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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Mary Wollstonecraft
1777 – March 31 1844

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Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 in Spitalfields, London. She was the second of the seven children of Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Although her family had a comfortable income when she was a child, her father gradually squandered it on speculative projects. Consequently, the family became financially unstable and they were frequently forced to move during Wollstonecraft’s youth.

The family’s financial situation eventually became so dire that Wollstonecraft’s father compelled her to turn over money that she would have inherited at her maturity. Moreover, he was apparently a violent man who would beat his wife in drunken rages. As a teenager, Wollstonecraft used to lie outside the door of her mother’s bedroom to protect her. Wollstonecraft played a similar maternal role for her sisters, Everina and Eliza, throughout her life. For example, in a defining moment in 1784, she convinced Eliza, who was suffering from what was probably postpartum depression, to leave her husband and infant; Wollstonecraft made all of the arrangements for Eliza to flee, demonstrating her willingness to challenge social norms. The human costs, however, were severe: her sister suffered social condemnation and, because she could not remarry, was doomed to a life of poverty and hard work.

Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft’s early life. The first was with Jane Arden in Beverley. The two frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden’s father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist. Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Arden greatly, sometimes to the point of being emotionally possessive. Wollstonecraft wrote to her: “I have formed romantic notions of friendship… I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none.” In some of Wollstonecraft’s letters to Arden, she reveals the volatile and depressive emotions that would haunt her throughout her life.

The second and more important friendship was with Fanny (Frances) Blood, introduced to Wollstonecraft by the Clares, a couple in Hoxton who became parental figures to her; Wollstonecraft credited Blood with opening her mind. Unhappy with her home life, Wollstonecraft struck out on her own in 1778 and accepted a job as a lady’s companion to Sarah Dawson, a widow living in Bath. However, Wollstonecraft had trouble getting along with the irascible woman (an experience she drew on when describing the drawbacks of such a position in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787). In 1780 she returned home, called back to care for her dying mother. Rather than return to Dawson’s employ after the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods. She realized during the two years she spent with the family that she had idealized Blood, who was more invested in traditional feminine values than was Wollstonecraft. But Wollstonecraft remained dedicated to her and her family throughout her life (she frequently gave pecuniary assistance to Blood’s brother, for example).

Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream collapsed under economic realities. In order to make a living, Wollstonecraft, her sisters, and Blood set up a school together in Newington Green, a Dissenting community. Blood soon became engaged and after their marriage her husband, Hugh Skeys, took her to Lisbon, Portugal to improve her health, which had always been precarious. Despite the change of surroundings Blood’s health further deteriorated when she became pregnant, and in 1785 Wollstonecraft left the school and followed Blood to nurse her, but to no avail. Moreover, her abandonment of the school led to its failure. Blood’s death devastated Wollstonecraft and was part of the inspiration for her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788).

After Blood’s death, Wollstonecraft’s friends helped her obtain a position as governess to the daughters of the Anglo-Irish Kingsborough family in Ireland. Although she could not get along with Lady Kingsborough, the children found her an inspiring instructor; Margaret King would later say she “had freed her mind from all superstitions”. Some of Wollstonecraft’s experiences during this year would make their way into her only children’s book, Original Stories from Real Life (1788).

Frustrated by the limited career options open to respectable yet poor women—an impediment which Wollstonecraft eloquently describes in the chapter of Thoughts on the Education of Daughters entitled “Unfortunate Situation of Females, Fashionably Educated, and Left Without a Fortune”—she decided, after only a year as a governess, to embark upon a career as an author. This was a radical choice, since, at the time, few women could support themselves by writing. As she wrote to her sister Everina in 1787, she was trying to become “the first of a new genus”. She moved to London and, assisted by the liberal publisher Joseph Johnson, found a place to live and work to support herself. She learned French and German and translated texts, most notably Of the Importance of Religious Opinions by Jacques Necker and Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann. She also wrote reviews, primarily of novels, for Johnson’s periodical, the Analytical Review. Wollstonecraft’s intellectual universe expanded during this time, not only from the reading that she did for her reviews but also from the company she kept: she attended Johnson’s famous dinners and met such luminaries as the radical pamphleteer Thomas Paine and the philosopher William Godwin. The first time Godwin and Wollstonecraft met, they were both disappointed in each other. Godwin had come to hear Paine, but Wollstonecraft assailed him all night long, disagreeing with him on nearly every subject. Johnson himself, however, became much more than a friend; she described him in her letters as a father and a brother.

While in London, Wollstonecraft pursued a relationship with the artist Henry Fuseli, even though he was already married. She was, she wrote, enraptured by his genius, “the grandeur of his soul, that quickness of comprehension, and lovely sympathy”. She proposed a platonic living arrangement with Fuseli and his wife, but Fuseli’s wife was appalled, and he broke off the relationship with Wollstonecraft. After Fuseli’s rejection, Wollstonecraft decided to travel to France to escape the humiliation of the incident, and to participate in the revolutionary events that she had just celebrated in her recent Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790). She had written the Rights of Men in response to Edmund Burke’s conservative critique of the French Revolution in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and it made her famous overnight. She was compared with such leading lights as the theologian and controversialist Joseph Priestley and Paine, whose Rights of Man (1791) would prove to be the most popular of the responses to Burke. She pursued the ideas she had outlined in Rights of Men in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), her most famous and influential work.

Wollstonecraft left for Paris in December 1792 and arrived about a month before Louis XVI was guillotined. France was in turmoil. She sought out other British visitors such as Helen Maria Williams and joined the circle of expatriates then in the city. Having just written the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft was determined to put her ideas to the test, and in the stimulating intellectual atmosphere of the French revolution she attempted her most experimental romantic attachment yet: she met and fell passionately in love with Gilbert Imlay, an American adventurer. Whether or not she was interested in marriage, he was not, and she appears to have fallen in love with an idealized portrait of the man. While Wollstonecraft had rejected the sexual component of relationships in the Rights of Woman, Imlay awakened her passions and her interest in sex. She soon became pregnant, and on 14 May 1794 she gave birth to her first child, Fanny, naming her after perhaps her closest friend. Wollstonecraft was overjoyed; she wrote to a friend: “My little Girl begins to suck so MANFULLY that her father reckons saucily on her writing the second part of the R[igh]ts of Woman” (emphasis hers). She continued to write avidly, despite not only her pregnancy and the burdens of being a new mother alone in a foreign country, but also the growing tumult of the French Revolution. While at Le Havre in northern France, she wrote a history of the early revolution, An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution, which was published in London in December 1794.

