Claire Clairmont and Mary Shelley:

identification and rivalry within the

“tribe of the Otaheite philosopher’s”


ABSTRACT The relationship between Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont is

usually looked at and analysed from Mary’s point of view. This article reopens the

debate on their relationship by demonstrating the importance of Rousseau’s Julie,

ou La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) for both women. For Claire it offered a way of

imaginatively refiguring the triangle of herself, Percy and Mary; for Mary,

Rousseau’s novel proved to be an important influence on the writing of

Frankenstein (1818). The principal aim throughout this article is to put Claire

centre stage, where she always wished to be. Through emphasising her “horrors”

and her histrionics, and her extraordinary passion for living out literary plots and

characters, it is argued that she was more than just a thorn in the side of her

stepsister, and that her monstering of herself as the “third” was part of a serious

attempt to rethink monogamous, heterosexual arrangements. The article forms

part of the ongoing discussion of female friendship and Sapphism in the

eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Until the recent publication of Marion Kingston Stocking’s The Clairmont

Correspondence (1995) [1], researchers and biographers of Claire Clairmont have

had to make do with excerpts and snatches from her letters, published in works

such as R. Glynn Grylls’s biography, Claire Clairmont: Mother of Byron’s Allegra

(1939) and G. Paston & P. Quennell’s “To Lord Byron”: Feminine Profiles Based

upon Unpublished Letters 1807–1824 (1939). As the titles of these collections

make clear, the interest is not so much in Claire Clairmont as in her relationship

with Lord Byron. Claire does not fare much better in biographies of the Shelley

circle, often appearing as the rather shadowy, troublesome stepsister of Mary

Wollstonecraft Godwin – the third who accompanied Mary when she eloped

with Percy Bysshe Shelley in the summer of 1814.[2] Only with the publication

in 1968 of Claire Clairmont’s Journals, also edited by Marion Stocking [3], did

Page 2



readers begin to get a fuller picture of this complex and fascinating woman; and

in 1992 a new biography appeared, R. Gittings & J. Manton’s Claire Clairmont

and the Shelleys 1798–1879.[4] These new materials mean that we need no longer

read Claire so lopsidedly, through Byron’s or Mary’s eyes.

Claire was, and remains, a controversial figure, particularly when

discussion centres on her relationships with Byron and Percy Shelley.[5]

Without doubt she was a radical freethinker and feminist, a fierce critic of

marriage, a flouter of custom and convention, and a follower of Wollstonecraft

on the issue of women’s rights. She also appears to have had a daring and well-

developed taste for sexual experimentation, which she delighted in boasting

about (and then demonstrated) to Byron during her pursuit of him in March–

April 1816, just as he was attempting to escape from the scandal of his own

unconventional sexual tastes. Byron’s tolerance of Claire’s unconventionality

was strictly limited, however. Referring to her as “that odd-headed girl” [6], he

viewed with suspicion her relationship with Percy, whom he dubbed “the

Otaheite philosopher” [7], an allusion to Diderot’s imaginary Tahitian sage,

Orou, who so eloquently expounded his creed of untrammelled free love,

including incest.[8]

This article aims to problematise Claire’s relationship with Mary, using

similar techniques to those which have been useful for problematising Claire’s

relationships with Percy and Byron – namely biography and intertextual

analysis. I believe, for instance, that Mary was a loved as well as a hated rival,

and that Claire entertained erotically charged feelings for her stepsister both

during Percy Shelley’s life and well beyond; indeed, Claire continued to be

exercised by the memory of Mary after the latter’s death in 1851.[9] Also, in

addition to seeking recognition for her acting and singing talents, Claire longed

for the position of writer standing above the sexual fray, so that her rivalry and

identification with Mary must be seen as literary as well as erotic. As far as Mary

was concerned, I believe that, during their earlier life together, it was as much

the intensity of Claire’s focus on her, as the suspected intimacy with Percy,

which disturbed and unsettled her. Two literary texts seem to me to be crucial

for throwing light on the sexual and textual dynamic between these two

women: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and that most popular and reprinted

of eighteenth-century novels, J. J. Rousseau’s Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761).


La Nouvelle Héloïse was an important work for the Shelley circle, but while its

significance for Percy and Byron during the Genevan summer of 1816 has been

explored [10], no one has speculated about the novel’s impact upon Mary and

Claire prior to 1816. Mary lists it under her reading for 1815, together with

Émile and the Confessions.[11] She was also rereading the novel in 1817 whilst

writing Frankenstein (MS Jnls, pp. 175–176). That Mary was, like her mother, a

Page 3



close student of Rousseau’s writings, has been well demonstrated by critics,

particularly in relation to Frankenstein.[12] Of all Rousseau’s works, however, the

influence of La Nouvelle Héloïse on her oeuvre has been the most overlooked,

which is surprising given its prominence in Wollstonecraft’s important last

novel, The Wrongs of Woman: or, Maria [13], and Mary’s own later predilection

for romanticising the dead Percy as a latter-day St Preux figure: “There was

something in the character of Saint-Preux, in his abnegation of self, and in the

worship he paid to Love, that coincided with Shelley’s own disposition”.[14]

While there is no definitive record of Claire reading La Nouvelle Héloïse

[15], there can be little doubt that she knew the novel well. Fluent in French,

Claire was reading Rousseau intensively during and after the elopement journey

of 1814. Her new Journal first records that she is reading “in Roussea[u]” in

Switzerland in August 1814 (CC Jnls, p. 28). Then, as they travel through

Holland, she is immersed in Émile, noting, with Wollstonecraftian emphasis, that

Sophie’s education “tended to fit her more for a Seraglio than the friend & equal

of Man” (CC Jnls, p. 40). Her heroising of Wollstonecraft, who had suggested a

ménage à trois to accommodate her love for the married Fuseli, might also have

been the germ for some fantasising about her own predicament vis à vis her two

amorous companions. Quoting from King Lear, “What shall poor Cordelia do –

Love & be silent”, she mused, “Oh [th]is is true – Real Love will never [sh]ew

itself to the eye of broad day – it courts the secret glades” (CC Jnls, p. 31).

