Mary Shelley: Parents, Peers, Progeny, 12-14 September 1997
Note: The formatting of the following program follows the original. We have made only minor changes throughout, correcting obvious errors and making some listings more uniform to facilitate electronic searching.
The ENGLISH DEPARTMENT,
CONTENTS OF PAGE
Full Programme of conference
Report of conference
Speakers in order of report: Marilyn Butler, Janet Todd, Marie Mulvey-Roberts, Jacqueline Labbe, Abbie Mason, Pamela Clemit, Marilyn Brooks, Gina Luria Walker, Clarissa Campbell-Orr, Richard Allen, Michael O'Neill, Susan Manly, Lisa Hopkins, Michael Laplace-Sinatra, Leonora Obed, Caroline Gonda, Richard Cronin, Fiona Stafford, David Vallins,Graham Allen, Arnold Markley, Judith Barbour, Nora Crook
The direction of Shelley Studies
Special number of Women's Writing
FRIDAY, 12 September
12.00 - 2.00: Registration
2.00 - 2.10: Nora Crook (Anglia Polytechnic U) and Marilyn Brooks (Open U): Welcome and Opening remarks.
2.10 - 3.15 [Chair: Nora Crook]
Caroline Gonda (Cambridge U): "Lodore and Fanny Derham's Story"
Clarissa Campbell-Orr (APU): "Mary Shelley's Rambles; the celebrity author and the undiscovered country of the human heart"
3.15 - 3.40: Tea/Coffee
3.40 - 5.15 [Chair: Richard Cronin]
Lisa Hopkins: (Sheffield Hallam U): "Death and the Castrated: the complex psyches of Valperga"
Michael Laplace-Sinatra (Oxford U): "'You can form no idea of the difficulty of the subject': Mary Shelley and the anxiety of reception of The Last Man"
David Vallins (U of Hong Kong): "Mary Shelley and the Lake Poets: Negation and Transcendence in Lodore"
5.15 - 5.45: Interval
5.45 - 8.00: A glass of wine and a première : Bacchus and a performance of Mary Shelley's mythological drama Midas (6. 157. 10) produced by Charles Stephenson (APU second year Communications Studies undergraduate). Introduced by Pamela Clemit (U of Durham); videoed by Joy Nudds, APU, followed by a buffet supper.
8.00 - 9.05 [Chair: Pamela Clemit]
Richard Allen (OU): "Mary Shelley, Scholarship and Criticism"
Michael O'Neill (U of Durham): "Trying to make it as good as I can': Mary Shelley's editing of Shelley's Poetry and Prose"
SATURDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER
8.00 - 9.45: Breakfast and Registration of one-day (Saturday) attendees
9.45 - 10.45 [Chair: Clarissa Campbell-Orr]
Marilyn Butler (Oxford U): "The Woman Writer of the Romantic Period as Intellectual"
10.45 - 11.10: Coffee/Tea
11.10 - 12. 10 [Chair: Marilyn Brooks]
Janet Todd (U of East Anglia, Norwich): "Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters"
12.10 - 12.55: Lunch
12.55 - 2.00 [Chair: Rick Rylance, APU]
Marie Mulvey-Roberts (U of the West of England, Bristol): "Mary Shelley and the corpse in the corpus"
Peter Cochran (Glasgow U and Cambridge): "The Prisoner of Chillon: the case for multiple authorship: Alb, Percy, Mary, Claire"
2.05 - 3.10: [Chair: Maurice Hindle, OU and Middlesex University]
Pamela Clemit (U of Durham): "Mary Shelley and William Godwin: A Literary Partnership, 18231836"
Jacqueline Labbe (Sheffield U): "Writing the Daughter, Reading the Mother"
3.10 - 3.30: Tea/Coffee
3.30 - 4.35 [Chair: Jacqueline Labbe]
Marilyn Brooks (OU): "Mary Hays, William Godwin and the accommodation of female desire"
Gina Luria Walker (New School for Social Research, New York): "Mary Hays and The Idea of Being Free"
4.40 - 5.45 [Chair: Marie Mulvey-Roberts]
Abbie Mason (Cambridge Regional College): "Searching for Fanny Imlay"
Harriet Jump (Edge Hill College of Higher Education, Lancashire): "Monstrous Stepmother: Mary Shelley and the Second Mrs Godwin" [Absent; not read]
[2.00 - 5.00: Frankenstein Workshop (leader: Toby Venables, APU graduate and librarian of St Johns College, Cambridge)
4.00 - 6.00: Michael Laplace-Sinatra participates in Romantic Circles MOO, Sinclair Building. All Welcome]
5.45 - 6.30: Interval
6.30 - 7.45: Mary Shelley in Italy, Zion Baptist Church. An evocation of Mary Shelley through her letters; devised by Judith Chernaik, read by Rohan McCullough with cello accompaniment by David Chernaik.
