Claire Clairmont's paternity: previously unpublished letters of Mary Jane Godwin

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We here at Romantic Circles recently received an intriguing email we thought was worth passing on, from one Vicki Parslow Stafford:

I would like to bring to the attention of Romantic scholars, historians and biographers a collection of letters held by the Somerset Record Office which establishes the identity of the father of Mary Jane 'Claire' Clairmont, daughter of Mrs. Mary Jane Godwin (nee Vial) and stepsister of Mary Shelley.

The letters span the period from 1797, when Mary Jane Vial's daughter was conceived, until early 1814.  They were formerly held by Dodson and Pulman, Solicitors of Taunton, Somerset, UK.  The collection comprises holograph letters from Mary Jane Vial to her former lover John Lethbridge, of Sandhill Park, Somerset; to his lawyer Robert Beadon; and to several others.  It also contains letters from Lethbridge to his lawyer, and sundry file notes and correspondence from Mary Jane Vial's lawyer William Lambert White, of Yeovil.  The correspondence is concerned with securing financial support for Mary Jane, Vial's daughter with John Lethbridge.  It includes a number of letters written by Vial between April and August 1799, when she was imprisoned for debt at Ilchester.

The documents are archived at Somerset Archive and Record Service, catalogue reference DD\DP 17/11, Papers of Dodson and Pulman, Solicitors of Taunton, Lethbridge estate papers (correspondence concerning Mary Jane Vial).

The Somerset County Archives and the depositors have kindly granted me permission to transcribe the letters and make the transcriptions available to scholars and interested persons, through publication on a web site.  The transcriptions can be viewed on my website Claire Clairmont, Mary Jane's Daughter, at

Please be aware that I am not a Romantic scholar or historian (I am an alumnus of the the University of Queensland but my professional experience is in disability policy and program development).  I have a keen amateur interest in genealogy, and came across this collection while researching an ancestor also named Mary Vial.  As a consequence, my website may well not meet the Romatic Circle's rigorous standards for electronic resources.

Nevertheless, I would be pleased if you would take whatever steps you consider appropriate to advise your members and readers of the existence of this previously unpublished material. I am sure it will be of interest to many.  I would also be very glad to receive any criticisms of the content of the website and suggestions for its improvement.

With regards,
Vicki Parslow Stafford
vpstafford ~[at]~