Monday, January 20, 2014

Mary Shelley letters discovered in Essex archive Professor finds cache of previously unpublished letters by author of Frankenstein, written between 1831 and 1849

Mary Shelley's seal – previously unknown – on one of the letters. Photograph: Keith Crook
It was an idle click on an unpromising website that first directed Nora Crook towards the most exciting and unexpected discovery of her distinguished academic career. Crook, a professor emerita at Anglia Ruskin University and expert on the Romantic period, was researching an obscure 19th-century novelist when her internet search brought up a listing for 13 documents at Essex Record Office, catalogued under the tantalising words: "Letter from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley".
"I thought: 'What is this?' and clicked on the link," she said. "I knew right away they had never been published before."
Thanks to "pure serendipity", Crook had chanced upon the largest collection of unpublished letters by the author of Frankenstein to be discovered in decades.
The letters date between 1831, nine years after the death of her poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and 1849, when Mary Shelley was already unwell with the brain tumour that would kill her two years later, and show a woman who was skilled in charming favours from friends, bursting with pride in and concern for her teenage son – and not unconcerned with frivolities. A last-minute ticket to the coronation of William IV in 1831 necessitated a 3am visit from her hairdresser; she attended the event sporting a plumed headdress ("The whole thing was wondrously splendid – Diamonds & cloth of gold grew common to the eye.")...

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