November 20 1814: She is To Blame


On November 20 1814, Harriet Shelley writes to her friend Catherine Nugent a bitter, and angry letter about her betrayal by Percy.

“My dearest Mrs. Nugent,—Your fears are verified. Mr. Shelley has become profligate and sensual, owing entirely to Godwin’s ‘Political Justice.’ The very great evil that book has done is not to be told. The false doctrines therein contained have poisoned many a young and virtuous mind. Mr. Shelley is living with Mr. Godwin’s two daughters—one by Mary Wollstonecraft, the other the daughter of his present wife, called Clairmont. I told you some time back Mr. S. was to give Godwin three thousand pounds. It was in effecting the accomplishment of this scheme that he was obliged to be at Godwin’s house, and Mary was determined to seduce him. She is to blame. She heated his imagination by talking of her mother, and going to her grave with him every day, till at last she told him she [was dying in love for him, accompanied by the most violent gestures and vehement expostulations. He thought of me and my sufferings, and begged her to get the better of a passion as degrading to him as herself. She then told him she would die—he had rejected her, and what appeared to her as the sublimest virtue was to him a crime.

Why could we not all live together? I as his sister, she as his wife? He had the folly to believe this possible, and sent for me, then residing at Bath. You may suppose how I felt at this disclosure.

I was laid up for a fortnight after. . . . He begged me to live. The doctors gave me over. They said ’twas impossible. I saw his despair, the agony of my beloved sister, and owing to the great strength of my constitution I lived, and here I am, my dear friend, waiting to bring another infant into this woful world. Next month I shall be confined. He will not be near me. No ; he cares not for me now. He never asks after me, or sends me word how he is going on.

In short, the man I once loved is dead. This is a vampire. His character is blasted for ever. Nothing can save him now. Oh ! if you knew what I have suffered, your heart would drop blood for my miseries ….

The illustration in the first tweet is by Lynd Ward who was an American artist who also illustrated Frankenstein. The illustration from the the last tweet is by Helen Sewell and entitled “In Sleep forgot sorrow’.

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