In her journal entry for this day Mary records that their reading of

Shakespeare was “interrupted” by Claire’s “horrors”, fits of hysteria which were

soon to become more frequent. The most striking of these fits occurred after

their return to London, in October 1814, when Percy succeeded in terrifying

Claire by a mesmerising and sinister facial expression, causing her to cry out,

“How horribly you look ... Take your eyes off!” This cry is the cry of Orra, the

heroine of Joanna Baillie’s play, Orra, a Tragedy, after she has been driven mad

through a seduction plot of “terrors” gone badly wrong.[16] Particularly

striking in Mary’s journal is Percy’s description of Claire’s monstrous

countenance: “distorted most unnaturally by horrible dismay”. After retiring to

bed, she had suddenly reappeared to Percy. Now it is Claire’s turn to shock and

terrify; indeed, she appears to be understudying for the role of Frankenstein’s


her lips & cheeks were of one deadly hue. The skin of her face &

forehead was drawn into innumerable wrinkles, the lineaments of

terror that could not be contained. Her [?ears] were prominent &

erect – Her eyes were wide & starting: drawn almost from their

sockets by the convulsion of the muscles the eyelids were forced in,

& the eyeballs without any relief seemed as if they had been newly

inserted in ghastly sport in the sockets of a lifeless head. (MS Jnls,

pp. 32–33)

Page 4



If Shelley somewhat cruelly enjoyed this game of monstering Claire, she was

often not far behind in the techniques and strategies of monstering her own self.

Of course in 1814 there was no Frankensteinian monster to model herself upon,

but in La Nouvelle Héloïse Claire found a romanticised woman-monster with

whom she could identify. Significantly, it was during this period of intense

“horrors”, towards the end of 1814, that Jane (or Mary Jane Clairmont, as she

was first known) started renaming herself Claire.[17] At first she chose Clara,

then Clare, and eventually Claire Clairmont. Clara was the name of Eloisa’s

friend in William Kenrick’s popular English translation of La Nouvelle

Helöise.[18] I believe that it was Rousseau’s novel which inspired her to fashion

a new name and identity for herself, one with more glamour, Gothicism and

intrigue than “plain Jane”.[19]

The intimacies and perplexities of the triangle of Percy, Mary and Claire

during the period 1814–18 have been much pored over by critics and

biographers; for the most part, though, the final analysis tends to be the one

which Thomas Jefferson Hogg found so amusing, and which Claire recorded in

her journal: Shelley and his “two Wives” (CC Jnls, p. 59). Hogg’s understanding

of the triangle is predictably male-centred, and as such it falls far short of how

Mary and Claire experienced each other, and how they imagined themselves in

relation to Percy. Claire, for instance, did not (and did not wish to) see herself

as one of two wives. Disliking heterosexual and monogamous arrangements, she

espoused love under the sign of the triangle, and was energised by the thought

of herself as “the third”. Mary, on the other hand, was essentially conservative

about sexual matters, favouring the bourgeois family, such as that promised in

her 1818 novel by the marriage of Frankenstein with his first cousin and

adopted sister, Elizabeth Lavenza. While there may be nothing particularly new

in my claim that Mary lacked enthusiasm for radical sexual theories, I want to

show how La Nouvelle Héloïse became the terrain for exploring some of her

troubled feelings about Claire; I will then demonstrate that this terrain is

revisited in the writing of Frankenstein.

As in the Rousseau novel, the triangle of Claire–Mary–Percy is one man

and two women, with Percy cast as the philosopher St Preux, tutor and mentor

to two young women – Eloisa, whom he loves, and her cousin Clara. Like Mary

and Percy, St Preux and Eloisa are the main constellation, with the

friend/cousin, Clara, playing asteroid to her stellar companions. The

possibilities of erotic rivalry and intrigue generated by the role of “third” are

explicitly dramatised in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Helöise. In fact, reading the lived

triangle of Claire–Mary–Percy through Rousseau’s novel inverts Hogg’s triangle

so that, instead of “two wives” at the base of the triangle, we have two women

at the top, Julie and Clara. For as Rousseau reveals in his Confessions, La Nouvelle

Héloïse is very much about passionate female friendship – or same-sex love – and

the testing of these bonds by heterosexual love:

Page 5



I imagined two female friends, rather than two of my own sex,

because if an instance of such friendship is rarer, it is at the same

time more amiable. I bestowed upon them two analogous, but

different, characters ... I made one dark, the other fair; one lively, the

other gentle; one prudent, the other weak, but with so touching a

weakness, that virtue seemed to gain by it. I gave to one a lover,

whose tender friend the other was, and even something more; but I

admitted no rivalry, no quarrelling, no jealousy, because it is difficult

for me to imagine painful feelings, and I did not wish to mar this

charming picture by anything which degraded Nature. Smitten by

my two charming models, I identified myself with the lover and


Claire’s habit of living passionately through books was something she shared

with Percy and Mary, and the particular configuration of Rousseau’s famous

literary triangle, composed of a heterosexual couple and an ambiguously

situated friend, cannot have failed to exert a powerful hold over her

imagination. Measuring herself up against Mary was not always an agreeable

exercise, but the positive gloss given here of the differences between the two

cousins, “one lively, the other gentle”, may well lie behind her theatrical (and

not dissatisfied) projection of herself to Byron as “inconstant & volage”, quite the

opposite of Mary, who sails her steady course “like a ship under a gentle &

favorable wind” (C Corr, I, p. 111). Furthermore, the Clara of Rousseau’s novel

might well have given Claire Clairmont some hope that she would, in the end,

move centre stage and into the lead role, where she always longed to be. Her

intensely uncomfortable presence in Mary’s life, first as companion and

confidante, then as rival seemingly fixated on Mary’s pre-eminence, is an acting

out of some of the more puzzling aspects of Rousseau’s novel.

Although the Clara of Rousseau’s novel is later construed as having been

in love with St Preux from the first, the most interesting and sexually entangled

relationship of this novel is (as Rousseau says) that which exists between the

two women.[21] Clara is Eloisa’s confidante, her chaperone, referred to irritably

by St Preux as their “constant companion”, sometimes aiding, sometimes

obstructing the course of their romance. Whereas Eloisa is virtuous, gentle and

(despite her “fall”) conventional in outlook, Clara is more volatile, warning her

own fiancé:

be not deceived; as a woman, I am a kind of monster; by whatsoever

strange whim of nature it happens I know not, but this I know, that

my friendship is more powerful than my love. When I tell you that

my Eloisa is dearer to me than yourself, you only laugh at me; and

yet nothing can be more certain.[22]

In Rousseau’s novel, as soon as St Preux has become Eloisa’s lover, Clara is

instrumental in banishing him and bringing on the union of her cousin with the

older and more acceptable mentor, Wolmar. The salvaging of her friend’s virtue

Page 6



can be construed as an act of unwitting jealousy which reunites the two cousins,

but it unites them on a less intense plane. Married herself, Clara must forfeit her

privileged position of lesbian voyeur to the young lovers, and keeper of their

letters; she must remove herself to a proper distance. At this point in the novel,

as the two women draw apart, Clara reroutes St Preux’s passion away from

Eloisa towards herself. Conveniently widowed, she is now the recipient of St

Preux’s passionate letters about her cousin. Smitten by what Rousseau was so

fond of referring to as the “contagious power of love” [23], Clara begins to

warm to the Eloisa role, so much so that the two women start to appear more

alike than unlike. Similar in so many ways, in age, in experience, and in

attractiveness, the only factor continuing to separate them is Clara’s unshakeable

(and occasionally melancholy) conviction of her cousin’s absolute pre-eminence

in all things, including St Preux’s affections (Eloisa, III, p. 21). As she later

admits to Eloisa, referring to herself and St Preux: “with both our hearts

engaged by the same object, we were so accustomed to place it between us, that

without annihilating you, at least, it was impossible for us to come together”

(Eloisa, IV, p. 98). Volume IV brings this troubled identification and rivalry

between the two women to a climax, with St Preux’s relation to Clara of his

terrifying dream, both wish-fulfilment and prophecy of Eloisa’s death.

