Mary Shelley well knew that books can make good companions. In the Preface to Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843, she writes: “I have found it a pleasant thing while travelling to have in the carriage the works of those who have passed through the same country . . . If alone, they serve as society; if with others, they suggest matter for conversation” (NSW VIII 65).With this “if,” Shelley gives us two images of her life: first, a lonely, widowed life of reading and writing, isolation and anxiety; and second, a convivial life of adventurous friendship. It was Shelley's way to live both lives at once. In Italy, in the tight embrace of the Shelley circle, she withdrew after losing two children to the vagaries of an itinerant, expatriate life. Soon her dejection was compounded by marital estrangement and by 1822, she was left a widow. After she returned to England in 1823, however, her long widowhood was punctuated by enduring friendships, a proposal of marriage, nights at the theatre and opera, endless correspondence with editors and publishers, and two continental journeys taken with her beloved son and his Cambridge friends. In one of the great ironies of the era, the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, two visionaries of social renovation, invented in Frankenstein the loneliest character in the English novel. But this is no more ironic, perhaps, than that Shelley conceived her great novel of loneliness in a writer's game, among the flamboyant companions of her youth.
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