The Shelleys Move to Marlow – Frankenstein Completed

Shelley Cottage Great Marlow in BuckinghamshireFinally married after two and half years of pretending not to be living together, Mary and Percy Shelley packed up their temporary lodgings in Bath on February 27, 1817 and moved to what they intended as a permanent residence in Marlow-on-Thames, in Buckinghamshire, found for them by Thomas Love Peacock. They would stay with Peacock for three weeks while Shelley was still traveling to London to attend the Chancery Court fighting with his now dead wife Harriet’s family, the Westbrooks, for the disposition of his children.

They moved into the Albion House on March 18, 1817 which Shelley described before moving in as “a house among woody hills…green fields and this delightful river.” But afterward found to be rather drafty and cold from its proximity to the river, a short distance away. Mary was pregnant again and working on the second notebook volume of Frankenstein.

On March 27, 1817 Shelley would finally be denied the custody of his children, Ianthe and Charles, by the Chancery Court and they would be given to the care of the clergyman in Warwick who had been seeing to them since Harriet’s drowning. The Westbrooks had been threatening Shelley with jail through much of this fight, and it was finally over, or so they thought, with an amount settled for their care.

shelley_albion_house_marlowDespite Mary’s wish that they could, at last, be alone without the constant presence of her stepsister, Clare moved with them. Shelley was still calling her alternately Clare or Clara, sometimes in the same letter and Mary complained of her capriciousness. They had engaged a nurse for her newborn infant daughter by Byron, Alba, born in early January. Mary and Percy’s son, William, had just celebrated his first birthday on January 24, and Mary was pregnant again. The house was large enough to accommodate the Shelleys, Clare, their children, servants and visiting guests. The Leigh Hunts came often to stay.

The time in Marlow would be both auspicious and troubled. Mary would complete her novel in a burst of work, writing about 5 pages a day, while muddling through another difficult pregnancy and Shelley would be gone much of the time, trying to manage his debts, his own and the Godwins’.

Shelley had written a pamphlet “A Proposal for Putting Reform to the Vote” by the “Hermit of Marlow”, published by Charles and John Ollier, sending proof copies to a list of influential opinion makers while Mary completed the original copy draft of her own novel by May of 1817.

Shelley also completed his poem of “Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City”, written, according to Mary, while on his long walks in the woods, especially the walk up river to Medmenham Abbey, and while sitting in a boat under the Beech groves of Bisham, finished in September of 1817 after six months of working on it. On cold days, Shelley could be seen around Marlow in a brown lamb’s wool collar coat and cuffs, and in summer wearing an open-necked shirt. The poem though disguised as classic reference, was much inspired by his life with Mary in Marlow, and essentially a love letter to her. Their second child, a daughter they named Clara, was born on September 2, 1817, and clearly affected the poem. It also contained a reference to a finished “toil”. Was he referring to her work on Frankenstein, celebrating its completion?

So now my summer-task is ended, Mary,
And I return to thee, mine own heart’s home;
As to his Queen some victor Knight of Faëry,
Earning bright spoils for her enchanted dome;
Nor thou disdain, that ere my fame become
A star among the stars of mortal night,
If it indeed may cleave its natal gloom,
Its doubtful promise thus I would unite
With thy beloved name, thou Child of love and light.

The toil which stole from thee so many an hour
  Is ended,—and the fruit is at thy feet!
No longer where the woods to frame a bower
With interlaced branches mix and meet,
Or where with sound like many voices sweet,
Water-falls leap among wild islands green,
Which framed for my lone boat a lone retreat
Of moss-grown trees and weeds, shall I be seen:
But beside thee, where still my heart has ever been.

The poem subtly referenced both their relationship meeting in 1814 and surviving the struggles of their lives in scandal and the turning away of friends in the previous two years, but with a renewed peace.

No more alone through the world’s wilderness,
Although I trod the paths of high intent,
I journeyed now: no more companionless,
Where solitude is like despair, I went.-
There is the wisdom of a stern content
When Poverty can blight the just and good,
When Infamy dares mock the innocent,
And cherished friends turn with the multitude
       To trample: this was ours, and we unshaken stood!

Now has descended a serener hour,
   And with inconstant fortune, friends return;
Though suffering leaves the knowledge and the power
Which says:—Let scorn be not repaid with scorn.
And from thy side two gentle babes are born
   To fill our home with smiles, and thus are we
Most fortunate beneath life’s beaming morn;
And these delights, and thou, have been to me
The parents of the Song I consecrate to thee.

While tending to his own publishing, Shelley also submitted Mary’s novel to publishers. He did not say who the author was, but only referenced as “a friend”. He was purposely being secretive about its true authorship, urging his friend Leigh Hunt to “remain silent”, and even responding to a request for some changes that the author was indeed “not in the country” and Shelley offered to make corrections to language. The manuscript was first submitted to John Murray II, who was publishing Byron’s “Childe Harold” being overseen by Shelley, and then to Charles Ollier, who was publishing Shelley’s own work, but both declined to publish the disturbing story. It was a disappointment. Why he apparently didn’t offer it to Thomas Hookham is unclear, but Hookham was quite busy. Thomas Love Peacock’s own novel “Melincourt” was published by Hookham at this time, and Hookham would also be publishing Mary’s first credited work. Maybe it would be too close for comfort.

Shelley wrote to Leigh Hunt’s wife Marianne for suggestions of other publishers. Finally in August of 1817, Shelley submitted the book to Lackington, Allen and Co. offering a deal for a new unknown author that, rather than a payment advance for the copyright, the publishers would risk the printing and advertising cost, and after deductions of the expense from sales would split the profits with the author. Lackington agreed to publish the work under the title “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus” with the author anonymous. The publishing preparation would take about three months, during which time Mary would visit London and Skinner Street, to see her father. Her step mother was away in France at the time which allowed them to be alone.

In the meantime, Mary compiled and edited her diaries of their elopement trip of 1814, including some of Shelley’s material from their time in Geneva and the poem “Mont Blanc”, and would see it published by Thomas Hookham under her own name in December of 1817 as “History of a Six Weeks Tour: A Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland with Letters Descriptive of a Sail Round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni”.

During this time, the mysterious fatherhood of Clare Clairmont’s daughter, Alba (sometimes Auburn and later Allegra), began to grow into a threatening scandal. Clare had called herself Mrs. Clairmont in Bath, but her ambitions lead her to not want to pretend to be married. Lurid speculations of what was going on in the Albion household built with suspicions that Alba may have been the product of Shelley and Clare. Mary’s childhood friend Isabel Baxter, would publicly separate from Mary after marrying a rather too proper schoolmaster and brewer, Mr. David Booth, even with an endorsement of Shelley by her father after a visit to Marlow.

Shelley’s health had begun to feel the toll of the dampness of autumn and winter, and he proposed a trip to Italy on advice of his London physician and to take Byron’s daughter to her father. In the last few months of 1817, Shelley was staying much away from Marlow as creditors of his dead wife, Harriet, had come out of the woodwork and were trying to collect on unsuspected debts.  Although they had leased the Albion House in Marlow for 21 years, they sold the lease, packed and departed for London on February 10, 1818. They would depart for Italy on March 12, 1818, almost exactly a year after settling in at Marlow.