8.15 - 10.45: Conference Dinner in the Byron Room of the University Arms Hotel. After dinner Speaker: Clare Tomalin, biographer of Wollstonecraft and Austen, co-organiser of the bicentenary exhibition "Hyenas in Petticoats."
SUNDAY, 14 September
8.00 - 8.45: Breakfast
9.00 - 10.35 [Chair: Michael O'Neill]
Richard Cronin (Glasgow U): "Lodore, Bulwer and Others"
Fiona Stafford (Oxford U): "Lodore, a Tale of the Present Time?" [read by Julia Saunders, Oxford U]
Graham Allen (University College of Cork): "Public and Private Fidelity: Mary Shelley's Life of William Godwin and Falkner"
10.35 - 10.50 Coffee/Tea
10.50 - 12.25 [Chair: Richard Allen]
Arnold Markley (Penn State U): "Mary Shelley's Tales"
Judith Barbour (U of Sydney): "Political Justice or The Parvenue"
Brian Edgar (OU): "Contingencies and Confusions: Mary Shelley's Transformation"
12.25 - 1.10: Lunch
1.10 - 2.15 [Chair: Michael Laplace-Sinatra]
Leonora R. V. Obed (Edinburgh U): "The Writing on the Wall: Art as the Final Progeny in Mary Shelley's The Last Man"
Susan Manly (Cambridge U/St Andrews U): "Edgeworth's Belinda, Education and Frankenstein."
2.20 - 3.30
Nora Crook: " 'Become a Sleuth!': problems of attribution," introducing the final panel discussion "Whither Mary Shelley studies?"
Closing Remarks and Tea
Mary Shelley: Parents, Peers, Progeny was held at Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge, England (1214 September) and co-organised by Nora Crook (Reader in English, Anglia Polytechnic University, Cambridge, General Editor of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley) and Marilyn Brooks (Tutor in Charge, Eastern Region, The Open University and editor of the forthcoming Letters of Mary Hays). The conference, a major British contribution to the bicentennial events, was timed for its near-coincidence with the anniversaries of Mary Shelley's birth (August 30, 1797) and Mary Wollstonecraft's death (September 10). Twenty-four papers were delivered, covering comprehensively the work of Mary Shelley herself, as well as related material from the immediate and wider intellectual circles of her acquaintance. The latter were concentrated into Saturday's programme, which attracted a sizeable non-specialist single-day audience from the city, the region and London.
Marilyn Butler, one of the two main speakers, described how, in the last years of the 1790s, networking through secret cells and educational groups was practised by some women intellectuals—one particular "Amazonian" ritual obliging "sisters [to] maintain arms [the traditional definition of a Citizen] and study sciences." The latter pursuit involved study of the environment with a view to mastering it—an aggressive usurpation of the traditional male role. Butler approached Mary Shelley via figures such as Wollstonecraft, Inchbald, Charlotte Smith, Baillie, Edgeworth and de Stal. As part of an intellectual milieu from her youth, Mary Shelley reflects, but subtly, so as not to alienate, the "Amazonian" principles she inherits, opposing the "bad Baconianism" of some of the men in Frankenstein, for example, with "good Baconianism"—the group ethic of the alternative. In Valperga she writes not just male history (wars/battles etc.) but also a kind of environmentalist natural history and follows de Staël's attempt to rescue the principles of the failed revolution in France through Northern Christian culture by presenting in the novel a "Germanicised" Italy.