As the political situation worsened, Britain declared war on France, placing all British subjects in France in considerable danger. To protect Wollstonecraft, Imlay registered her as his wife in 1793, even though they were not married. Some of her friends were not so lucky; many, like Thomas Paine, were arrested, and some were even guillotined. (Wollstonecraft’s sisters believed she had been imprisoned.) After she left France, she continued to refer to herself as “Mrs Imlay”, even to her sisters, in order to bestow legitimacy upon her child.

Imlay, unhappy with the domestic-minded and maternal Wollstonecraft, eventually left her. He promised that he would return to Le Havre where she went to give birth to her child, but his delays in writing to her and his long absences convinced Wollstonecraft that he had found another woman. Her letters to him are full of needy expostulations, explained by most critics as the expressions of a deeply depressed woman but by some as a result of her circumstances—alone with an infant in the middle of a revolution.

Seeking Imlay, Wollstonecraft returned to London in April 1795, but he rejected her. In May 1795 she attempted to commit suicide, probably with laudanum, but Imlay saved her life (although it is unclear how).

In a last attempt to win back Imlay, she embarked upon some business negotiations for him in Scandinavia, trying to recoup some of his losses. Wollstonecraft undertook this hazardous trip with only her young daughter and a maid. She recounted her travels and thoughts in letters to Imlay, many of which were eventually published as Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark in 1796. When she returned to England and came to the full realisation that her relationship with Imlay was over, she attempted suicide for the second time, leaving a note for Imlay:

Let my wrongs sleep with me! Soon, very soon, I shall be at peace. When you receive this, my burning head will be cold… I shall plunge into the Thames where there is least chance of my being snatched from the death I seek. God bless you! May you never know by experience what you have made me endure. Should your sensibility ever awake, remorse will find its way to your heart; and, in the midst of business and sensual pleasure, I shall appear before you, the victim of your deviation from rectitude.

She then went out on a rainy night and “to make her clothes heavy with water, she walked up and down about half an hour” before jumping into the River Thames, but a stranger saw her jump and rescued her. Wollstonecraft considered her suicide attempt deeply rational, writing after her rescue,

I have only to lament, that, when the bitterness of death was past, I was inhumanly brought back to life and misery. But a fixed determination is not to be baffled by disappointment; nor will I allow that to be a frantic attempt, which was one of the calmest acts of reason. In this respect, I am only accountable to myself. Did I care for what is termed reputation, it is by other circumstances that I should be dishonoured.

Gradually, Wollstonecraft returned to her literary life, becoming involved with Joseph Johnson’s circle again, in particular with Mary Hays, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Sarah Siddons through William Godwin. Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s unique courtship began slowly, but it eventually became a passionate love affair. Godwin had read her Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark and later wrote that “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration.” Once Wollstonecraft became pregnant, they decided to marry so that their child would be legitimate. Their marriage revealed the fact that Wollstonecraft had never been married to Imlay, and as a result she and Godwin lost many friends. Godwin received further criticism because he had advocated the abolition of marriage in his philosophical treatise Political Justice. After their marriage on 29 March 1797, they moved into two adjoining houses, known as The Polygon, so that they could both still retain their independence; they often communicated by letter. By all accounts, theirs was a happy and stable, though brief, relationship.

On 30 August 1797, Wollstonecraft gave birth to her second daughter, Mary (Shelley). Although the delivery seemed to go well initially, the placenta broke apart during the birth and became infected; puerperal (childbed) fever was a common and often fatal occurrence in the eighteenth century. After several days of agony, Wollstonecraft died of septicaemia on 10 September.

Godwin was devastated: he wrote to his friend Thomas Holcroft, “I firmly believe there does not exist her equal in the world. I know from experience we were formed to make each other happy. I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again.”

She was buried at Old Saint Pancras Churchyard, where her tombstone reads, “Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: Born 27 April 1759: Died 10 September 1797.” (In 1851, her remains were moved by her grandson Percy Florence Shelley to his family tomb in Bournemouth.)

Her monument in the churchyard lies to the north-east of the church. Her husband was buried with her on his death in 1836.

This is a complete list of Mary Wollstonecraft’s works;

  • Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life. London: Joseph Johnson, 1787.
  • Mary: A Fiction. London: Joseph Johnson, 1788.
  • Original Stories from Real Life: With Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness. London: Joseph Johnson, 1788.
  • Necker, Jacques. Of the Importance of Religious Opinions. Trans. Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Joseph Johnson, 1788.
  • The Female Reader: Or, Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose and Verse; selected from the best writers, and disposed under proper heads; for the improvement of young women. By Mr. Cresswick, teacher of elocution [Mary Wollstonecraft]. To which is prefixed a preface, containing some hints on female education. London: Joseph Johnson, 1789.
  • de Cambon, Maria Geertruida van de Werken. Young Grandison. A Series of Letters from Young Persons to Their Friends. Trans. Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Joseph Johnson, 1790.
  • Salzmann, Christian Gotthilf. Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children; with an introductory address to parents. Trans. Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Joseph Johnson, 1790.
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. London: Joseph Johnson, 1790.
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Moral and Political Subjects. London: Joseph Johnson, 1792.
  • “On the Prevailing Opinion of a Sexual Character in Women, with Strictures on Dr. Gregory’s Legacy to His Daughters”. New Annual Register (1792): 457–466. [From Rights of Woman]
  • An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution; and the Effect It Has produced in Europe. London: Joseph Johnson, 1794.
  • Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. London: Joseph Johnson, 1796.
  • “On Poetry, and Our Relish for the Beauties of Nature”. Monthly Magazine (April 1797).
  • The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “The Cave of Fancy”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Letter on the Present Character of the French Nation”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Fragment of Letters on the Management of Infants”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Lessons”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • “Hints”. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Ed. William Godwin. London: Joseph Johnson, 1798.
  • Contributions to the Analytical Review (1788–1797)