In this dream, St Preux’s murderously possessive feelings for Eloisa (“she

lives, and her life is my death ... she lives, but not for me”) are projected onto

Eloisa as the death wish of a daughter distraught with guilt at her mother’s

death. The dream opens with the deathbed scene of Eloisa’s mother and closes

with St Preux going forward to look upon the corpse of the mother:

but she was vanished, and Eloisa lay in her place, I saw her plainly,

and perfectly knew her, though her face was covered with a veil;

but, methought, after many attempts to lay hold of it, I could not

reach it, but tormented myself with vain endeavours to grasp what,

though it covered her face, appeared to me impalpable. Upon which,

methought, she addressed me in a faint voice, and said, “Friend, be

composed, the aweful veil that is spread over me is too sacred to be

removed.” At these words I struggled, made a new effort, and

awoke. (Eloisa, IV, p. 55)

Falling asleep again:

the same mournful scene still presented itself, the same appearance of

death, and always the same impenetrable veil, eluding my grasp, and

hiding from me the dying object which it covered. On waking from

this last dream, my terror was so great, that I could not overcome it,

though quite awake. I threw myself out of bed, without well

knowing what I did, and wandered up and down my chamber, like

a child in the dark, imagining myself beset with phantoms, and still

fancying in my ears the sound of that voice, whose plaintive notes I

never heard without emotion. (Eloisa, IV, pp. 55–56)

Page 7



Eloisa is both herself and not herself, perfectly familiar yet somehow other,

thanks to the enigmatic veil, palpable and impalpable at the same time. In terms

of what is shortly to come in the novel – Clara’s declaration of love for St Preux

and Eloisa’s offering of her cousin to him as “the better half of myself” – it is

clear that the veil functions as a blind for the absorption of Clara’s identity into

Eloisa. What the veil hides from St Preux is the recognition that Eloisa and

Clara are one and the same. On one level, this reductive merging of identities,

or too easy abdication of one woman for the sake of another, is what we might

expect from Rousseau, so given, as Wollstonecraft would say, to thinking about

woman as “a fanciful kind of half being”.[24] It is also, one might argue, another

instance of what Terry Castle has described as the “ghosting” of the lesbian,

where lesbian desire surfaces only in the moment of its forfeiture.[25] Clara may

move centre stage towards the end of the novel as Eloisa moves inexorably

towards death, but the most enduring image of the death chamber is that of

Clara “spiritless and pale ... her eyes heavy and dead” while Eloisa appears

animated, as though she had “borrowed the vivacity of her cousin” (Eloisa, IV, p.


St Preux’s nightmare of the dissolution of the living daughter’s identity

into that of the dead mother is reproduced in that founding moment of

Frankenstein: the nightmare following the birth of the monster in chapter IV, the

first part of the novel to be conceived by Mary Shelley. In Frankenstein’s

nightmare the embrace of his beloved Elizabeth becomes the embrace of his

dead mother:

I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in

the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted

and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her

lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared

to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother

in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave-

worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep

with horror.[26]

According to Mary, in her Introduction to the novel of 1831, one of the sources

for her story (and obviously for this scene in particular) was “The History of the

Inconstant Lover”, a tale in which the protagonist, reaching out to clasp his live

mistress, finds himself “in the arms of the pale ghost of her whom he had

deserted”.[27] In other words, the scene of Elizabeth Lavenza fading into

Frankenstein’s dead mother has its origins in a story of amorous infidelity,

betrayal and punishment – a story in which a man wreaks havoc with the two

women in his life.

The shroud enveloping Frankenstein’s dead mother looks forward to the

ending of the novel where a handkerchief is thrown across the face and neck of

the dead Elizabeth, another allusion to Rousseau’s novel, when, near the end of

that work, Clara spreads a veil over Eloisa’s decomposing face (Eloisa, IV, p.

Page 8



271). The significance of the parallel between the veiled corpses of Elizabeth

and Eloisa becomes apparent after Elizabeth has been murdered by the jealous

monster. Bending over the covered face of his dead wife, Frankenstein

recognises the “murderous mark of the fiend’s grasp ... on her neck”, a

recognition instantly greeted by a sight of the monster himself, “a figure the

most hideous and abhorred” (Frankenstein, p. 166). If, as one critic has recently

argued, the monster’s face is, under cover of the veil, “superimposed on the face

of the victim” [28], then the monster’s face in Frankenstein is a rewriting of

Clara/Claire’s face, the self-declared monster of Rousseau’s novel. The heroine

who declares herself “a kind of monster” for loving her woman cousin more

than her fiancé is also the bane of Mary Shelley’s life, the too “constant

companion” whose unsettling and often explosive emotional intensity always

had the ability to send her stepsister fleeing for cover.[29] Although later in life

Mary claimed to feel less animosity towards Claire for having “poisoned my life

when young”, she conceded that Claire “has still the faculty of making me more

uncomfortable than any human being – a faculty she, unconsciously perhaps,

never fails to exert whenever I see her”.[30]


Biographers have sought different explanations for Jane’s renaming of herself,

such as Richard Holmes’s “firm and musically satisfying Claire Clairmont” or

Ann Mellor’s “more poetic Clara/Claire”.[31] Edward Augustus Silsbee records

Clairmont’s claim in the 1870s that Percy gave her the name Claire for her

“transparency” (C Corr, I, p. 29), a radical concept derived from Rousseau and

applied by him to the “two charming friends” of La Nouvelle Helöise: “If my

image of the hearts of Julie and Claire is correct, they were transparent to one

another”.[32] The term also acquired currency in French revolutionary

discourse, meaning openness and authenticity, as opposed to secrecy,

dissimulation and intrigue.[33] However we might interpret Claire’s claim about

the meaning of her adopted name, one thing is clear, and that is that her

renaming coincided with a period of extreme moodiness and tension, when

sexual experimentation and the idea of a “shared household” were in the

ascendant. In her short story “The Ideot” (c. 1814), begun in Switzerland but for

years “a favorite Plan”, Claire invented a radical female character who, in

refusing to conform to the “vulgar & prejudiced views” of common people (CC

Jnls, p. 40), provided (somewhat baldly) just the persona needed for yet another

of Percy’s experiments in free love and communal living.[34] That Claire liked

to take the lead in acting out Percy’s theories is clear from one of Mary’s letters

to Hogg of January 1815, in which she promises that they will soon (after her

pregnancy) be happier “than the angels who sing for ever or even the lovers of

Janes world of perfection” (LMWS, I, p. 6).