Janet Todd, the other main speaker, showed how Wollstonecraft in Letters from Sweden wrested back some control as a woman writer. By making no reference in the Letters to what she was engaged upon she first of all creates a powerful and seductive emotional secrecy and, secondly, through her use of bathos and irony, draws back from transcendence in her natural descriptions, anchoring them firmly in the actual. Through her so-called "masculine" observational powers she enters the Enlightenment world of figures and calculating processes, commenting obliquely on both Imlay's world of commerce and enterprise and Godwin's cold philosophy. Godwin had, in fact, responded to the Letters as a book "calculated [emphasis added] to make one in love with its author," and the conclusion of his own Memoirs of Wollstonecraft shows how his obsession with the times and dates of her gradual demise is ultimately overwhelmed by a flood of feeling for her.
On the conference theme of "Parents," both Marie Mulvey-Roberts and Jacqueline Labbe examined mother-daughter relationships. Mulvey-Roberts in "Mary Shelley and the corpse in the corpus" argued that Frankenstein, like the composite cadaver it describes, is a text constructed from the various bodies of texts which give it life. By incorporating into her text her "monsterised" radical mother, Mary Shelley revives and effectively resurrects her. Parallels were made with other contemporary forms of "resurrection," notably the Humane Society's (often bizarre) methods of reviving the drowned. But in Frankenstein the male "resurrectionist" scientist becomes a danger to society, as he was later to become, in disturbing contemporary terms, "midwife" to the "Little Fat Boy" of the Los Alamos Project. Jacqueline Labbe showed how the power of the Victorian mother-as-divinity, with its roots in the late eighteenth century, depended on the fixed nature of the maternal role. However, motherhood, if properly written, could exonerate even illegitimacy, and daughters could re-present their mothers asserting their virtues and their right to be read. Labbe considered Wollstonecraft/ Fanny Imlay, Maria and Mary Robinson and, in the case of Mary Shelley showed, like Mulvey-Roberts, how the daughter recomposes the mother in her text. Mary Shelley is therefore the re-creator of Wollstonecraft's textual identity. Her mother becomes corpus becomes source-material.
A detailed defence of Mary Shelley's much-criticised step-mother, Mary Jane Clairmont, remained unfortunately undelivered, in the absence of Harriet Devine Jump, but its theme aroused considerable interest; hopefully it will be made public in the near future. Abbie Mason, surveying what is known about Fanny Imlay Godwin's short life, argued that a search for her raises questions of representation. Like the "unfortunate" Creature of Frankenstein, "my unfortunate girl," as Wollstonecraft called Fanny, had similar problems of identity, having lost both parents by the age of four. These problems continued to the end of her life where she appears to have "labelled" herself -- a name having been put to her suicide note and articles of her clothing initialed G and MW. Nothing beside remains except, possibly, a lost portrait by a contemporary miniaturist.
Father-daughter relationships was the subject of Pamela Clemit's paper. Clemit argued against recent feminist critical judgments that in her later years Mary Shelley was detached from Godwin, demonstrating instead an enabling reciprocal relationship. Mary Shelley continued to elevate Godwin above Scott and Bulwer-Lytton, and in her introduction to Bentley's edition of Caleb Williams, amounting effectively to a small biography, sees him as an intellectual giant whose views were as central to the 1830s as they had been to the 1790s. Marilyn Brooks examined the largely one-way correspondence of Wollstonecraft's friend, Mary Hays, whose letters to Godwin take issue with his "advice" to her as the disappointed lover of William Frend. Where Godwin argued that obstacles to desire could be translated into prejudices and should therefore be overcome, Hays's starting-point was the reality of female desire. In her letters she argues for something less abstract and more amenable to her experience.
Also taking the Hays-Godwin correspondence as her subject, Gina Luria Walker showed how Hays hints at a domestic female subculture in which women's solidarity subverts "things as they are." Godwin offered Hays the freedom to report candidly from the domain of women and her letters represent the unusual efforts women made to counteract exclusion. They have a unique and discomforting quality of utterance, telling the truth about women's experience, particularly their experience of slavery within marriage. Two decades later P. B. Shelley, a rare figure in finding intellectual companionship in women, rose to Hays's challenge in the freedoms he encouraged; Ms Walker was now trying to establish some evidence that Shelley had read Hays.
