Freitag, 8. Juni 2018

The Treacherous Start to Mary and Percy Shelley’s Marriage / Fiona Sampson In: Lit Hub Daily May 31, 2018

It’s easy to imagine a Romantic portrait making the most of young Mary Godwin’s ethereal pallor: unfortunate that we often catch her in the decidedly un-ethereal process of throwing up. In the next scene she lies exhausted by seasickness and fear on board a small wooden sailing vessel. The boat is being dwarfed by storm waves that swell under and around it in the moonlight. The time is just before midnight, and a crossing that the sailors promised would be “only two hours’ sail from the shore” has already been going on for more than six. The horizon is “red and stormy”; there are vivid flashes of lightning.
Mary is only 16, and she is running away with Percy Bysshe Shelley, a man five years her senior who is not merely already married but the father of a young child. It’s July 28, 1814, and they’re in the middle of the English Channel, and of a summer storm that has come on with the night:
Suddenly a thunder squall struck the sail and the waves rushed into the boat; even the sailors believed that our situation was perilous; the wind had now changed, and we drove before a wind, that came in violent gusts.
The crossing the lovers are attempting, between Dover and Calais, is a mere 23 nautical miles. When they left Dover at six in the evening on what was not only the hottest day of the year but “a hotter day than has been known in this climate for many years,” “the evening was most beautiful; the sands slowly receded; we felt safe; there was little wind, the sails flapped in the flagging breeze.” But, like many straits, the Channel is concentrated into ferocious currents and susceptible to sudden storms. It’s also markedly tidal, and the 12 or more hours this crossing takes pass through a complete cycle from one low tide to the next.
Eventually, at around 4:20 am, amid heavy wind and continuing lightning, a stormy dawn breaks over the laboring boat. Luckily, because the sailors “succeeded in reefing the sail,” the wind finally drives them “upon the sands” of Calais, where “suddenly the broad sun rose over France.” This is a striking image of rebirth: of near-death and the transfiguring experience of survival. But though taken from Mary’s Journal, it’s actually written by Percy. Mary herself won’t write in what is the earliest surviving volume of her Journal until over a week later.
She will, though, rewrite this account within the next three years, when she publishes an account of the journey on which she and Percy have embarked, her History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, of 1817. At this point—when she ghosts him as he has already ghosted her—the young lovers’ voices overlap each other, like their limbs piled on each other’s in exhaustion or sleep. Which is just how Percy portrays the crossing. In his account Mary lies all night between his knees, as he holds her head on his chest. “She did not speak or look,” and he believes she “did not know our danger.” ... [mehr]

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