Page 9



The period from November 1814 until mid-May 1815 is a murky one for

biographers, with full-scale obliteration of Mary’s and Percy’s shared Journal.

But while it is impossible to describe with any exactitude what Claire’s “world

of perfection” might have involved, her utopia almost certainly arose out of

discussions with Percy as to alternative moralities and modes of social

organisation. As is well known, Percy had for some years been engaged in the

project of gathering around him “a methodical society ... to resist the coalition

of the enemies of liberty” [35], and his favourite reading had been of subversive

philosophical sects and associations, such as the Illuminati of Ingolstadt, held

responsible by the anti-Jacobin L’Abbé Barruel for the violence and excesses of

the French Revolution.[36] Related to this enthusiasm was a delight in

projecting, and in reading others’ speculations about, alternative sexual

arrangements. Among the texts most admired by Percy at this time was a work

by Sir James Lawrence espousing polyandry. Within a fortnight of their return

from overseas, he had Mary and Claire reading Lawrence’s Empire of the Nairs; or,

the Rights of Women (CC Jnls, p. 46; MS Jnls, p. 29), a novel-cum-polemic

extolling the Hindu caste of the Nairs for their rejection of marriage, their

matrilineal system of inheritance, their uninhibited sexual relations, and their

nudism. Just as “it is the privilege of the Nair lady to choose and change her

lover”, so Lawrence argues, “Let every female live perfectly uncontrolled by any

man, and enjoying every freedom, which the males only have hitherto enjoyed;

let her choose and change her lover as she please, and of whatever rank he may

be”.[37] In 1812, a year after the novel was published, Percy declared himself

to Lawrence as a “perfect convert” to his doctrines of women’s equal rights and

liberties (LPBS, I, pp. 322–323).

To the extent that Lawrence was a Wollstonecraftian, he was preaching to

the converted when it came to Claire. As we have already seen, in her remarks

on Rousseau’s Sophie, Claire believed that woman should be the friend and

equal of man. Hence her impatience with masculine gallantry and courtship

rituals (CC Jnls, p. 407), and her outspoken views on double standards, such as,

for instance, “the usual nonsense about infidelity being unpardonable in women,

but very pardonable in men” (CC Jnls, p. 408). Furthermore, as she was to

demonstrate so clearly in her pursuit of Byron, women should be as free as men

to take the sexual initiative and, like the good Nairess, “surrender at the first

summons, if inclined to surrender at all” (Lawrence, I, p. 53). Lawrence was

careful, however, to dissociate the Nair system from sexual promiscuity, arguing,

as Percy would always do, for the importance of constancy rather than fidelity

(Lawrence, II, p. 130).[38]

Mary, on the other hand, does not appear to have felt much sympathy for

Lawrence’s “paradise of love”.[39] For instance, his novel opens with a rather

prurient scene in which a nubile Nairess strips off and plunges naked into a

river, a scene which can only have reminded her of her failure to live up to

Percy’s Nairean ideals in France. Of the 1814 elopement journey Claire recalls:

Page 10



On our way to Pontarlier, we came to a clear running shallow

stream, and Shelley entreated the Driver to stop while he from under

a bank could bathe himself – and he wanted Mary to do the same as

the Bank sheltered one from every eye – but Mary would not – first,

she said it would be most indecent, and then also she had no towel

and could not dry herself – He said he would gather leaves from the

trees and she could dry herself with those but she refused and said

how could he think of such a thing.[40]

Mary’s refusal to play Eve to Percy’s frolic – “just as if he were Adam in

Paradise before his fall” quipped Claire – hardly provides certain proof of her

antipathy towards Lawrence’s theories. Firm evidence for that can be found

instead in Frankenstein, where the drawbacks for women of Lawrence’s

“liberated” world are made abundantly clear. After enumerating the various

advantages to Nairesses of the Nair system, Lawrence enthuses about the new

freedoms which would accrue to a nation of aspiring Nair bachelors. Lawrence’s

combination of scientific fervour, self-absorption, and a good deal of misogyny,

is remarkably Frankenstein-like:

If unimpeded by marriage, the lover of botany would search every

distant forest, the mineralogist would inspect every foreign mine,

and the naturalist would quit his country to examine a new volcano.

How many circumnavigators would aspire to rival the name of the

immortal Cooke [sic]! How many travellers, ardent for glory like

Bruce, would penetrate the bosom of unknown and uncultivated

realms! What improvement would every art, every science receive!

with what depth of thought would every speculative subject be

examined! (Lawrence, p. xxxvii)

Despite the disclaimer in Percy’s 1818 Preface to Frankenstein, that the novel

should not be seen “as prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever

kind”, the novel’s demonstration of the “amiableness of domestic affection”

might be read as a powerful critique of the bachelor utopia lying on the flip side

of Lawrence’s pro-woman tract.[41]

If the “philosophical doctrine” informing Claire’s “world of perfection”

was Nairism, then the late night discussions of autumn 1814 between her and

Percy about “making an Association of philosophical people” would be

relatively easy to sketch in (CC Jnls, p. 48), were it not for Percy’s own

mystifying version of the same discussion: “Jane states her conception of the

subterraneous community of women” (MS Jnls, p. 32). Marion Stocking has

suggested that Claire was thinking of Ludvig Holberg’s Journey to the World

Under-Ground by Nicholas Klimius, a satirical imaginary voyage first translated

into English in 1742 and frequently republished, 1812 seeing one of its many

reappearances.[42] Among the many exotic countries visited by the famished

philosopher Klimius, some are meritocracies with every advantage open to their

female citizens. In Potu, where the President is a woman, “there was no

Page 11



Difference of Sexes observed in the Distribution of publick Posts; but an

Election being made, the Affairs of the Republick were committed to the wisest

and most worthy” (Holberg, p. 23). Genius alone was regarded, “without any

respect to Sex or Condition” (Holberg, p. 94). In one country, Cocklecu,

Klimius encounters an extreme inversion of the gender order, a world in which

the men are uneducated household drudges while the women “are in Possession

of all Honours and Employments sacred, civil, or military” (Holberg, p. 119).

