In among other things, I’ve been continuing to delve into Mary Shelley’s time in Dundee.
It’s all taken longer than I meant it to, in part because I bought a couple of books on the subject and one of them took nine weeks to arrive. However I’m finding the exercise quietly fascinating.
We often talk about social networks, but in both Percy Bysshe Shelley’s and Mary’s escapades, we can see them at work.
For example, William Godwin knew Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Mary would have heard Coleridge read or recite the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, including the journey south to the south pole. That combined with the stories of the Dundee whalers, and the sight of the whale ships towing their catch up the Tay, must have had a powerful effect on Mary, who of course had never seen arctic or antarctic ice.
When she saw the Mer de Glace glacier on Mont Blanc, it must have seemed like the site of her gothic imaginings of the polar ice fields.
The other interesting thing I’ve come across is that Shelley was a vegetarian. That itself is not exactly news, nor is the fact that Cornelia Turner gave Shelley Italian lessons, and perhaps something more, before her husband abruptly terminated the relationship in mid July 1814, shortly before Shelley eloped with Mary.
Given Shelley’s promiscuity, his proclaimed belief in free love and his often expressed wish to live in a sort of Romantic hippy commune, it wouldn’t be surprising if he had had a relationship with Cornelia.
However, what interested me was the social network aspect of this. Cornelia’s father was a friend of William Godwin, and it was William Godwin who introduced Cornelia to her husband.
Cornelia’s parents were both members of the politically radically Bracknell group of vegetarians, and it’s not difficult to surmise that Shelley’s espousal of vegetarianism would have given him an entree into the group, after his failure to obtain the lease of Nantgwyllt in the Elan valley.
(Nantgwyllt is now underwater, having been submerged when the Elan valley dams were built to supply Birmingham with water. Nantgwyllt Anglican church, while worth a visit on its own account, is a late Victorian confection built to replace the medieval church which was also submerged beneath the Elan valley reservoir).
So, wheels within wheels …