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Claire Clairmont
27 April 1798 – 19 March 1879

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Clara Mary Jane Clairmont

Claire Clairmont was born in 1798 in Brislington, near Bristol, the second child and only daughter of Mary Jane Vial Clairmont. Throughout her childhood she was known as “Jane”. In 2010 the identity of her father was discovered: John (later Sir John) Lethbridge of Sandhill Park, near Taunton, Somerset. Her mother had identified him as a “Charles Clairmont”, adopting the name Clairmont for herself and her children, to disguise their illegitimacy. It appears that the father of her first child, Charles, was Charles Abram Marc Gaulis, “a merchant and member of a prominent Swiss family, whom she met in Cadiz”.

When she was three years old, Claire (Jane) Clairmont acquired a stepfamily. In December 1801, her mother married a neighbour, William Godwin, the writer and philosopher. This brought the toddler two step-sisters: Godwin’s daughter, Mary (later Mary Shelley), only eight months older than she, and his adopted daughter, Fanny Imlay, a couple of years older. Both of them were the children of Mary Wollstonecraft, who had died some four years before, but whose presence continued to be felt in the household. The family was completed with the birth of a boy to Mary Jane and William, giving Claire Clairmont a younger brother.

All of the children were influenced by Godwin’s radical anarchist philosophical beliefs. Both parents were well-educated and they co-wrote children’s primers on Biblical and classical history. Godwin encouraged all of his children to read widely and give lectures from early childhood.

Mary Jane Godwin was a sharp-tongued woman who often quarrelled with Godwin and favoured her own children over her husband’s daughters. She contrived to send the volatile and emotionally intense Clairmont to boarding school for a time, thus providing her with more formal education than her stepsisters.

Clairmont, unlike Mary Shelley, was fluent in French when she was a teenager and later was credited with fluency in five different languages. However, the girls grew close and remained in contact for the rest of their lives.

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Lord Byron

At sixteen, Clairmont was a lively, voluptuous brunette with a good singing voice and a hunger for recognition. Her home life had become increasingly tense, as her stepfather William Godwin sank deeper into debt and her mother’s relations with Godwin’s daughter Mary became more strained. Clairmont aided her stepsister’s clandestine meetings with Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had professed a belief in free love and soon left his own wife and two small children to be with Mary. When Mary ran away with Shelley in July 1814, Clairmont went with them. Clairmont’s mother traced the group to an inn in Calais, but couldn’t make the girl go home with her. Godwin needed the financial assistance that the aristocratic Shelley could provide.

Clairmont remained in the Shelley household in their wanderings across Europe. The three young people traipsed across war-torn France, into Switzerland, fancying themselves like characters in a romantic novel, as Mary Shelley later recalled, but always reading widely, writing, and discussing the creative process. On the journey, Clairmont read Rousseau, Shakespeare, and the works of Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.

“What shall poor Cordelia do – Love & be silent,” Clairmont wrote in her journal while reading King Lear. “Oh [th]is is true – Real Love will never [sh]ew itself to the eye of broad day – it courts the secret glades.” Clairmont’s emotions were so stirred by Cordelia that she had one of her “horrors,” a hysterical fit, Mary Shelley recorded in her own journal entry for the same day. Clairmont, who was surrounded by poets and writers, also made her own literary attempts. During the summer of 1814, she started a story called “The Idiot,” which has since been lost. In 1817-1818, she wrote a book which Percy Bysshe Shelley tried without success to have published. But though Claire lacked the literary talent of her stepsister and brother-in-law, she always longed to take centre stage. It was during this period that she changed her name from “Jane” to first “Clara” and finally the more romantic-sounding “Claire.”

Any romantic designs Clairmont might have had on Shelley were frustrated initially, but she did bring the Shelleys into contact with Lord Byron, with whom she entered into an affair before he left England in 1816 to live abroad. (A year marked by agricultural failures and widespread European famine, but also of significant literary advances as the Godwin-Shelley-Byron circle holed up indoors, 1816 would later be known as the “year without a summer”.) Clairmont had hopes of becoming a writer or an actress and wrote to Byron asking for “career advice” in March 1816, when she was almost eighteen. Byron was a director at the Drury Lane Theatre. Clairmont later followed up her letters with visits, sometimes with her stepsister Mary Godwin, whom she seemed to suggest Byron might also find attractive. “Do you know I cannot talk to you when I see you? I am so awkward and only feel inclined to take a little stool and sit at your feet,” Clairmont wrote to Byron. She “bombarded him with passionate daily communiques” telling him he need only accept “that which it has long been the passionate wish of my heart to give you”. She arranged for them to meet at a country inn. Byron, in a depressed state after the break-up of his marriage to Annabella Milbanke and scandal over his relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, made it very clear to Clairmont before he left that she would not be a part of his life. Clairmont, on the other hand, was determined she would change his mind. She convinced Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley, that they should follow Byron to Switzerland, where they met him and John William Polidori (Byron’s personal physician) at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. It is unknown whether or not Clairmont knew she was pregnant with Byron’s child at the commencement of the trip, but it soon became apparent to both her travelling companions and to Byron not long after their arrival at his door. At first he maintained his refusal of Clairmont’s companionship and allowed her to be in his presence only in the company of the Shelleys; later, they resumed their sexual relationship for a time in Switzerland. Clairmont and Mary Shelley also made fair copies of Byron’s work-in-progress, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which he was in the process of writing.