Men are the ones who prostitute themselves for hire, while the Matrons and

Virgins “without the least reproach, can prowl up and down, gaze at the young

Fellows, nod, whistle, tip the Wink, pluck them by the Sleeve, importune them,

write Love-Verses upon their Doors, boast of their Conquests, and reckon up

their Gallantries” (Holberg, p. 121). Given the crudity of this, Percy probably

meant that Claire sat up formulating “her conception of the subterraneous

community of women” (my emphasis), in contradistinction to the too glib satire

of Holberg.[43] Another work which might have captured their attention at this

time was the Earl of Charlemont’s essay on the island of Lesbos, an “Amazonian

Commonwealth” in which the women “arrogated to themselves the department

and privileges of the men”.[44]

Whether or not Claire consummated her relationship with Percy after

their return from Europe, they were spending more and more time with each

other, much to Mary’s irritation, who, pregnant and unwell, wished her

stepsister well away.[45] Mary’s desire for “absentia Clariae”, coupled as it was

with her conviction that her relationship with Percy would thereby be

rejuvenated (MS Jnls, p. 79), was to persist until 1820, provoking the outburst

of 1836 that her idea of Heaven at this time “was a world without a Claire”

(LMWS, II, p. 271), the formulation “a Claire” underscoring the generic role-

playing such a persona entailed. Mary’s failure to establish that heaven on earth,

and Claire’s triumph, can be seen in the latter’s jotting, circa 1820, inside the

back cover of Percy’s notebook: “3 still/Clare” (Sunstein, Mary Shelley, p. 426,

n. 13).

Claire’s enjoyment of triangles can be seen in her later jibe against two

Russian men, “delightful creatures” who considered her “dislike to men”

affected. Piqued by their belief that she was no doubt always falling in love and

would readily succumb if either should attempt to woo her, she joked, “I must

really take great care of my poor heart lest I should not only fall in love with

one but perhaps with both at once” (CC Jnls, p. 407). The extraordinary

seduction of Byron is itself an instance of projected triangulation. A number of

critics have noted the obvious parallel with Mary’s position as poet’s lover and

companion. But what is overlooked in many of the accounts of this affair is the

extent to which Claire dwells on the possibility of Mary also becoming Byron’s

lover. It is Mary, not Percy, whom she introduces to Byron in London; shortly

after their introduction, Claire writes to say that Mary is “delighted” with him,

and eager to know his address in Geneva. What might seem an innocent ploy to

Page 12



disguise her own eagerness soon re-emerges in most unusual form, once she has

achieved her objective of following the poet abroad. From Paris she writes in

triumph, “‘the whole tribe of the Otaheite philosopher’s are come’”; the same

letter continues:

you will I suppose wish to see Mary who talks, & looks at you with

admiration; you will I dare say fall in love with her; she is very

handsome & very amiable & you will no doubt be blest in your

attachment; nothing can afford me such pleasure as to see you happy

in any of your attachments. If it should be so I will redouble my

attentions to please her; I will do every thing she tells me whether it

be good or bad for I would not stand low in the affections of the

person so beyond blest as to be beloved of you. (C Corr, I, p. 43)

There are a number of ways of reading this, all of them consonant with the

supremely operatic roller-coaster of emotions informing her correspondence

with Byron – at one time melancholy and affectionate, at another abject and

imperious, and finally, towards the end of the affair, bitterly rancorous and

sarcastic. Read in isolation, this offering of Mary might seem to involve an

element of abjection, springing from a certain fatalism regarding her stepsister’s

superior credentials and attractiveness, and her own secondariness. But as one

reads further in the letters, a pattern of identification, substitution, and exchange

emerges, suggestive of the theories of sexual sharing promulgated by Percy who

had, after all, offered Mary to his friend Hogg, just as he had earlier offered to

Hogg his first wife Harriet. This sexual sharing had for its rationale a cementing

of prior relationships, in Percy’s case, of course, male friendship.[46] Indeed,

according to Claire many years later, the model which Percy held out to the

reluctant Mary was that of Beaumont and Fletcher, and their sharing of “one

mistress” (C Corr, I, p. 11, n. 3; Silsbee’s words).

In offering Mary to Byron, Claire appears to be modelling herself on

Percy, whose gift of female disciples to other men had the double advantage of

freeing him up for other attachments whilst confirming the primacy of the male-

homosocial erotic economy.[47] It is also possible that Claire’s fascination with

Byron, the male libertine par excellence, exemplifies what Terry Castle has

described, in a chapter on the diaries of another Byron enthusiast, Anne Lister,

as the covert connection between heterosexual male rakery and lesbian desire,

whereby the homosexually inclined woman is drawn to her “heterosexual twin”,

the man who flamboyantly (and transgressively) desires women.[48] At any rate,

whether impersonating Percy or identifying with Byron, the awkwardness of

Claire’s position can be seen in her somewhat wistful declaration, “I have no

passions; I had ten times rather be your male friend than your mistress” (C Corr,

I, p. 43).

Yet Claire was also indulging in a bravura performance of the role she so

much relished – that of Godwin’s unconventional stepdaughter: “I who was

educated by Godwin however erroneous my creed have the highest adoratio[n]

Page 13



for truth” (C Corr, I, p. 44). Boasting herself as “unloosed” from “the trammels of

custom & opinion” (C Corr, I, p. 110), her letters to Byron make it clear that she

enjoyed horrifying him with her forthright views, suspecting (accurately) that he

found her “imprudent vicious; my opinions detestable. my theory depraved” (C

Corr, I, p. 36). Chief of the trammels was marriage, “the most odious of all

monopolies”, Godwin had argued.[49] Claire’s own conception of marriage was

more unusual than Godwin’s; it was an “unhappy querulous state” born of an

even number, the “symbol of division”, unlike the odd number which was “most

perfect because it cannot be divided into two equal parts” (CC Jnls, pp. 116–

117).[50] There can be little doubt, then, that the “lovers of Janes world of

perfection” would always number three at least, and that Byron’s understanding

of this (and his suspicions about Claire’s relationship with Percy) lay behind his

joke about her and Mary as the Otaheite philosopher’s “tribe” (C Corr, I, p.

43).[51] That she and Mary were regarded as Percy’s, as well as Godwin’s

disciples, can be seen in Polidori’s remark upon the arrival of the “tribe” in

Geneva; he noted, Shelley “separated from his wife; keeps the two daughters of

Godwin, who practice his theories”.[52]

There is a general consensus amongst critics and biographers that, in

pursuing Byron in 1816, Claire was realising for herself Mary’s role of poet’s

lover and companion. But she was rehearsing other roles too, asking for his

advice about her prospects as actress and then as writer. She was also (as she

had done with Percy) rehearsing the role of Mary Shelley’s monster. By this I

mean that she was acting out those aspects of the monster’s psyche which are

now so familiar to us from the novel: extreme dependency and a pitiable sense

of being an outsider, a longing for love and acceptance, and an unmitigated fury

at rejection. The dependency and fear of rejection is there in the first letter to

Byron. Approaching him anonymously for a rendezvous, ostensibly to discuss

with him her prospects of an acting career, she begs him not to cast her letter

away, for “the Creator ought not to destroy his Creature” (C Corr, I, p. 24). This

rather abject and melodramatic self-dramatisation coexists with the more exotic

presentation of herself as a species of wild child: unacquainted with the world,

reared in “entire seclusion”, ill-humoured and forbidding in aspect, with a

“harsh” style and “ungracious” sentiments. The French wild child story of the

1730s was enjoying something of a resurgence in the early nineteenth century

[53], and certainly this primitive and exotic figure was well suited to Claire’s

emphasis on her lack of conventional female socialisation, and on her sexuality.