"Peers" figured as a subtext of most papers. More explicitly, Clarissa Campbell-Orr explored the possibilities for self-portraiture open to women writers of travel books. She demonstrated how the literary celebrity of writers such as Jameson, Wollstonecraft, Mary Wortley Montague and Fanny Trollope allowed them to comment on other cultures and the social position of women within them, as well as creating themselves as characters in their writing. Mary Shelley, on the other hand, being temperamentally reticent as well as reluctant for social reasons to market herself as celebrity, nevertheless combines with her objective accounts of Italy as recovered paradise a deeply implicit insight into her interior landscape. As Italy was the scene of much of her personal grief, the particular achievement of Rambles was its energy of restraint.
Three speakers considered Mary Shelley's relation to her peers in terms of her intervention in their works as amanuensis and editor. Peter Cochran, in a close examination of Byron's Prisoner of Chillon, argued that the process of its composition reflects the patterns of the group relationship in the summer of 1816. Had it been written in September of that year, after the departure of the other three members, it would have been a significantly different poem. Mary Shelley's fair copy (dated 30 June2 July) is of interest, he showed, from the number of her readings which alter the text but which Byron nevertheless allows to stand.
Richard Allen argued that Mary Shelley "authors" P. B. Shelley, involving the reader in her values. She gives narrative authenticity to the poems so that although by 1839 she had sold her copyright to them, her interpretative editorship became established. It both allowed her to exploit the intellectual and material property she had invested in P. B. Shelley's work and enabled her to write what was effectively an emotional biography of him.
Michael O'Neill stressed her impressive editorial enterprise, dispelling criticism levelled at her conservatism, her sentimentalising and depoliticising, and focusing on her critical perceptiveness and persistence. Rather than Mary Shelley falsifying Shelley, he demonstrated how she strategically fostered a taste by which he could be enjoyed, completely vindicating her intention to act with "fearless enthusiasm" in the cause of the moral and physical improvement of mankind.
"Progeny" was, of course, interpreted as "literary progeny." Surprisingly, no paper was entirely devoted to the famous "hideous progeny," but Susan Manly traced the intellectual genealogies of Mary Shelley's Creature from St Pierre's Paul et Virginie via Edgeworth, and examined the role of education in the enlightenment of an "unorganised innocence." The modesty of St Pierre's Virginie is questionable in that it becomes the direct cause of the deaths of her mother and brother/lover. In Edgeworth's Belinda the artless Virginia, discovered in a forest (fostering and forests being very often related in works of this period, as in Coleridge's The Foster-Mother's Tale) is left to the protection of Harvey who begins to see her (Frankenstein-like) as material for his plans and proof of his mastery over nature. Harvey eventually, however, comes to prefer Belinda who is made to weather trials of character amidst the follies of high society. Frankenstein's creature, like his innocent predecessors, is empty capacity and in this respect resembles contemporary women denied an active and visible role. In demanding that his creature remain solitary, Frankenstein reflects Harvey's relationship with Virginia. Mary Shelley follows her mother's insistence on the illusory benefits of female innocence and the worthlessness of Sensibility at the expense of rationality.
Lisa Hopkins examined the challenging aspects of Valperga, where, although gender roles are non-negotiable, Castruccio's "manliness of thought" makes him sit uneasily with his name while Euthanasia's (or Death's) metaphorical maternal and nurturing qualities triumph when actual mothers kill or fail.
Two papers chose The Last Man as their focus. Michael Laplace-Sinatra and Leonora Obed examined respectively how the status of the author/artist is dependent on readers who might not be there, or readers who can never be known. In Laplace-Sinatra's argument, Verney (Mary Shelley) constantly addresses the reader with the kind of anxiety for her art she had shown in trying to rescue Shelley's from critical failure. Obed took issue with the conception that art in this novel is to be seen as failing, arguing that the novel ends with art still offering a potentially enduring source of value. For Laplace-Sinatra, Mary Shelley, in the construction of this densely allusive and intricate book, offers multiple threats to the reader, inviting an almost Post-Modernist audience and anticipating the deconstructed text, the electronic edition.