Clairmont was the only lover, other than Caroline Lamb, whom Byron referred to as a “little fiend.” Confessing the affair in a letter to his half-sister Augusta Leigh, Byron wrote

What could I do? — a foolish girl — in spite of all I could say or do — would come after me — or rather went before me — for I found her here … I could not exactly play the Stoic with a woman — who had scrambled eight hundred miles to unphilosophize me.”

He referred to her also in the following manner, in a letter to Douglas Kinnaird (20 January 1817):
“[Claire Clairmont] You know–& I believe saw once that odd-headed girl—who introduced herself to me shortly before I left England—but you do not know—that I found her with Shelley and her sister at Geneva—I never loved her nor pretended to love her—but a man is a man–& if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours of the night—there is but one way—the suite of all this is that she was with child–& returned to England to assist in peopling that desolate island…This comes of “putting it about” (as Jackson calls it) & be dammed to it—and thus people come into the world.”

Clairmont was to say later that her relationship with Byron had given her only a few minutes of pleasure, but a lifetime of trouble.

The group left Byron in Switzerland at the end of the summer and returned to England. Clairmont took up residence in Bath and in January 1817 she gave birth to a daughter, Alba, whose name was eventually changed to Allegra. Throughout the pregnancy, Clairmont had written long letters to Byron, pleading for his attention and a promise to care for her and the baby, sometimes making fun of his friends, reminding him how much he had enjoyed making love to her, and sometimes threatening suicide. Byron, who by this time hated her, ignored the letters. The following year, Clairmont and the Shelleys left England and journeyed once more to Byron, who now resided in Italy. Clairmont felt that the future Byron could provide for their daughter would be greater than any she herself would be able to grant the child and, therefore, wished to deliver Allegra into his care.

Upon arriving in Italy, Clairmont was again refused by Byron. He arranged to have Allegra delivered to his house in Venice and agreed to raise the child on the condition that Clairmont keep her distance from him. Clairmont reluctantly gave Allegra over to Byron.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley

Clairmont may have been sexually involved with Percy Bysshe Shelley at different periods, though Clairmont’s biographers, Gittings and Manton, find no hard evidence. Their friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg joked about “Shelley and his two wives,” Mary and Claire, a remark that Clairmont recorded in her own journal. Clairmont was also entirely in sympathy, more so than Mary, with Shelley’s theories about free love, communal living, and the right of a woman to choose her own lovers and initiate sexual contact outside marriage. She seemed to conceive of love as a “triangle” and enjoyed being the third. She had also formed a close friendship with Shelley, who called her “my sweet child” and inspired and fed off his work. Mary Shelley’s early journals record several times when Clairmont and Shelley shared visions of Gothic horror and let their imaginings take flight, stirring each others’ emotions to the point of hysteria and nightmares. In October 1814, Shelley deliberately frightened Clairmont by assuming a particularly sinister and horrifying facial expression. “How horribly you look … Take your eyes off!” she cried. She was put to bed after yet another of her “horrors.” Percy Bysshe Shelley described her expression to Mary Shelley as “distorted most unnaturally by horrible dismay”. In the autumn of 1814 Clairmont and Shelley also discussed forming “an association of philosophical people” and Clairmont’s conception of an idealized community in which women were the ones in charge.

Shelley’s poem “To Constantia, Singing” is thought to be about her:

Constantia turn!
In thy dark eyes a power like light doth lie
Even though the sounds which were thy voice, which burn
Between thy lips, are laid to sleep:
Within thy breath, and on thy hair
Like odour, it is yet,
And from thy touch like fire doth leap.
Even while I write, my burning cheeks are wet
Alas, that the torn heart can bleed, but not forget!

Mary Shelley revised this poem, completely altering the first two stanzas, when she included it in a posthumous collection of Shelley’s works published in 1824.< In Shelley’s “Epipsychidion,” some scholars believe that he is addressing Clairmont as his

Comet beautiful and fierce
Who drew the heart of this frail Universe
Towards thine own; till, wrecked in that convulsion
Alternating attraction and repulsion
Thine went astray and that was rent in twain.

At the time Percy Shelley wrote the poem, in Pisa, Clairmont was living in Florence, and the lines may reveal how much he missed her.

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Mary Shelley

It has occasionally been suggested that Clairmont was also the mother of a daughter fathered by Percy Shelley. The possibility goes back to the accusation by Shelley’s servants, Elise and Paolo Foggi, that Clairmont gave birth to Percy Shelley’s baby during a stay in Naples, where, on 27 February 1819, Percy Shelley registered a baby named Elena Adelaide Shelley as having been born on 27 December 1818. The registrar recorded her as the daughter of Percy Shelley and “Maria” or “Marina Padurin” (possibly an Italian mispronunciation of “Mary Godwin”), and she was baptized the same day as the lawfully begotten child of Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin. It is, however, almost impossible that Mary Shelley was the mother, and this has given rise to several theories, including that the child was indeed Clairmont’s. Claire herself had ascended Mount Vesuvius, carried on a palanquin, on 16 December 1818, only nine days before the date given for the birth of Elena. It may be significant, however, that she was taken ill at about the same time—according to Mary Shelley’s journal she was ill on 27 December—and that her journal of June 1818 to early March 1819 has been lost. In a letter to Isabella Hoppner of 10 August 1821, Mary Shelley, however, stated emphatically that “Claire had no child”. She also insisted:

I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that Shelley never had an improper connexion [sic] with Claire … we lived in lodgings where I had momentary entrance into every room and such a thing could not have passed unknown to me … I do remember that Claire did keep to her bed there for two days—but I attended on her—I saw the physician—her illness was one that she had been accustomed to for years—and the same remedies were employed as I had before ministered to her in England.

The infant Elena was placed with foster parents and later died on 10 June 1820. Byron believed the rumors about Elena and used them as one more reason not to let Clairmont influence Allegra.

