Mary Shelley ceremony (Nora Crook)

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Mary Shelley scholar Nora Crook sends us this report on last Friday’s Blue-Plaque ceremony in London. (See post for Sept. 29 below.)

The unveiling of a Blue Plaque on 24 Chester Square, Mary Shelley’s London home from 1846-1851, took place on Friday 3 October 2003 at 12 noon. About fifty people were present on a typical London autumn day, overcast but mild. Loyd Grossman spoke for English Heritage, which puts up Blue Plaques marking the residences of celebrated London-dwellers. (There are now nearly 800 such plaques, literary figures being well represented. Another be-plaqued house in Chester Square belonged to Matthew Arnold. ) Number 24, overlooking the leafy private square, is a handsome, stuccoed Grade II listed building in one of the most desirable residential districts of London. [cont'd]

Loyd Grossman was followed by the actor Gayle Hunnicutt, who read beautifully from Mary Shelley’s letter of 1846 saying why she bought the lease (as a base to further the political career of her unmarried son, Percy Florence), what she hoped from it (a congenial set of acquaintances) and voicing what she feared (that it might prove too large). The house would have been convenient for getting to the Houses of Parliament. Before the nearby Victoria Station was built in the 1860s it was also reasonably handy for getting to London Bridge and thus by train to the Shelley mansion, Field Place, and to the South Coast.

Miranda Seymour, Mary Shelley’s latest biographer, made a short, graceful speech, pointing out that while 24 Chester St was where Mary Shelley died of a painful brain tumour in 1851, it was also where she had first received her future daughter-in-law, Jane St John, who made her extremely happy during her last years. Tribute was paid to the late Beatrice Hanss, who in 1977 had a private marble plaque put up rather than nothing at all, a previous attempt to place a blue plaque having failed, owing to a refusal by the then owner to permit the words “Author of Frankenstein.” (This plaque, we understand, has been preserved and is now in the hands of the present owner.) At last, however, Mary Shelley was being given this much overdue public recognition as the author of her most famous work. The Blue Plaque (still behind scaffolding, which will be removed) was then unveiled by Miranda Seymour to cheers.

See the unveiling here (photos courtesy Keith Crook):

Among others present were Lady Abinger, widow of the late Lord Abinger, Dr Bruce Barker-Benfield (representing the Bodleian Library), Angus Graham-Campbell and Harriet Cullen (representing the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association), Peter Cochran, Keith Crook and myself, Maurice Hindle, Richard Holmes, Zachary Leader, William St Clair and Rose Tremaine. Many more well-wishers would have been present too, had they been able get away from work and up to London. The event was well publicized in the broadsheets, the TLS and local papers. After the ceremony, William St Clair invited as many as could squeeze into his flat in Eaton Square, just round the corner, for champagne and sandwiches. There we were shown some choice items from his Mary Shelley collection and met Michael Foot, grand old man of Byronism and admirer of Frankenstein. It was an enjoyable ending to a most satisfying occasion.

Nora Crook

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