Mary Shelley and Europe: Essays in Honour of Jean de Palacio. Edited by Antonella Braida. Review by Jacqueline Mulhallen

Mary Shelley and Europe: Essays in Honour of Jean de Palacio. Edited by Antonella Braida. MHRA, Oxford: Legenda. 2020. pp. 206. £80 (hardback), ISBN: 9781781885482. £10.99 (paperback, forthcoming), ISBN: 9781781885529.

Mary Shelley and Europe is a wonderful selection of essays which discusses an aspect of Mary Shelley’s life that was so important to her art and yet is perhaps under-emphasised in discussing her work.  Mary Shelley travelled to Europe in 1814 and lived in Italy from 1818 to 1823.  She wrote two books of travel, which mark the beginning and end of her writing career, and many of her novels and stories are set either wholly or partly in Europe. She spoke Italian and French fluently and translated from those languages. Europe was very much present to Mary Shelley even when she was unable to travel. And yet, in 1951, when Jean de Palacio began to study her work, she was known mainly as the editor of Shelley’s poems and the author of Frankenstein – and at the time her work as editor was very much under-appreciated and Frankenstein was better known for James Whale’s film version than the novel itself.

Jean de Palacio’s study of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion led to his interest in Mary Shelley, especially when he discovered that she had correctly included a line omitted by a Victorian editor of the poem. Yet he was discouraged from this study and found it difficult to find texts, reading them in the British Library and acquiring them from rare books dealers.  Since then, as he notes in his chapter, Mary Shelley’s status as a writer has been completely transformed and now she is considered a major writer of the time. De Palacio was one of the first to show how Mary Shelley’s transcription of her husband’s poetry and her knowledge of Italian made her superior to the Victorian editors who followed her.

Nora Crook, as well as paying tribute to de Palacio’s pioneering work, shows how many poems, reviews, articles and translations have been identified subsequently, thus establishing Mary Shelley as a professional writer with her own style and voice and showing her as European.  She describes the difficulties of identifying these and other contributions to journals where they are unsigned. Although style, subject matter and dating are helpful, mistakes can be made. She gives examples of possible work yet to be confirmed and stresses the need for fora to be set up to establish an agreed canon of work since no current bibliography on Mary Shelley is comprehensive.

De Palacio also suggested that collaboration between husband and wife tended to give Mary Shelley an entitlement to sometimes make additions, though she may have exceeded this on occasions. He also appreciated the importance of Italy to Mary Shelley. Michael Rossington, also paying tribute to de Palacio’s groundbreaking work, considers how, when he started his studies in the 1950s, the critical appreciation of the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley, then at its nadir, began to rise. Manuscripts from the Shelley family were donated to the Bodleian Library prompting fresh books and essays from scholars, in particular Geoffrey Matthews, who seems to have been one of the first to have realised the difficulties facing Mary Shelley as an editor, citing examples of text crossed out, written criss-crossed or upside down. The difficulties were not only practical but emotional, such as the pain involved in looking at text stained with seawater as a result of being in the boat when her husband drowned. Valentina Varinelli also discusses what she describes as two forms of dialogue with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry (p. 57), being the memories prompted from these texts, and Mary Shelley’s poem The Choice. Varinelli’s extended critique of this poem is particularly interesting. The theme of collaboration is discussed in more detail by Anna Mercer in her essay, which also looks at the poetry that Mary Shelley wrote in Italy.

Lisa Vargo’s chapter on Mary Shelley’s political thought and activity shows that Mary Shelley was always interested in Italian politics and that, although her politics remained liberal, she never wished to ally herself wholly to a group and did not want to play a public part. Maria Parrino’s essay emphasises Mary Shelley’s study of Italian. When they lived in Italy, the Shelleys’ knowledge of the language distinguished them from other English residents. Mary Shelley was not only able to converse with well-educated Italian friends but to chat happily with her servants, using their colloquial phrases. Years later, on her return to Italy, she was still able to speak Italian fluently, showing that she had in the intervening years kept up her study of the language. Indeed, she reviewed books and translated stories from French and Italian, so the knowledge of the languages was very much part of her cultural life and her career.

