Mary Shelley knows how not to get a book published
It should surprise extremely no one to learn that I have had a hard time getting into Mary Shelley's The Last Man, which is extremely dope (but also long and complex and requires that I remember who Lord Raymond is supposed to be an Expy of) but have reread Mary Shelley's Mathilda like, nine times (which is roughly forty pages long and about incest so I basically get to sustain a live-studio-audience-style OOOO for twenty minutes and then congratulate myself for having Done Literature). "Oh, Mallory once again takes the easiest, most salacious route possible to make it look like she's super familiar with Mary Shelley's Deep Cuts when she hasn't even read Valperga? Who could have foreseen this besides everyone who has followed the arc of her career in even the most cursory fashion imaginable? But look, it's a good book, or at least I had a good time reading it, if I don't think too hard about what I mean when I say I had a good time doing something.
Anyhow, it's a good book and you should read it; I especially relate to the section where Mathilda flees to a bunch of moors and keeps waiting to die, only she doesn't die because "feeling really bummed out" isn't a fatal condition, and she runs into this dude Woodville and becomes convinced that he Gets Her and spends one afternoon that he doesn't come over after sort-of promising he would try to come over convincing herself that he has grown weary of her friendship and also wants her to die. It is 80% of Dorothy Parker's A Telephone Call, which is the only work of Dorothy Parker's I have ever liked. It's exhausting to read it, but in a lovely sort of wringing way; every time I finish it I count it as a two-hour hike.
I always feel like I have to point out, before I talk any more about Mary Shelley's Incest Book, that by pretty much every contemporary and biographical account this book was not about William Godwin. I mean, like, the guy shows up theme-wiseily speaking, it's not NOT about William Godwin, but William Godwin was not an incestuous dude. I mean, the VIBES are there, yes, Mary basically grew up and got married and his response was "Gross, never talk to me again," but he did not attempt to sleep with her, or you know, confess his incestuous love for her before throwing himself in the sea. Which is useful information to have before enjoying the next part of the story! ("Enjoying." You know what I mean.)
So Mary wrote Mathilda after two of her three children died unexpectedly (or as unexpectedly as a child can die in 1818), and her subsequent publishing-related moves really speak to that beautiful sort of confidence that can only come from total psychic devastation, you know what I mean? Like, by all accounts she just...forgot it was the 1800s and went full Merricat Blackwood, taking a total scorched-earth policy when it came to socialization.
Mary Shelley, from 1818-at least 1824: does something horrifying and jaw-unhingeingly unsettling
Onlooker: oh my God this is very upsetting, please don't do that
Mary Shelley, turning her black, pupilless eyes towards the speaker and emitting a pterodactyl-like screech from her lipless mouth: OH DEAR HAVE I VIOLATED SOCIAL NORMS AGAIN? MY APOLOGIES HUMAN. EVERYONE I HAVE EVER LOVED HAS DROWNED. HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU KNOW WHO HAVE DROWNED? FOR ME IT IS VERY MANY. THE DROWNED PEOPLE I KNOW COULD FILL A LAKE
FOR EXAMPLE. Mary Shelley loses two of her children and is, you know, UNDERSTANDABLY psychically divided from Percy Shelley as a result, and write a book that is about what happens if heaven hates you specifically and ruins all your hopes for the future. HEADS UP that the same summer Percy Shelley wrote his own incest play, The Cenci, which was actually published because he A) paid for it to be published himself and B) sensibly couched it as a historical drama based on a bunch of Italian nobles, who everyone already knows are a gang of incestuous parricides (parriciders?).
How comes this hair undone?
Its wandering strings must be what blind me so,
And yet I tied it fast.--Oh, horrible!
The pavement sinks under my feet! The walls
Spin round! I see a woman weeping there,
And standing calm and motionless, while I
Slide giddily as the world reels.--My God!
The beautiful blue heaven is flecked with blood!
The sunshine on the floor is black! The air
Is changed to vapors such as the dead breathe
In charnel pits! Pah! I am choked! There creeps
A clinging, black, contaminating mist
About me--'tis substantial, heavy, thick;
I cannot pluck it from me, for it glues
My fingers and my limbs to one another,
And eats into my sinews, and dissolves
My flesh to a pollution, poisoning
The subtle, pure, and inmost spirit of life!
My God! I never knew what the mad felt
Before; for I am mad beyond all doubt!
((There is almost certainly a direct line between all the exclamation points in this speech to Choire Sicha and then to me.))
