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Mary Shelley - The Marriage

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Mary Shelley
The Formative Years | The Decadent Days | The Marriage | The Widow | Frankenstein - The Legacy

Percy and Mary Shelley were married in St Mildred's Church in London on 30 December, 1816, and were welcomed back into the family fold. Their relationship thus far had been more to Percy's liking than Mary's. While they had both bought into William Godwin's philosophies of free love and the concept of an open marriage, Mary found this particularly difficult in practice. Before their marriage she had been coerced into a liaison with Percy's boyhood friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg and Percy himself had enjoyed the charms of Mary's step-sister Jane, but overall Mary remained unconvinced of the joys of sharing herself and her partner.

The newly-wed Mary and Percy Shelley spent the first weeks of their marriage living with family. During this time the other woman in their relationship, Jane, or Claire as she was by then known, was living at their home in Bath. There she gave birth on 12 January, 1817, to the daughter of Lord Byron, her estranged lover. Claire had kept the pregnancy secret, such was her distress at being unceremoniously dumped by Lord Byron. The Shelleys however, were quick to rush to her side - life with the in-laws was proving a tad stifling for the pair.

In March of 1817 the extended family of Percy, Mary, their son William, Claire and her daughter Allegra moved into Albion House in the village of Marlow. At this point Mary was busy finishing her manuscript Frankenstein and Percy was attempting to gain custody of his two children from his previous marriage. Percy was ultimately unsuccessful in his bid for the children, but in September of that year Mary gave birth to a daughter, Clara.

Itchy Feet

The new year of 1818 brought a new beginning for the Shelleys, Frankenstein was published in three volumes and life was looking up. Some people considered the novel to be the creation of Percy, but Mary was quick to refute this.

They decided to sell Albion house, and in February they relocated to London, but this wasn't to their liking either. Their lifestyle had created a 'cold house' for them and the public were slow to forgive, so they decided to take their merry little band to the continent.

Claire, for reasons best known to herself, decided to relinquish custody of Allegra to Lord Byron, so the travellers made their way to Italy where he was holding court in Venice. Mere months later, Claire reconsidered her decision and wanted her daughter back. Byron, however, was not in the mood for a reconciliation and enjoyed playing the parent. In a moment of mercy he did agree that Claire could see the child, but only in the company of the Shelleys, and at his home in Este. The troupe travelled in great haste to the Villa in Este, but during the journey baby Clara became ill. Young Clara died on 24 September, from dysentery, and Mary had to witness the burial of her second child.

Still failing to put down roots, the group continued travelling. They made a base in Naples in November, 1818, and on 27 December a baby girl, Elena Adelaide, was born and adopted by the Shelleys. The child's parentage is a mystery to this day, having been registered as the daughter of Percy and one Marina Padurin. Possibly Elena was the daughter of Percy and Claire, or indeed a mystery servant. At any rate, Percy hoped the new baby would lift Mary's spirits over the loss of her own child Clara. This was not to be, however, and the young Elena was left with foster parents as the family began touring again in the new year. By June, 1819 they had made their way to Rome when tragedy struck yet again. Young William contracted malaria and died on 7 June, 1819. Through all the grief and turmoil in Mary's life, she somehow managed to write the novel Matilda.

Mary became pregnant again, but this did not curtail the group's travelling. By the winter of that year they were living in Florence, and in the November Mary gave birth to her son Percy. After a few months of nurturing the young boy, they decided to up sticks yet again and head for Pisa. By this time, Claire had returned to Vienna in her continued hounding of Lord Byron. Mary worked on her novels Valperga, Proserpine and Midas.

In June, 1820 Mary received the news of the death of 17-month-old Elena Adelaide.

The family spent the rest of the year house-hopping, but remained in Pisa where they were joined by another couple. Edward and Jane Williams were introduced to the Shelleys by Percy's cousin, and although they claimed to be married, they were in fact cohabitating. Percy, never one to miss a move, invited them to live with himself and Mary, and they moved in in January, 1921. There the happy couples lived for five months until a little distance was required - the Williams moved out, but still lived locally to maintain that 'special friendship'.

Goodbye to Love

Mary and Percy seemed to settle in Pisa, and began to be the centre for quite a little literary group which included Lord Byron, his mistress Teresa Guiccioli, and Edward Trelawny. Never far from tragedy, however, the news of the death of Lord Byron and Claire's daughter Allegra reached them in April, 1822. Allegra had died of typhus while in a convent which Byron had thought the best place for her schooling.

Shortly after the news of Allegra's death, the Shelleys, as well as Claire and the Williams, moved away to their summer residence. It was here that Mary suffered a miscarriage, which almost cost her her life. Tragedy had haunted Mary Shelley from her birth, but her greatest loss was that of her husband Percy. He drowned with Edward Williams in what was thought to be a boating accident.

Percy's body did not surface until some ten days after his disappearance and, unconventional to the end, he was cremated on the beach. Mary was unable to attend the ceremony due to the conventions of the time. Edward Trelawny managed to snatch Percy's heart from the funeral pyre, and presented it to Mary. She kept this with her for the rest of her life. She did attempt to have Percy's ashes interred with their son William, but bizarrely, when the grave was opened, they found another adult skeleton already there. Percy's ashes were therefore buried in a new, more glamorous, plot.

At just 24 years old Mary was alone and penniless in Italy.

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