|To Fanny nothing now remained except death|
Sunday, September 11, 2011
A victim of Romanticism
Here is another miniature portrait, of a woman whose life was fatally shaped by the Romantic movement:
Fanny Wollstonecraft was a tragic figure, overlooked in life and death. The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, half-sister to Mary Shelley, adopted daughter of William Godwin, she was herself not touched by genius, though she wished to be worthy of those geniuses who surrouded her. Conventional and unbookish, her role in the chaotic, debt-ridden Godwin household was confined to two things: running the place and peacemaking. She was most likely in love with Shelley who regarded her at best with indifference and at worst as a useful go-between and was left behind when he, Mary and their stepsister Claire ran off to France.
Unappreciated, unloved and taken for granted, poor Fanny eventually decided to end her life. Even in this she took care to cause no trouble. She took the coach to Swansea, booked herself into an inn and took an overdose of laudanum. No family member came forward to claim her body and she was buried in a communal grave. She was just 22.
No character of Jane Austen ever had to write anything as dire as a suicide note but you can't help feeling that if any had they could have done no better than Fanny's elegant and understated farewell:
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 as Francis Wollstonecraft."
Deary me, really, the more I read about Percy Bysshe Shelley the less I find to like about him...