It's pretty good, and if you want to read it as a companion piece to Mathilda I think you should go for it ("Goodreads recommends Mathilda and The Cenci due to your previous reading history with Incest Books Written By A Married Couple Who Lost The Ability To Talk To One Another After All Their Kids Died In Venice.")
Because, okay, Mary Shelley did not do the appropriate couching to get her book published, and so Mathilda never actually saw the inside of a printers' office until the 1950s! She writes the book, which is set in MODERN TIMES with MODERN PEOPLE and has no HISTORICAL JUSTIFICATION, which was very upsetting, and then she sends a copy of the manuscript to her father??? To be published? Like, in public?? Elizabeth Nitchie talks about it in her '59 introduction, I haven't cited anything in like ten years so I forget how to put that at the end of a quote in parentheses:
"Highly personal as the story was (!), Mary Shelley hoped that it would be published (!!), evidently believing that the characters and situations were sufficiently disguised (!!!). In May of 1820 she sent it to England by her friends the Gisbornes with a request that her father would arrange for its publication (!!!!)."
And William Godwin read it, and was like....NO, GUY. It is THE ACTUAL EIGHTEEN HUNDREDS, and I am not going to HELP YOU PUBLISH A BOOK about a young contemporary woman who dies in a meadow because her COMPELLING, COMPLICATED DAD wants to have sex with her? And Mary Shelley emitted a pterodactyl-like screech as if to say WHY WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE IDEA, and William had to, I guess, explain the 1800s to her again and say PEOPLE ARE GOING TO THINK IT'S ABOUT ME.
So for the rest of his life Mary would periodically send her dad letters that were like "???" and he'd write back something to the effect of "NOPE STILL NOT GOING TO BE YOUR LITERARY AGENT FOR A BOOK ABOUT FATHER-DAUGHTER INCEST," but, EXTREMELY GENEROUSLY in my opinion, he did not fling the manuscript directly into a volcano, so eventually it found its way, in various forms, to the Bodleian and some dude named Lord Abinger, and a hundred and thirty-ish years later someone who was not Mary Shelley's actual dad was comfortable publishing it, to all of our betterments.
Mary sometimes wrote the Gisbornes too, because she eventually despaired of her father sending the manuscript on for publication and thought maybe he'd be willing to give it back to her friends. Which is ridiculous! Mary! Guy! You do not send the only copy of your EXTREMELY UPSETTING INCEST BOOK to your ACTUAL DAD and then ask him if he's cool with letting anyone else look at it! (He called parts of it "disgusting," which, you know, fair enough. He liked other parts!)
I don't know what it is exactly, but something about that idea kills me. It's not like Mary spent the rest of her life mad with grief living in a cave. She fought with her father-in-law, wrote The Last Man (which I WILL FINISH) and a whole heap of travel journals and other novels, deflected at least three half-proposals and one outright, helped either some lesbians or a trans dude and his girlfriend move to France, was intriguingly blackmailed – she didn't have a total break from reality forever, is what I'm saying, she was a person who found a way to live in the world, but there was this one thing she could never quite see the way everyone else saw for the rest of her life. There was a huge bloody wound in the middle of her life that took with it her ability to Remember What People Thought About Contemporary Incest in the 1800s, and it never came back.
She should have just sent the manuscript directly to a publisher, I guess is what I'm saying. Anyhow, if you get the chance to read Mathilda, let me know what you think.
P.S. By the way, I've been cleaning out my old Google drafts and found an early version of what would eventually become the Shatner Chatner's Manifesto (Shatnerfesto?), and would like to share it with you here now:
Reasons Why Of Captain Kirk Is A Lesbian
He just IS
all lesbians are rascals and Captain Kirk is the rascalliest on the Enterprise
Kirk/Bones/Spock are a classic throuple and three is the most lesbian number
look at him
has like forty pairs of the same motorcycle boots
that bitch recycles
can never decide which one of her friends to listen to
remember in Amok Time how Spock slices at him with the lirpa and slashes his shirt open to reveal a dripping tit window
constantly being split in half and running into old girlfriends
composed primarily of feelings
ugh I don't really want to make a "where no man has gone before" joke
she's a magnificent Persian cat of a lesbian
I'm not really ready to talk about Chris Pine but her whole "James Dean leatherKirk baby" vibe is very early Jenny Shimizu
will punch anyone's dad until they approve of him
cheats on tests just like my college girlfriend
can't handle responsibility
pushes herself too hard, doesn't practice self care
lives with her girlfriend Enterprise but it's a pretty open thing when they're traveling
oh my god I love her so much