Undoubtedly the most discussed novel was Lodore, frequently dismissed as Mary Shelley's gesture towards the Proper Lady. The four papers dealing directly with this work may, cumulatively, signal a turning-point in its critical fortunes. In the opening paper of the conference, Caroline Gonda focused on the meaning of Fanny's as a story that "cannot be told." Fanny's intellectual independence, her heroic and admirable life without men, she argued, puts her beyond the experience of the ultra-feminine Ethel whose heterosexual love is depicted as slavery. Although Mary Shelley knew from ancient authority, from her own experience, and those of her contemporaries the possibilities of same-sex love, her difficulty lay in articulating the full possibilities of such love in Fanny's story, which is left ambivalent. Unable to see her way through to a successful portrait of radical femaleness, Mary Shelley locates Fanny in a kind of "lesbian wild zone" somewhere between antiquity and the future.
Richard Cronin showed that one of the strongest influences upon Mary Shelley's later fiction was Bulwer-Lytton, whom she read avidly before writing Lodore. Bulwer's hugely successful combination of sentimental and "silver-fork" fashionable fiction with a new prose reflecting a world of practical economics enabled her pointed, unillusioned wit to engage with objective fact as well as the most intimate, emotional truth. In Lodore, as in Bulwer's novels, the "styptic" (Cronin's term) coexists with the sentimental, a hybridity allowing Mary to explore, as she said, "the contradictions in our singular machinery." In its treatment of marriage, for example, (itself a hybrid state -- emotional contracts made in terms of economics) Lodore looks ahead to the Victorian novel. Mary Shelley's restrained, narrative stance, in fiction where there is no single hierarchy of moral judgment, prefigures the work of George Eliot.
Fiona Stafford's paper argued that in the historical context of 1832 Lodore can be read as a moral tale. It is not just a contemporary novel but a much more profound reflection on recent history. In charting democracy's victory over a degenerate aristocracy, Mary Shelley examines the wrongdoings of a previous system, but equally expresses unease about alternative new models such as the American. Although Lord Lodore's shortcomings reach far beyond his own career, he is made intriguing and attractive while his associations with the natural world (Niagara corresponding to the Lakeland waterfall, Lodore) lend a "rash energy" and sympathy to his soul, recalling the values of the earlier Romantics. David Vallins argued that in Lodore rejection of scientific rationalism, themes of loss, disappointment, creative compensation, nature-worship and flight into moral conservatism all find counterparts in Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Graham Allen focused on Mary Shelley's unfinished Life of Godwin and its significance for Falkner. By accentuating Wollstonecraft's notoriety in his Memoirs, Godwin had effectively brought her to posthumous public trial and thus enabled Mary Shelley to understand how the dangerous anonymity of writing would need strict control if it were not to disform private utterance. As no memoir can be secure in its fidelity, any proposed life of Godwin would have inevitably involved her in a conflict of interests. In Allen's argument, to memorialise or "return" (a key word) is to experience trauma which is not one's own. Falkner, a novel where the public naming of the mother, involving scandal and legal trial, is opposed to the private economy of family relations, avoids that return by thematising it. As such, Mary Shelley adopts Godwin's precept that a novel can be a more accurate presentation of truth than history itself. Falkner becomes her version of the "Life of Godwin," bridging the gap between private feeling and public naming.
Mary Shelley's tales formed another prominent strand. Arnold Markley argued for a re-appraisal of her genius and reputation in the light of these; he read her texts as often playful subversions of the accompanying illustrations for which she wrote them. Markley demonstrated how she could give comic treatments to what were, for her, usually serious issues. In her Keatsian "The Dream," for example, she pokes fun at her gothic heroine's frustrated happiness. In "The Bride of Modern Italy" she makes a wryly ironic critique of Italian marriage and Shelley's relationship with Emilia Viviani, surprising in its tone, given her devotion to Shelley elsewhere. These, and others, show her finding new ways of presenting female devotion, often with subtle humour.
Judith Barbour examined how, on the crucial question of "choice," Mary Shelley's late, brief tale "The Parvenue" addresses and interrogates Godwin's canonical text in relation, particularly, to the celebrated anecdote of Fènelon and his valet, while Brian Edgar argued that in "Transformation" the ideological intention is to create confusion about "personality." By drawing analogies between the language and ideological implications of Joanna Southcott's apocalyptic prophecies, Edgar concluded that Mary Shelley, although clear about morals, is unclear about which aspects of the psychological self can best deliver morality.