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Clara Allegra Byron

Clairmont was granted only a few brief visits with her daughter after surrendering her to Byron. When Byron arranged to place her in a Capuchin convent in Bagnacavallo, Italy, Clairmont was outraged. In 1821, she wrote Byron a letter accusing him of breaking his promise that their daughter would never be apart from one of her parents. She felt that the physical conditions in convents were unhealthy and the education provided was poor and was responsible for “the state of ignorance & profligacy of Italian women, all pupils of Convents. They are bad wives & most unnatural mothers, licentious & ignorant they are the dishonour & unhappiness of society … This step will procure to you an innumerable addition of enemies & of blame.” By March 1822 it had been two years since she had seen her daughter. She plotted to kidnap Allegra from the convent and asked Shelley to forge a letter of permission from Byron. Shelley refused her request. Byron’s seemingly callous treatment of the child was further vilified when Allegra died there at age five from a fever some scholars identify as typhus and others speculate was a malarial-type fever. Clairmont held Byron entirely responsible for the loss of their daughter and hated him for the rest of her life. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s death followed only two months later.

Shortly after Clairmont had introduced Shelley to Byron she met Edward John Trelawny, who was to play a major role in the short remaining lives of both poets. After Shelley’s death, Trelawny sent her love letters from Florence pleading with her to marry him, but she was not interested. Still, she remained in contact with him the rest of her long life. Clairmont wrote to Mary Shelley; “He [Trelawny] likes a turbid and troubled life; I a quiet one; he is full of fine feeling and has no principles; I am full of fine principles but never had a feeling (in my life).”

Devastated after Shelley’s death, Mary returned to England. She paid for Clairmont to travel to her brother’s home in Vienna where she stayed for a year, before relocating to Russia, where she worked as a governess from 1825 to 1828. The people she worked for treated her almost as a member of the family. Still, what Clairmont longed for most of all was privacy and peace and quiet, as she complained in letters to Mary Shelley.

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Edward John Trelawny

Two Russian men she met commented on her general disdain for the male sex; irritated by their assumption that since she was always falling in love, she would return their affections if they flirted with her, Clairmont joked in a letter to Mary Shelley that perhaps she should fall in love with both of them at once and prove them wrong. She returned to England in 1828, but remained there only a short while before departing for Dresden, where she was employed as a companion and housekeeper. Scholar Bradford A. Booth suggested in 1938 that Clairmont, driven by a need for money, might have been the true author of most of “The Pole,” an 1830 short story that appeared in the magazine The Court Assembly and Belle Assemblée as by “The Author of Frankenstein” Unlike Mary Shelley, Clairmont was familiar with the Polish used in the story. At one point, she thought of writing a book about the dangers that might result from “erroneous opinions” about the relations between men and women, using examples from the lives of Shelley and Byron. She did not make many literary attempts, as she explained to her friend Jane Williams:

But in our family, if you cannot write an epic or novel, that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head, you are a despicable creature, not worth acknowledging.

Clairmont returned to England in 1836 and worked as a music teacher. She cared for her mother when she was dying. In 1841, after Mary Jane Godwin’s death, Clairmont moved to Pisa, where she lived with Lady Margaret Mount Cashell, an old pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft. She lived in Paris for a time in the 1840s. Percy Bysshe Shelley had left her twelve thousand pounds in his will, which she finally received in 1844.

She carried on a sometimes turbulent, bitter correspondence with her stepsister Mary Shelley until she died in 1851. She converted to Catholicism, despite having hated the religion earlier in her life. She moved to Florence in 1870 and lived there in an expatriate colony with her niece, Paulina. Clairmont also clung to memorabilia of Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Aspern Papers by Henry James is based on the narrator’s attempts to gain ownership of these items. She died in Florence on 19 March 1879, at the age of eighty. Clairmont outlived all the members of Shelley’s Circle, except Trelawny and Jane Williams.

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Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Fanny Imlay
14 May 1794 – 9 October 1816

Fanny Imlay was the daughter of the British feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the American entrepreneur Gilbert Imlay. Both had moved to France during the French Revolution, Wollstonecraft to practise the principles laid out in her seminal work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and Imlay to engage in speculative business ventures. The two met and fell in love. At one point during Wollstonecraft and Imlay’s relationship, the couple could meet only at a tollbooth between Paris and Neuilly, and it was there that their daughter was conceived; Fanny was therefore, in Godwin’s words, a “barrier child”. Frances “Fanny” Imlay, Wollstonecraft’s first child, was born in Le Havre on 14 May 1794, or, as the birth certificate stated, on the 25th day of Floreal in the Second Year of the Republic, and named after Fanny Blood, her mother’s closest friend. Although Imlay never married Wollstonecraft, he registered her as his wife at the American consulate to protect her once Britain and France went to war in February 1793. Most people, including Wollstonecraft’s sisters, assumed they were married—and thus, by extension, that Fanny was legitimate—and she was registered as such in France.

Initially, the couple’s life together was idyllic. Wollstonecraft playfully wrote to one friend: “My little Girl begins to suck so manfully that her father reckons saucily on her writing the second part of the R[igh]ts of Woman”. Imlay soon tired of Wollstonecraft and domestic life and left her for long periods of time. Her letters to him are full of needy expostulations, explained by most critics as the expressions of a deeply depressed woman but by some as a result of her circumstances—alone with an infant in the middle of the French Revolution.

Wollstonecraft returned to London in April 1795, seeking Imlay, but he rejected her; the next month she attempted to commit suicide, but he saved her life (it is unclear how). In a last attempt to win him back, she embarked upon a hazardous trip to Scandinavia from June to September 1795, with only her one-year-old daughter and a maid, in order to conduct some business for him. Wollstonecraft’s journey was daunting not only because she was travelling to what some considered a nearly uncivilized region during a time of war, but also because she was travelling without a male escort. When she returned to England and realized that her relationship with Imlay was over, she attempted suicide a second time. She went out on a rainy night, walked around to soak her clothes, and then jumped into the River Thames, where a stranger rescued her.