Other essays in the book discuss the reception of adaptations for the theatre of Frankenstein, such as Presumption (1823), and popular images of Mary Shelley. However, the idea of her as a European, whose working life involved translation and travel in Europe and interaction both politically and artistically with other Europeans, is one which transforms her image from that of an indigent, lonely widow and single mother living on memories of a brief happiness into an independent professional woman with a fascinating creative life and interesting contacts. One realises that this must have always been the case, of course, but emphasis on her editing of her husband’s poetry and on Frankenstein, rather than on the later novels and stories, has obscured the literary and personal achievements of her later life. This book does much to redress the balance.

Jacqueline Mulhallen

Author of The Theatre of Shelley (2010), Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary (2015), and the plays Sylvia and Rebels and Friends.

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2022

The sixth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 March 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place at The Foundling Museum. The Foundling Museum is situated at 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ and sessions start promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm. Doors open at 12.30pm, and there is a break for tea, coffee and biscuits halfway through the session. The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including for those who are partially sighted. Seminars are free and open to the public though non-members will be asked to make a donation of £2 for refreshments. Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Speakers:

Sophie Johnson. History’s ‘other’ sculptors: The under-representation of historic women sculptors (1558 –1837) in the history of art

Charlotte Goodge. ‘Sedentary occupations ought chiefly to be followed by women’: The ‘Fat’ Woman and ‘Masculine’ Exercise in the Literary Culture of the ‘long’ Eighteenth Century.

Moira Goff, Independent Scholar. Evered Laguerre: a Female Professional Dancer on the London Stage

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar February 2022

The fifth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 February 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Speakers:

Brianna Robertson-Kirkland

Platonic and Romantic Relationship in the Music Room: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810) and Elizabeth Gooch (1757-1807)

Plays and novels often romanticised clandestine relationships, typically depicting the music master as an Italian, whose charm and skills would easily bend a weak-willed woman. It should come as no surprise then that the attractive and popular singer turned singing master, Venanzio Rauzzini would also be accused of engaging in romantic relationship with a student. He was named in a highly publicised divorce, accused of having an affair Elizabeth Sarah Real Villa Gooch in 1779, who in turn published an account of their relationship in An Appeal to the Public On the Conduct of Mrs. Gooch (1788) and again in her later memoirs The Life of Mrs Gooch (1792). Though Rauzzini would never publicly discuss the scandal and Gooch always maintained their relationship was platonic, the publication almost certainly benefitted from the inclusion of his name. This paper will examine some of the reasons why Rauzzini and Gooch’s were suspected of having a romantic relationship and why it was important for music masters to maintain a platonic relationship with his female students.

 Yasmin Solomonescu

Women, Rhetoric, and Rhetorical Theory

My paper examines the rhetorical theories and practices of British women writers in the long eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a period in which women were widely considered to speak much and say little. In recent decades scholars have begun to recover a women’s tradition of rhetoric and rhetorical theory in the period ca. 1660-1900, albeit a highly discontinuous and heterogeneous one. My paper further delineates this tradition while signalling important departures. The first section focuses on three major topics of debate as they anchored the tradition: the role of sexual difference in habits of expression, the due degree of publicity for women’s rhetoric, and the aims of that rhetoric, particularly in relation to a patriarchal social and rhetorical order. The second section of the paper considers how these debates are pursued in surprising directions in the teenage writings of Jane Austen. Focusing on the unfinished story ‘Kitty, or the Bower’ (ca. 1792-93) and—time permitting—the epistolary novella Lady Susan (ca. 1794), I argue for Austen’s highly original, even idiosyncratic, contributions to the history of rhetoric. Austen, I contend, urges us to reconsider the sites, strategies, aims, and values associated with rhetoric, as well as the very meaning of rhetorical theory.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar February 2022

The fifth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 February 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Speakers:

Brianna Robertson-Kirkland. The platonic vs the romantic relationship in the music room: Venanzio Rauzzini and Elizabeth Gooch

 Yasmin Solomonescu. Women, Rhetoric, and Rhetorical Theory

Carolyn D. Williams. Images of female benevolence: versions of Lady Bountiful from Dryden’s Eleonora to Jane Austen’s Emma.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar February 2022

The fifth seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 26 February 2022 (GMT).

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Speakers:

Brianna Robertson-Kirkland. The platonic vs the romantic relationship in the music room: Venanzio Rauzzini and Elizabeth Gooch

Yasmin Solomonescu. Women, Rhetoric, and Rhetorical Theory

Carolyn D. Williams. Images of female benevolence: versions of Lady Bountiful from Dryden’s Eleonora to Jane Austen’s Emma.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.