Aged 18, Fanny, was asked
by Percy Bysshe
Shelley, the Romantic poet, to come and live and be his wife. Shelley had an
impact on the two sisters, Fanny and Mary.
In turn their mother, Mary was one
of Percy’s heroes. Fanny hadn’t
met Percy and she
turned down his proposal. When they did all meet, both girls were enamoured of him. Both Fanny and Percy were
interested in radical politics.
Things during 1814, didn’t run so smoothly, Fanny and Percy were
falling in love, but during May of that year, Fanny was sent to
Wales by William Godwinwho wanted
to separate the two of them. Life was tough in the Godwin household
as William sank
further in dept. Mary
Godwin’s relationship with her stepmother, Marywas hostile and the
younger Mary sought console
The two started a passionate love affair, meeting secretly at her mother’s grave at St. Pancras Churchyard. William, exploded in a
rage when Percy told him that
the two were in love. 28th June 1814, the three of them, Percy Shelley, Mary
Godwin and Claire
Clairmont ran off to Europe. Fanny was brought
back from Wales.
When the trio came back from Europe, in September 1814, they took a house in London, enraging William even
further. Fanny was in a
difficult position as she felt loyal to both her sisters and her father. Mary and Percy had
a baby girl, born prematurely during February 1815. Fanny was sent for,
as the baby was fatally ill – William chastised Fanny for
disobeying his orders in contacting Mary and Percy.
After the death of the child, Fanny paid more
visits to the grieving parents.
Mary and Percy had
a second child on 24th January 1816, a son called William after her
father. Father, William was still
in debt and demanded money from Percy – at this
Mary and Percy all left for
the Continent frustrated by the tension in the Godwin’s household.
Before they left, the two sisters had a major argument and never had a chance to reconcile.
Around this time Fanny met, Robert Owen,
a utopian socialist and founder of the CO-OP movement. The trio returned from the continent to settle in Bath, to spare Claire’s reputation
and hide the fact that she was pregnant by Lord
Byron. During September 1816, Fanny saw Percy twice.
In October, Fanny left
the Godwin’s London
household, stopping at Bristol to post two letters, one to her father, William and the
other to her sister, Mary in Bath. She
arrived on the evening of 9th October, at the Mackworth Arms Hotel, in Wind Street, Swansea. On arrival at the hotel, Fanny took tea and
instructed the chambermaid not to disturb her. By the time both parties received their letters the following day, it was too late as Fanny was already
dead. Maryand Percy travelled
separately from Bristol. Fanny had been
discovered after taking a fatal dose of laudanum on the 10th October aged just 22. There was an unaddressed note, where Fanny wrote:
“I have long determined that the best thing I could do was to put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and
whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have
the blessing of forgetting that such a creature ever existed”
Only Percy stayed to
sort the situation out. The note that was originally signed had the signature torn off and burned, so that Fanny’s body
couldn’t be identified. An article in the Cambrian newspaper didn’t
refer to Fanny specifically.
At the inquest Fanny was declared
“dead”, rather than a suicide. No one claimed the body. Supposedly Fanny was buried in
a pauper’s grave at St. John-juxta, High Street. I looked at the St. John-juxta’s burial register located at the West Glamorgan Archives Services, Civil Centre, for Fanny’s burial, but
to no avail.
What became of the others? Gilbert Imlay, who had
no interest in his daughter, died in November, 1828; William
Godwin expected maternal support and consolation from his daughter, Mary. She cared for him
until he died in April 1836; Mary Shelley, wrote her
famous novel ‘Frankenstein’ (1818), dying on 1st February 1851 from a brain tumour and Percy Shelley, drowned
in a sudden storm on the Gulf of Spezia, Italy, July 1822.