Using her diaries and letters from her journey to Scandinavia, Wollstonecraft wrote a rumination on her travels and her relationship—Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796)—in which, among other things, she celebrated motherhood. Her maternal connection to her daughter prompted her to reflect on a woman’s place in the world:

You know that as a female I am particularly attached to her—I feel more than a mother’s fondness and anxiety, when I reflect on the dependent and oppressed state of her sex. I dread lest she should be forced to sacrifice her heart to her principles, or principles to her heart. With trembling hand I shall cultivate sensibility, and cherish delicacy of sentiment, lest, whilst I lend fresh blushes to the rose, I sharpen the thorns that will wound the breast I would fain guard—I dread to unfold her mind, lest it should render her unfit for the world she is to inhabit—Hapless woman! what a fate is thine!

Wollstonecraft lavished love and attention on her daughter. She began two books, drawn from her own experience, related to Fanny’s care: a parenting manual entitled “Letters on the Management of Infants” and a reading primer entitled “Lessons”. In one section of “Lessons”, she describes weaning:

When you were hungry, you began to cry, because you could not speak. You were seven months without teeth, always sucking. But after you got one, you began to gnaw a crust of bread. It was not long before another came pop. At ten months you had four pretty white teeth, and you used to bite me. Poor mamma! Still I did not cry, because I am not a child, but you hurt me very much. So I said to papa, it is time the little girl should eat. She is not naughty, yet she hurts me. I have given her a crust of bread, and I must look for some other milk.

In 1797, Wollstonecraft fell in love with and married the philosopher William Godwin (she had become pregnant with his child). Godwin grew to love Fanny during his affair with Wollstonecraft; he brought her back a mug from Josiah Wedgwood’s pottery factory with an “F” on it that delighted both mother and daughter. Wollstonecraft died in September of the same year, from complications giving birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who survived. Three-year-old Fanny, who had been scarred from smallpox, was unofficially adopted by her stepfather and given the name of Godwin. Her copy of Wollstonecraft’s only completed children’s book, Original Stories from Real Life (1788), has the initials “F. G.” written in large print in it. According to the dominant interpretation of Godwin’s diary, it was not until Fanny turned twelve that she was informed in an important conversation with Godwin that he was not her natural father.

After Wollstonecraft’s death, Godwin and Joseph Johnson, Wollstonecraft’s publisher and close friend, contacted Fanny’s father, but he was uninterested in raising his child. (Neither Wollstonecraft nor her daughter ever saw Gilbert Imlay after 1796.) Wollstonecraft’s two sisters, Eliza Bishop and Everina Wollstonecraft, Fanny’s only two living female relatives, were anxious to care for her; Godwin, disliking them, turned down their offer. Several times throughout Fanny’s childhood Wollstonecraft’s sisters asked Godwin to allow them to raise their niece and each time he refused. Godwin himself did not seem particularly ready for parenthood and he now had two small children to raise and no steady source of income. However, he was determined to care for them. During these early years of Fanny’s life, Joseph Johnson served as an “unofficial trustee” for her as he had occasionally for her mother. He even willed her £200, but Godwin owed Johnson so much money upon his death in 1809 that Johnson’s heirs demanded Godwin pay the money back as part of his arrears.

Although Godwin was fond of his children, he was, in many ways, ill-equipped to care for them. As Todd explains, he was constantly annoyed by their noise, demanding silence while he worked. However, when he took a trip to Dublin to visit Wollstonecraft’s sisters, he missed the girls immensely and wrote to them frequently.

On 21 December 1801, when Fanny was seven, Godwin married Mary Jane Clairmont, a neighbour with two children of her own: three-year-old Claire and six-year-old Charles. She had never been married and was looking, like Godwin, for financial stability. Although Clairmont was well-educated and well-travelled, most of Godwin’s friends despised her, finding her vulgar and dishonest. They were astonished that Godwin could replace Mary Wollstonecraft with her. Fanny and her half-sister Mary disliked their stepmother and complained that she preferred her own children to them. On 28 March 1803, baby William was born to the couple.

Although Godwin admired Wollstonecraft’s writings, he did not agree with her that women should receive the same education as men. Therefore, he occasionally read to Fanny and Mary from Sarah Trimmer’s Fabulous Histories (1786) and Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s Lessons for Children (1778–79), but, according to Todd, he did not take great pains with their educations and disregarded the books Wollstonecraft had written for Fanny. William St Clair, in his biography of the Godwins and the Shelleys, argues that Godwin and Wollstonecraft spoke extensively about the education they wanted for their children and that Godwin’s writings in The Enquirer reflect these discussions. He contends that after Wollstonecraft’s death Godwin wrote to a former pupil to whom she had been close, now Lady Mountcashell, asking her advice on how to raise and educate his daughters. In her biography of Mary Shelley, Miranda Seymour agrees with St Clair, arguing that “everything we know about his daughter’s [Mary’s and presumably Fanny’s] early years suggests that she was being taught in a way of which her mother would have approved”, pointing out that she had a governess, a tutor, a French-speaking stepmother, and a father who wrote children’s books whose drafts he read to his own first. It was the new Mrs Godwin who was primarily responsible for the education given to the girls, but she taught her own daughter more, including French. Fanny received no formal education after her stepfather’s marriage. Yet, the adult Imlay is described by C. Kegan Paul, one of Godwin’s earliest biographers, as “well educated, sprightly, clever, a good letter-writer, and an excellent domestic manager”. Fanny excelled in drawing and was taught music. Despite Godwin’s atheism, all of the children were taken to an Anglican church.

The Godwins were constantly in debt, so Godwin returned to writing to support the family. He and his wife started a Juvenile Library for which he wrote children’s books. In 1807, when Fanny was 13, they moved from the Polygon, where Godwin had lived with Wollstonecraft, to 41 Skinner Street, near Clerkenwell, in the city’s bookselling district. This took the family away from the fresh country air and into the dirty, smelly, inner streets of London. Although initially successful, the business gradually failed. The Godwins also continued to borrow more money than they could afford from generous friends such as publisher Joseph Johnson and Godwin devotee Francis Place.

