks for sharing.

  2. February 21, 2011 10:08 am

    There’s a scene in A. S. Byatt’s novel “Possession” in which the character Christabel links her name to a poem written by her father’s friend Coleridge. Now I wonder if Byatt knew about this Mary anecdote.

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