Mysteriously, darkly, she suggests to Byron that he should be seduced, not by

the “sparkling cup ... but the silent and capacious bowl” (C Corr, I, p. 27). She

had been anything but silent, however. Quite the contrary; she had “withheld

nothing” of her life story, which she obviously presented in lurid and

spectacular detail, protesting that he not dismiss “the romance” of her story as

“improbable”. In order to bolster the truth claims of her life-history she cites

two somewhat extraordinary narratives, Coleridge’s tale of Maria Schoning and

Page 14



Barruel’s account of Adam Weishaupt, stories which between them cover rape,

judicial execution, homicide, atheism, incest and infanticide.[54] Small wonder

he called her a “little fiend”, a characterisation she disputed, claiming that Percy

(who knew her better) called her “sweet Child”, finding her gentle and cheerful,

if a bit irritable on account of her “nervous disorder” (C Corr, I, p. 38). That the

wild child figure was not invariably bestial and fiendish can be seen in the

suffering and vulnerable heroine of Mme de Graffigny’s popular novel, Lettres

d’une Péruvienne (1747), a captive native woman who exposes as bogus the

supposedly superior “civilisation” of the masculine, colonising culture. And yet

even this sentimental tale about a Peruvian “virgin of the sun” has a titillating

primitivism about it, which includes the connected themes of male/female

discipleship and incest.[55]

That Claire felt isolated on account of her unconventionality can be seen

in her outline to Byron of her tale, “The Ideot” (c. 1814), which has as its

heroine a creature at once Godwinian and monstrous. The heroine, “educated

amidst mountains & deserts” and knowing “no other guide than herself or the

impulses arising from herself”, commits “every violence against received

opinion”. But notwithstanding “the apparent enormity of her actions”, she

should however appear highly amiable, full of noble affections &

sympathies; whose sweetness & naivite [sic] of character should draw

on her the pity rather than the contumely of her readers, who,

kindly attributing her errors to the neglected state of her education,

& the unfortunate circumstances which first attended her entrance

into the World, might imperceptibly be led to a toleration of errors

which if laid before them without the disguise of narrative &

romance would infallibly disgust and terrify. (C Corr, I, p. 33)

The trope of “narrative & romance” as the veil for that which is disfigured and

terrifying points forward to the monster’s verbal eloquence, his rhetorically

persuasive powers.


According to Silsbee, until the end of her life Claire defended Percy’s “theories”,

his “Greek ideas & his desire to be superior to the prejudices of the world ... to

have all in common even wives” (C Corr, I, p. 11, n. 3; Silsbee’s words). This

dedication of herself to Percy’s doctrines of free love only exacerbated the

powerfully ambivalent feelings she harboured for Mary. The promise to devote

herself to her stepsister should she become Byron’s mistress is to be matched by

her determined schooling of herself in sisterly affection, confiding to Byron,

“[Mary] says too that if she were ever so much detirmined [sic] not to like you

she could not help so doing, & so I like her” (C Corr, I, pp. 77–78; Claire’s

emphasis). Similarly, after the publication of Frankenstein, “private feelings of

envy” are ostensibly buried under a paean to the virtues of her own sex:

Page 15



all yields when I consider that she is a woman & will prove in time

an ornament to us & an argument in our favour. How I delight in a

lovely woman of strong & cultivated intellect. How I delight to hear

all the intricacies of mind & argument hanging on her lips! If she

were my mortal enemy, if she had even injured my darling I would

serve her with fidelity and fervently advocate her as doing good to

the whole. (C Corr, I, p. 111)

Here is Claire the Wollstonecraftian, the champion of her sex; there is an echo

of Percy, too – specifically, his admiration of the beauty of Mary’s intellect, and

more generally, his claim that the contemplation of “female excellence” was the

favourite food of his imagination (LPBS, I, p. 401). But the residual, and

enduring, impression of this passage is that Claire does indeed regard Mary as

an enemy – an enemy, moreover, to all that she holds most dear. The allusion to

her child, Allegra (her “darling”), and the harm that might come to her, reveals

her awareness of Mary’s anxious desire to be rid of the child, a desire springing

from Mary’s secret fear that the gossip could indeed be true – that Allegra was

Shelley’s child, not Byron’s.[56] Several years after Allegra’s death in 1822 in

an Italian convent, Claire’s bitter memory of Mary’s acquiescence in Byron’s

convent scheme caused her to regard her stepsister with horror, as culpable in

every detail as the child’s “executioner” (that is, Byron): “I never saw her

afterwards without feeling as if the sickening crawling motion of a Deathworm

... had replaced the usual flow of my Blood in my veins”. Here the very sight of

Mary becomes, for Claire, the internalised equivalent of Frankenstein’s embrace

of his dead mother, or the inconstant lover embracing the woman he has

betrayed. Yet the very same entry venting these sentiments of revulsion and

loathing opens with an elaborate, almost rapturous, evocation of the angelic

beauty and fineness of Mary’s light brown hair, “flowing in gauzy wavings

round her face and throat, and upon her shoulders ... so fine the slightest wind

or motion tangled it into a golden network”. Similarly, alongside the desire that

Mary should “perish without note or remembrance, so the brightness of his

[Shelley’s] name might not be darkened by the corruptions she sheds upon it”,

Claire pays tribute to “the surpassing beauty of her mind; every sentiment of

her’s is so glowing and beautiful, it is worth the actions of another person” (CC

Jnls, pp. 431–433).

The profound ambivalence of Claire’s feelings, amply demonstrated by

these reminiscences of 1828–30, seems to have eluded Mary. Focusing later in

life on the bald fact that they were “never friends”, “never loved each other”,

Mary was quite at a loss to explain Claire’s “eternal complaints”: “Claire always

harps upon my desertion of her”, she puzzled in a letter of 1836 (LMWS, II,

p. 271). Somewhat ironically, Mary’s incomprehension was matched only by

Claire’s clear conviction that she had been betrayed by the person who knew

her best.