As Fanny Imlay grew up, her father increasingly relied on her to placate tradespeople who demanded bills be paid and to solicit money from men such as Place. According to Todd and Seymour, Imlay believed in Godwin’s theory that great thinkers and artists should be supported by patrons and she believed Godwin to be both a great novelist and a great philosopher. Throughout her life, she wrote letters asking Place and others for money to support Godwin’s “genius” and she helped run the household so that he could work.

Godwin, never one to mince words, wrote about the differences he perceived between his two daughters:

My own daughter [Mary] is considerably superior in capacity to the one her mother had before. Fanny, the eldest, is of a quiet, modest, unshowy disposition, somewhat given to indolence, which is her greatest fault, but sober, observing, peculiarly clear and distinct in the faculty of memory, and disposed to exercise her own thoughts and follow her own judgment. Mary, my daughter, is the reverse of her in many particulars. She is singularly bold, somewhat imperious, and active of mind. Her desire for knowledge is great, and her perseverance in everything she undertakes is almost invincible. My own daughter is, I believe, very pretty; Fanny is by no means handsome, but in general prepossessing.

The intellectual world of the girls was widened by their exposure to the literary and political circles in which Godwin moved. For example, during former American vice-president Aaron Burr’s self-imposed exile from the United States after his acquittal on treason charges, he often spent time with the Godwins. He greatly admired the works of Wollstonecraft and had educated his daughter according to the precepts of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. He was anxious to meet the daughters of the woman he revered and referred to Fanny, Mary, and Claire as “goddesses”. He spent most of his time talking with Imlay about political and educational topics. Burr was impressed by the Lancastrian teaching method and took Fanny to see a model school in 1811.

It was not Burr, but the Romantic poet and writer Percy Bysshe Shelley who had the greatest impact on Imlay and her sisters’ lives. Impressed by Godwin’s Political Justice, Shelley wrote to him and the two started corresponding. In 1812, Shelley asked if Imlay, then 18 and the daughter of one of his heroes, Mary Wollstonecraft, could come live with him, his new wife, and her sister. Having never actually met Shelley and being sceptical of his motivations (Shelley had eloped to marry his wife, Harriet), Godwin refused. When Shelley finally came to visit the Godwins, all three girls were enamoured with him, particularly Imlay. Both Shelley and Imlay were interested in discussing radical politics; for example, Shelley liked to act as if class were irrelevant, but she argued that it was significant in daily affairs.

In 1814, Shelley spent a considerable amount of time at the Godwins’ and he and Imlay may have fallen in love. Later, Claire Clairmont claimed that they had been. Imlay was sent to Wales in May of that year; Todd speculates that Godwin was trying to separate her from Shelley while Seymour hints that Mrs Godwin was trying to improve her despondent mood. Meanwhile, the Godwin household became even more uncomfortable as Godwin sank further into debt and as relations between Mary and her stepmother became increasingly hostile. Mary Godwin consoled herself with Shelley and the two started a passionate love affair. When Shelley declared to Godwin that the two were in love, Godwin exploded in anger. However, he needed the money that Shelley, as an aristocrat, could and was willing to provide. Frustrated with the entire situation, Mary Godwin, Shelley, and Claire Clairmont ran off to Europe together on 28 June 1814. Godwin hurriedly summoned Imlay home from Wales to help him handle the situation. Her stepmother wrote that Imlay’s “emotion was deep when she heard of the sad fate of the two girls; she cannot get over it”. In the middle of this disaster, one of Godwin’s protégés killed himself, and young William Godwin ran away from home and was missing for two days. When news of the girls’ escapade became public, Godwin was pilloried in the press. Life in the Godwin household became increasingly strained.

When Mary Godwin, Claire Clairmont, and Shelley returned from the Continent in September 1814, they took a house together in London, enraging Godwin still further. Imlay felt pulled between the two households: she felt loyal both to her sisters and to her father. Both despised her decision not to choose a side in the family drama. As Seymour explains, Imlay was in a difficult position: the Godwin household felt Shelley was a dangerous influence and the Shelley household ridiculed her fear of violating social conventions. Also, her aunts were considering her for a teaching position at this time, but were reluctant because of Godwin’s shocking Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798). Seymour writes, the “few timid visits Fanny made to see Mary and [Claire] in London were acts of great courage; she got little thanks for them”. Although instructed by Godwin not to speak to Shelley and her sisters, Imlay warned them of creditors who knew of Shelley’s return (he also was in debt). Her attempts to persuade Clairmont to return to the Godwins’ convinced Shelley that she was of Godwin’s party and he began to distrust her. Imlay was also still responsible for soliciting money from Shelley in order to repay her father’s debts; despite Shelley’s essential elopement with two of his daughters, Godwin agreed to accept £1,200 from Shelley. When Mary Godwin gave birth to a daughter in February 1815, she immediately sent for Imlay, particularly as both she and the infant were ill. Godwin chastised Imlay for disobeying his orders not to see her half-sister and her misery increased. After the death of the child, Imlay paid more frequent visits to the couple.

Soon after, Clairmont became a lover of the Romantic poet Lord Byron, and Mary Godwin and Shelley had a second child on 24 January 1816, who was named William after Godwin. In February, Imlay went to visit the Shelleys, who had settled in Bishopsgate. Godwin’s debts continued to mount, and while he demanded money from Shelley, Godwin still refused to see either him or his daughter. At this time, Charles Clairmont (Imlay’s step-brother), frustrated with the tension in the Godwin household, left for France and refused to help the family any further. At around the same time, Claire Clairmont, Mary Godwin, and Shelley left for the Continent, seeking Byron. Godwin was aghast. He relied on Shelley’s money, and the stain on his family’s reputation only increased when the public learned that the group had left to join the rakish Byron.

