November 12, 2007

Mary's Son

On this day, November 12, in 1819, Percy Florence Shelley was born. He was the last of Mary Shelley's four children, and the only one to survive into adulthood.

Birth and death inextricably twined, Mary Shelley’s life reads like a catalog of tears. Her own mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died of complications ten days after Mary was born, in 1797. In 1815, Mary’s first child, Clara, born prematurely, died after fourteen days. A son, William, was born in 1816. He appears in portraits as a cherubic curly-haired boy. He succumbed to malaria in 1819. A girl, Clara Evarina, born in 1817, died a year later from dysentery. In 1822, Mary miscarried and almost died from the hemorrhage.

Death shadowed the Shelleys. In 1816, as Mary was busy writing Frankenstein, her half-sister, Fannie Imlay, committed suicide, as did Percy Bysshe’s abandoned wife, Harriet Shelley. A child Mary had cared for, Allegra, born to her stepsister Claire Claremont and Lord Byron, died at five years old, in 1822. And, of course, Mary’s ultimate tragedy, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned on July 1, 1822.

Mary devoted herself to Percy Florence. He was all that she had left. The moneyed Shelley family elder, Sir Timothy, refused to support his son's family, even making an impossible demand of Mary that she relinquish the child. Eventually, an allowance was paid but contingent on Mary not publishing Percy Bysshe’s poem. Upon Sir Timothy’s death in 1844, Percy Florence inherited the estate and a baronetcy.

Percy Florence Shelley married Jane St-John in 1848. Jane became Mary’s friend and companion to the end. After Mary Shelley died in 1851, Lady Jane Shelley preserved and promoted Mary’s and Percy Bysshe’s oeuvre.

Percy and Jane lived in a grand manor in Boscombe, near Bournemouth. Robert Louis Stevenson was a friend and frequent visitor. Today, the Shelley Manor is undergoing renovations. Areas including a theater built there by Percy Florence will be available to the public. There is also a Percy Florence Shelley Pub in town.

Percy Florence Shelley passed away in 1889. He had no children of his own.

The Shelley Manor Website. Shelley Park developer’s site.


Anonymous said...

Denizens of the Darkness
A bit of Frankenstien you might enjoy...Jim

Dave said...

Sad how tragedy follows a family like that. Such success, and such failure.


Sarah Stegall said...

And how ironic that Percy Bysshe Shelley's only surviving son became such a solid member of the minor aristocracy. He was nothing like his revolutionary, radical father. Having spent her youth casting off all convention, Mary spent the rest of her life raising a son who was ruled by it. That's the real tragedy.