Page 16




Dr Deirdre Coleman, Department of English, University of Sydney, Sydney,

NSW 2006, Australia (


[1] The Clairmont Correspondence: Letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont, and Fanny

Imlay Godwin, 2 vols (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

Subsequent references appear in the text as C Corr, followed by volume and

page numbers.

[2] The two girls were brought together as stepsisters when Mary was 5 and

Claire 4.

[3] The Journals of Claire Clairmont (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968),

hereafter cited in text and footnotes as CC Jnls.

[4] R. Gittings & J. Manton, Claire Clairmont and the Shelleys, 1798–1879 (Oxford and

New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), hereafter cited as Gittings.

[5] The publication of The Clairmont Correspondence provoked quite a stir; see Claire

Tomalin’s review, and the reaction it provoked (Times Literary Supplement, 30

June 1995, and “Letters to the Editor”, 11 August 1995).

[6] Byron to Kinnaird January 1817, Byron’s Letters and Journals, 13 vols, ed.

L. Marchand (London: John Murray, 1973–81), vol. 5, p. 162.

[7] Shelley would appear to be the best candidate for the Tahitian philosopher.

Godwin is a less likely one, although there was the well-circulated rumour that

he had sold his daughters to Shelley, fetching £800 for Mary and £700 for

Claire! See Peter H. Marshall, William Godwin (New Haven and London: Yale

University Press, 1984), p. 307. The phrase “the whole tribe of the Otaheite

philosopher’s” occurs in quotation marks in one of Claire’s letters to Byron.

Stocking is probably right to think that Claire is quoting Byron’s own phrase

back at him (see C Corr, I, pp. 43, 44, n. 1).

[8] See “Supplement to Bougainville’s Voyage” in Diderot’s Selected Writings, ed.

L. G. Crocker; trans D. Coltman (New York and London: Macmillan, 1966).

[9] Edward Augustus Silsbee’s records show the extent of Claire’s preoccupation

with Mary in the half dozen years leading up to her death in Florence in 1879;

see, for example, C Corr, II, pp. 616, n. 6, 619, n. 4, 625.

[10] “Mont Blanc” has been read as the clinching argument of a public/private

debate between Percy and Byron on the nature of the creative imagination, a

debate centred on Shelley’s enthralled reading of Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse

in 1816; see Robert Brinkley, “Documenting Revision: Shelley’s Lake Geneva

Diary and the Dialogue with Byron in History of a Six Weeks’ Tour”, in the Keats–

Shelley Journal, 39 (1990), pp. 66–82.

[11] The Journals of Mary Shelley, 1814–1844, eds P. Feldman & D. Scott Kilvert

(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995; originally published in 2

Page 17



vols by Oxford University Press, 1987). Hereafter abbreviated to MS Jnls,

followed by page numbers; this reference, p. 90.

[12] David Marshall writes, “There are biographical, psychological, literary, and

philosophical indications that Rousseau is inscribed in the margins and

characters of Mary Shelley’s first novel more than any other author except

Wollstonecraft and Godwin” in his The Surprising Effects of Sympathy: Marivaux,

Diderot, Rousseau, and Mary Shelley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988),

p. 233.

[13] Mary Wollstonecraft: “Mary” and “Maria”, Mary Shelley: Matilda, ed. Janet Todd

(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992), pp. 70–71.

[14] “Note on Poems of 1816, by Mrs. Shelley” in Shelley: Poetical Works, ed. Thomas

Hutchinson, 2nd edn (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 536.

Ironically, in a recent book which does draw an interesting connection between

La Nouvelle Héloïse and Frankenstein, the literary influence is marshalled as part of

the evidence working against Mary’s claims to authorship of her own novel; see

M-H. Huet, Monstrous Imagination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993),

p. 149.

[15] The closest we get to proof are some jottings in her Journals of place names

associated with the novel’s Swiss setting (CC Jnls, p. 60).

[16] At the end of the play Orra pleads, “Take off from me thy strangely-fasten’d eye

… / Unfix thy baleful glance: Art thou a snake? / Something of horrid power

within thee dwells. / Still, still that powerful eye doth suck me in / Like a dark

eddy to its wheeling core” (in Joanna Baillie, A Series of Plays: in which it is

intended to delineate the stronger passions of the mind, 3 vols [1798–1812]; this

reference, vol. 3 [London, 1812], pp. 94–95). Baillie’s play, with its Gothic

settings and thrilling psychological exploration, was undoubtedly an influence

upon Frankenstein; for instance, Orra’s lover is Theobald of Falkenstein, a Swiss

nobleman and burgher in the Canton of Basle.

[17] See CC Jnls, p. 13, n. 1. Mary’s first recorded reference to Jane as Clara was on

10 November 1814 (CC Jnls, p. 60, n. 24).

[18] The 1803 text of William Kenrick’s popular translation has recently been

reprinted; see Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Eloisa, or a series of original letters, 2 vols

(Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1989).

[19] Gittings and Manton are also of this view; see Gittings, p. 22. Sophie Cottin’s

popular epistolary novel, Claire d’Albe, closely modelled on La Nouvelle Helöise,

may also have played a role in the renaming. It was published in 1798/99 and

translated into English in 1808 as Clara; a Novel; see Stocking’s interesting

footnote on the significance of this work (CC Jnls, p. 76, n. 33).

[20] The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau (New York: Modern Library, 1945), Book

IX, p. 444.

[21] This topic has been admirably discussed by Janet Todd in chapter 3 of Women’s

Friendship in Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), pp. 132–

167. Two recent articles on female friendship, which also discuss La Nouvelle

Helöise, have appeared in Eighteenth-Century Studies, 32 (1999): Susan S. Lanser,

Page 18



“Befriending the Body: Female Intimacies as Class Acts” and Christine Roulston,

“Separating the Inseparables: Female Friendship and Its Discontents in

Eighteenth-century France”.

[22] All quotations, together with the original volume and page numbers, are from

the four-volume 1803 English translation by William Kenrick, facsimile reprint

Eloisa, or a series of original letters, 2 vols (Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1989); this

reference, I, p. 299.

[23] This phrase is taken from Rousseau’s description of his violent passion for

Madame d’Houdetot (his model for Eloisa), herself consumed by love for

another man; see Confessions, Book IX, p. 455.

[24] Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, ed. Janet

Todd & Marilyn Butler, 7 vols (London: Pickering, 1989), vol. 5, p. 108.

[25] See Terry Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture

(New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

[26] Mary Shelley: Frankenstein, 1818 Text, ed. Marilyn Butler (Oxford University Press,

1994), p. 39.

[27] Ibid., p. 194.

[28] See Huet, Monstrous Imagination, p. 141.

[29] Two years before she died, Mary Shelley begged her daughter-in-law not to

leave her alone in the room with Claire, who had come to visit; see Anne K.

Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters (Routledge, 1988), p. 34.

[30] The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett, 3 vols (Baltimore:

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980–88); this reference II, p. 271. Hereafter

abbreviated to LMWS.

[31] Richard Holmes, Shelley: the Pursuit (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1974), p.

270 and Mellor, Mary Shelley, p. 30. Sunstein is notably inconsistent on the

point; see Emily Sunstein, Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality (Boston: Little,

Brown, 1989), pp. 95, 115. William St Clair argues that the name change was

Claire’s way of distancing herself from her mother, Mary Jane, in his The

Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family (London: Faber, 1989), p. 376.

[32] Rousseau to Mme de la Tour, 29 May 1762; quoted by Jean Starobinski, Jean-

Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, trans. A. Goldhammer (University

of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 84.

[33] For the concept of transparency in La Nouvelle Héloïse and in Rousseau’s writings

as a whole, see Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, passim.

[34] These experiments are well documented. For an account of the triangles

involving Shelley’s favourite sister, Elizabeth, and first wife, Harriet, with his

old friend, Jefferson Hogg, see Holmes, Shelley, pp. 71, 90–92, 214, and Mellor,

Mary Shelley, pp. 28–30; see also Sunstein, Mary Shelley, pp. 94–95, 105. For an

interesting discussion of Percy’s relationship with Elizabeth Hitchener, see

Holmes, Shelley, pp. 71–73, 140–144, 153.

Page 19



[35] Shelley to Leigh Hunt, 2 March 1811, in The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 2 vols,

ed. F. L. Jones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), I, p. 54. Hereafter abbreviated

to LPBS.

[36] See chapter 4 of Marie Mulvey-Roberts, British Poets and Secret Societies (London

and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1986).

[37] James Lawrence, “Introduction”, The Empire of the Nairs; or, The Rights of Women.

An Utopian Romance, in twelve books, 4 vols (London: T. Hookham, 1811), I,

p. xvii.

[38] Nairean constancy might have played a role here in Claire’s poetic name

“Constantia”. Stocking argues that “Constantia” is taken from Charles Brockden

Brown’s Ormond (1799); see CC Jnls, p. 172, n. 17.

[39] “Paradise of Love” formed part of the French title of Lawrence’s novel.

[40] Quoted Holmes, Shelley, p. 240. The passage is from a later, revised copy of

Claire’s journal, held by the Pforzheimer Library (see Holmes, Shelley, p. 757,

n. 10).

[41] Butler, Frankenstein: 1818 Text, pp. 3–4.

[42] Ludvig Holberg, Journey to the World Under-Ground by Nicholas Klimius. Translated

from the original (London: T. Astley, 1742). Claire’s journal makes no reference

to Holberg, but Mary was reading the novel early in 1817; see MS Jnls, pp. 32,

n. 1, 157 & n. 2, 652.

[43] Other possible sources for her thinking on women’s communities and utopias

might have been Mary Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (London: Richard

Wilkin, 1697–1701), and Sarah Scott’s A Description of Millenium Hall (London:

J. Newbery, 1762).

[44] The Earl’s biographer, Francis Hardy, mentions the essay in his Memoirs of the

Political and Private Life of James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont, 2 vols (London:

Cadell & Davies, 1812), II, p. 192. The essay, entitled “Account of a Singular

Custom at Metelin, with some conjectures on the Antiquity of its origin” was

originally delivered to the Royal Irish Academy in 1789; see The Transactions of

the Royal Irish Academy, 1789 (Dublin: George Bonham, 1790), pp. 3–20. I first

encountered this reference to the Earl of Charlemont in St Clair, Godwins and

Shelleys, pp. 143, 534, n. 3.

[45] After Mary’s premature baby girl died in March 1815, her desire to be rid of

Claire took strong hold, beginning in earnest a few days after the baby’s death

(MS Jnls, p. 69). Two and a half years later, in September 1817, when she gave

birth to another little girl, she called her “Clara”, perhaps out of her desire to

match and rival one new Clara with another, and have Shelley reconcentrate his

attention on herself and their family.

[46] Although evidence for it is thin, Holmes believes that Percy was not just au fait

with Claire’s seduction of Byron but an eager accomplice in the affair; see

Holmes, Shelley, pp. 317, 320–322.

[47] For male homosociality, triangles, and the asymmetrical nature of gender

arrangements, see Eve Sedgwick’s Between Men: English Literature and Male

Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

Page 20



[48] See Castle, The Apparitional Lesbian, pp. 103–104.

[49] Orou’s justification of incest draws on the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s

children, and the necessity of incest with each other, a joke also included in

Mary Shelley’s “History of the Jews” (?1815), a story written under Percy’s


[50] Compare Percy’s arguments against monogamous coupling in Epipsychidion

(1821): “True Love in this differs from gold and clay, / That to divide is not to

take away”, and “Narrow / The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates, /

... / One object, and one form, and builds thereby / A sepulchre for its

eternity”, in Shelley: Poetical Works, p. 415.

[51] Byron’s reference to the two women as a “tribe” is similar to his contemptuous

description of them as Percy’s “menage”; see Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 5,

p. 162 (January 1817).

[52] Quoted in Leslie Marchand, Byron: A Biography, 3 vols (London: John Murray,

1957), II, p. 622. St Clair discusses some contemporary perceptions of the trio

(St Clair, Godwins and Shelleys, p. 421).

[53] Julia Douthwaite has written an interesting article on this topic, “Rewriting the

Savage: The Extraordinary Fictions of the ‘Wild Girl of Champagne’”,

Eighteenth-Century Studies, 28 (1994–95), pp. 163–192; this reference p. 192, n.


[54] The tale of Maria Shoning was first published in The Friend (1809–10); see The

Collected Works of S. T. Coleridge: The Friend, ed. B. Rooke, 2 vols (Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1969), II, pp. 172–182; for Weishaupt, “Incestuous

Sophister!”, “Atrocious Father!”, and founder of Illuminism, see Barruel, Memoirs

Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, trans. R. Clifford, 4 vols (1798), III, p. 3.

[55] The novel was translated from the French as Letters Written by a Peruvian Princess

(London: J. Brindley, 1748). The heroine is the pupil and fiancée of the

reigning Inca’s son. If Incas had no sisters to marry, they married their closest

blood relatives instead. Mary Shelley lists the novel amongst her reading for

1815; she is rereading it in 1817 (MS Jnls, pp. 181, n. 4, 650).

[56] See Mary’s letters to Percy in September and October 1817, particularly those

of 30 September and 7 October (LMWS, I, pp. 48–49, 53). In this last letter

Mary describes little William’s affection for his sister Clara and dislike of Alba

(Allegra), “an argument in favour of those who advocate instinctive natural

affection” (Mary’s emphasis).