Amidst all of this family turmoil, Imlay still found time to ponder larger social issues. The utopian socialist Robert Owen came to visit Godwin in the summer of 1816 and he and Imlay discussed the plight of the working poor in Britain. She agreed with many of Owen’s proposals, but not all of them. She decided, in the end, that his utopian scheme was too “romantic”, because it depended heavily on the goodwill of the rich to sacrifice their wealth. That same summer, George Blood—the brother of Fanny Imlay’s namesake—came to meet her for the first time and told her stories of her mother. After this meeting she wrote to Mary Godwin and Shelley: “I have determined never to live to be a disgrace to such a mother… I have found that if I will endeavour to overcome my faults I shall find being’s [sic] to love and esteem me” .

Before Mary Godwin, Clairmont, and Shelley had left for the Continent, Imlay and Mary had had a major argument and no chance to come to a reconciliation. Imlay attempted in her letters to Mary to smooth over the relationship, but her sense of loneliness and isolation in London are palpable. She wrote to Mary of “the dreadful state of mind I generally labour under & which I in vain endeavour to get rid of”. Many scholars attribute Imlay’s increasing unhappiness to Mrs Godwin’s hostility towards her. Kegan, and others, contend that Imlay was subject to the same “extreme depression to which her mother had been subject, and which marked other members of the Wollstonecraft family”. Wandering amongst the mountains of Switzerland, frustrated with her relationship with Shelley, and engrossed by the writing of Frankenstein, her sister was unsympathetic.

The group returned from the Continent, with a pregnant Clairmont, and settled in Bath (to protect her reputation, they attempted to hide the pregnancy). Imlay saw Percy twice in September 1816; according to Todd’s interpretation of Fanny’s letters, Fanny had earlier tried to solicit an invitation to join the group in Europe and she repeated these appeals when she saw Percy in London. Todd believes that Imlay begged to be allowed to stay with them because life in Godwin’s house was unbearable, with the constant financial worries and Mrs Godwin’s insistent haranguing, and that Percy refused, concerned that anyone learn about Clairmont’s condition, least of all someone he believed might inform Godwin (Shelley was being sued by his wife and was worried about his own reputation). After Percy left, Todd explains that Imlay wrote to Mary “to make clear again her longing to be rescued”.

In early October 1816, Imlay left Godwin’s house in London and committed suicide on 9 October by taking an overdose of laudanum at an inn in Swansea, Wales; she was 22. The details surrounding her death and her motivations are disputed. Most of the letters regarding the incident were destroyed or are missing. In his 1965 article “Fanny Godwin’s Suicide Re-examined”, B. R. Pollin lays out the major theories that had been put forward regarding her suicide and which continue to be used today:

  • Imlay had just learned of her illegitimate birth.
  • Mrs Godwin became more cruel to Imlay after Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont ran off with Percy Shelley.
  • Imlay had been refused a position at her aunts’ school in Ireland.
  • Imlay was depressive, and her condition was aggravated by the state of the Godwin household.
  • Imlay was in love with Percy Shelley and distraught that Mary and he had fallen in love.

Pollin dismisses the first of these, as have most later biographers, arguing that Imlay had access to her mother’s writings and Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which openly discuss the circumstances of her birth. Imlay herself even makes this distinction in letters to her half-sister Mary Godwin.

Pollin is also sceptical of the second explanation, pointing to Imlay’s letter to Mary of 3 October 1816 in which she defended her step-mother: “Mrs. Godwin would never do either of you a deliberate injury. Mamma and I are not great friends, but always alive to her virtues, I am anxious to defend her from a charge so foreign to her character.”

Pollin finds no evidence that Imlay had been refused a position at her aunts’ school, only that such a scheme may have been “in contemplation”, as Godwin later wrote, although Seymour grants this explanation some plausibility. St Clair claims that Imlay was on her way to join her maternal aunts in Ireland when she decided to commit suicide. He believes that it was to be a probationary visit, to see if she could be a teacher in their school. Godwin’s modern biographer, Richard Holmes, dismisses this story.

In his survey of the letters of the Godwins and the Shelleys, Pollin comes to the conclusion that Imlay was not depressive. She is frequently described as happy and looking toward the future and describes herself this way. The mentions of melancholia and sadness are specific and related to particular events and illness. Richard Holmes, in his biography of Percy Shelley, argues that “her agonizing and loveless suspension between the Godwin and Shelley households was clearly the root circumstance” of her suicide. Locke argues that “most probably because she could absorb no more of the miseries of Skinner Street, her father’s inability to pay his debts or write his books, her mother’s unending irritability and spitefulness”, all of which she blamed on herself, she committed suicide.

Pollin largely agrees with Todd, speculating that Imlay saw Percy Shelley in Bath and he “somehow failed her”, causing her to commit suicide. Seymour and others speculate that Shelley’s only failure was to live up to his financial promises to Godwin and it was this that helped push Imlay over the edge; she was convinced, like her father, “that the worthy have an absolute right to be supported by those who have the worth to give”. Todd, on the other hand, agrees with Pollin and speculates that Imlay went to see Mary Godwin and Shelley. Todd argues that Imlay had affection for Shelley and felt that his home was her only haven. Relying on scraps of poetry that Shelley may have written after Imlay’s death, Todd concludes that Shelley saw her in Bath and rejected her pleas because he needed to protect Claire’s reputation as well as his own at this time. Todd also notes that Imlay had worn her mother’s stays, which were embroidered with the initials “M.W.”, and the nicest clothes she owned. She had adorned herself with a Swiss gold watch sent to her from Geneva by the Shelleys and a necklace, in order to make a good impression. After Shelley rejected her, Todd concludes, Imlay decided to commit suicide.

On the night of 9 October, Imlay checked into the Mackworth Arms Inn in Swansea and instructed the chambermaid not to disturb her. The same night Mary Godwin, staying in Bath with Shelley, received a letter Imlay had mailed earlier from Bristol. Her father in London also received a letter. The alarming nature of the letters prompted both Godwin and Shelley to set out for Bristol at once (although they travelled separately). By the time they tracked her to Swansea on 11 October, they were too late. Imlay was found dead in her room on 10 October, having taken a fatal dose of laudanum.

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