Nora Crook introduced the final panel, pointing out that "buried" work of Mary Shelley's from the period 1820-45 remains to be firmed up on the basis of both intrinsic and extrinsic evidence. Among items mentioned were Keepsake attributions, "Byron and Shelley on the character of Hamlet" (Trelawny? Rogers? Medwin? Mary Shelley?) and "Modern Italian Romances." She invited conferenciers to join her in future "sleuthing" (Charles Robinson's phrase) suggesting that the Internet might be the most appropriate place for conducting discussion.
For the panel, Arnold Markley expressed satisfaction that the emphasis in Mary Shelley studies had now gone beyond Frankenstein towards little-read novels such as Lodore and Valperga. She was now a writer with a corpus, although much remained to be written on the tales, on Perkin Warbeck and on the small body of poetry. Richard Cronin thought that the next ten years would establish whether Mary Shelley would become a corpus. Hitherto, she had been a retrospective presence looking back to Godwin and Wollstonecraft when, in fact, there is much to characterise her as a non-Romantic writer belonging to a neglected and distinctive period, 182538. Mary Shelley studies, in his opinion, should now occupy that space. Graham Allen felt that the out-of-university, popular strength of Frankenstein should be exploited to propagate the other work and that there was a need to get away from the biographical element which had understandably dominated Mary Shelley studies to date. A group project to examine Mary Shelley in the context of women's writing in general could be more explicit about how layered and inter-textual she is, as well as stylistically distinguished. From the floor, Julia Saunders reported that in her experience, Mary Shelley's novels were not easy; the unfamiliarity of the genre in which she wrote was a present barrier even to the receptive reader. Clarissa Campbell-Orr spoke up for regarding Mary Shelley as a European, and her work as a product of the so-called "Biedermeier" culture of the period 18201845; she made a plea for an edition of her Lardner biographies of European writers.
In addition to the delivered papers, the conference included alternative, ancillary activities and displays. A Frankenstein workshop, open to regional sixth-form teachers, included an adaptation of a small portion of the novel for film, the question being posed whether a filmic "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" was a realisable aim. There were exhibitions of books from private collections and displays from various publishers (Broadview Press, Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Garland Publishing). The first evening of the conference saw the first ever (as far as is known) performance of one of Mary Shelley's two plays for children, Midas. Anglia Polytechnic University students gave a spirited rendering which, like Maria Edgeworth's unpublished play, Whim for Whim (discussed by Marilyn Butler in her lecture) was intended as a radical approach to contemporary children's experience. Via the Internet, Michael Laplace-Sinatra "spoke" at two conferences on different sides of the Atlantic in the same weekend, participating in the Romantic Circles MOO conference on The Last Man; friendly greetings were exchanged. Immediately prior to the conference dinner in the Byron Room of the University Arms Hotel, Cambridge, delegates enjoyed a performance of readings and music entitled "Mary Shelley in Italy," devised by Judith Chernaik who was also present.
At the dinner, toasts were made to "The Two Marys" and "Absent Friends"—well-wishers and living scholars without whom the conference could not have been conceived. Among the many persons comprehended by this description were Betty T. Bennett, Lilla Crisafulli, Stuart Curran, Kelvin Everest, Paula R. Feldman, Doucet Devin Fischer, Neil Fraistat, Gary Kelly, Richard Holmes, Steven Jones, David Ketterer, Anne K. Mellor, Jeanne Moskal, Jean de Palacio, David Punter, William St Clair, Donald H. Reiman, Charles E. Robinson, Michael Rossington, Emily Sunstein, Lisa Vargo, Timothy Webb, Duncan Wu. The main speaker at the dinner, Claire Tomalin, described the vicissitudes of setting up the recently-opened exhibition "Hyenas in Petticoats" at the Wordsworth Museum, Grasmere (later at the National Portrait Gallery, London from November to February; catalogue now available). That public awareness of the two Marys has still some way to go was literally illustrated when she held up a large photograph of the Automobile Association's road sign to the exhibition:
Clearly some form of Lake District skill!
John Gilroy, Senior Lecturer
Dept of English Studies
School of Arts and Letters
Anglia Polytechnic University
East Road, Cambridge.
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