Category Archives: Antiquarian Books

“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy…” Today we Remember the United States’ Entrance into WWII

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-7-31-43-pm

Bookstores and businesses in the antiquarian book world are numerous enough that no matter what you are looking for, you can be sure to find it somewhere. On sites like Biblio.com and abaa.org, you can search for booksellers based on what genre of books you are looking for. One genre we would like to salute on this December 7th, an important day of remembrance and respect in United States history, are antiquarian books with a WWII military basis. 

A picture taken from a Japanese fighter jet (where did they find the time?!) as one of the first torpedoes hit the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor.

A picture taken from a Japanese fighter jet (where did they find the time?!) as one of the first torpedoes hit the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, 353 Japanese fighter planes attacked the United States military base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. The lack of any warning for this attack led the president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt to label it “a date which will live in infamy” – primarily based on the lack of a declaration of war (a formal pronouncement) or any true notice of its happening. The Naval base suffered devastating loses, with four of the eight Naval battleships sunk and all severely damaged. This attack, the likes of which many American citizens had never seen up close on our nation’s soil, shocked the nation into joining World War II. 

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had skirted around the edges of the looming World War II. However, on December 8th, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt delivered a speech asking Congress for a formal declaration of war on Japan. Less than an hour after the speech, Congress consented. Due to a previous agreement between Germany, Italy and the Empire of Japan, United States was suddenly (or at least beginning on December 11th) at war with all three nations, all with the objective of restricting the United States’ ability to help any of their other opposition throughout the war. 

Now, all of this is frightfully interesting (not making fun, just stating such with the knowledge that these things have all been heard before, especially today), but what does this have to do with antiquarian bookselling? Well, good thing you ask. Tavistock Books, among other antiquarian booksellers in the United States and abroad, boasts a small collection of WWII items – books, ephemera, memorabilia… even WWII posters printed on linen – all are things we have been lucky enough to have in stock over the years. On this anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we’d like to highlight some of our most interesting World War II items currently on our shelves. 

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-7-24-12-pm

See this interesting book here>

This uncommon military book details the XIII Bomber Command – a WWII command and control organization for the Thirteenth Air Force, activated in January of 1943. This organization was created in order to provide authority of Army Air Force bombardments within the 13th Air Force Area of Responsibility during the war. What is striking about this book is that it was created entirely within the Combat Area of the Bomber Command – its handmade nature evident – and provides extensive documentation of the Command’s activities in the Pacific Theater during the year and a half that it chronicles. 

See this Fine poster here>

See this Fine poster here>

Another WWII item we currently have in stock and would like to bring attention to is this 1945 1st edition broadside/poster (linen-backed) by the Women’s Army Corps. As stated a bit earlier, we often try to carry unusual memorabilia relating to WWII. This poster propagandizes the Female Medical Technician campaign – an organization that came about after 5,000 of the U.S. Army Medical Department’s combat-ready men were forced to transfer to the infantry in early 1944. The department suddenly began a major push to recruit women to fill the positions left open, and created departments like this Female Medical Technician campaign (which, by the way, was hugely successful). By the end of the war, the WACs (Women’s Army Corps) Medical Department employed around 20,000 trained, skilled and determined young women.

Again, on this December 7th we honor and remember members of the military that have, so often, given their lives and their time to protecting citizens of the United States. (We have mentioned before that our very own Vic Zoschak was a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Coast Guard before turning his talents toward a career in the antiquarian book trade, right?) We salute all.

Share

The Latest and Greatest from Tavistock Books

The fall book fair season has slowed to a crawl, but the elves at Tavistock Books have been working overtime, cataloguing away! Presented here are a few notable new items at Tavistock Books, ones found at recent fairs such as Sacramento and Boston – and carefully picked out by Vic & Kate (you know, the Tavistock elves) to present to you here! Keep an eye out for our upcoming catalogue, as well… this one containing reconsidered (reexamined, re-catalogued, and, in many cases, repriced) albums & archives. You wouldn’t want to miss even more fun and interesting items coming your way this holiday season!

36362

This 1826 broadside called “The Sorrowful Lamentation of John Oliffe and John Sparrow” details the pitiful tale of two men in the early 1800s and their shameful tendencies toward the stealing of farm animals! Both men lay under the sentence of death – Oliffe for horse-stealing and Sparrow for sheep stealing! This Very Good copy of this broadside is even more special as it is unique – we find no copies of it on OCLC. See it here> 

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-58-40-am

A rare item of local California history is up for grabs! This promotional booklet on Ben Lomond, a mountain in Santa Cruz named after a similar mountain in Scotland. This item, printed circa 1907, is not found in Rocq, nor on OCLC (though a reproduction is held by the Santa Cruz Public Library). This 70 page booklet is invaluable “number of views which will serve to give the reader a general but necessarily very much limited idea of the surpassing beauties of this favorite locality of mountain homes.” [t.p.]. See it here>

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-59-00-am

This spectacularly colorful calendar marks a great year – 1901! Each of the 7 pages are chromolithographed with diverse scenes, such as the “1st Canadian Contingent Embarking at Quebec” or a “Relief of Ladysmith”. This calendar was issued as a Canadian Souvenir of the War in South Africa (Second Boer War) – once again, we find no copies listed on OCLC. See this colorful item here> 

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-59-18-am

Nothing like a good booklet on a hospital founded in the 1840s as a center for consumption and diseases of the heart to make you feel glad for your lot this holiday season! The hospital, now called the Royal Brompton Hospital, was to be financed entirely from charitable donations and fund raising. At its opening, some of the hospital’s most famous patrons included singer Jenny Lind, Charles Dickens and even Queen Victoria (who gave £10 a year, apparently). Once again, we find no copies of this booklet detailing the patrons of the establishment on OCLC. See it here> 

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-59-41-am

Another early item we have available is this Catalogue of the Officers and Students at Fryeburg Academy for 1852-1853. Fryeburg Academy was one of the very first schools built in Maine, and it was also one of the first schools in the continental United States to accept women! This preparatory school still known as one of the finest schools in the nation, and only one known copy of this booklet found on OCLC. See it here>

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-12-59-56-am

Our Remarks on the Present Condition of the Navy and Particularly of the Victualling is a piece from 1700 written by John Tutchin, a radical Whig controversialist and political journalist. In 1704 after accusing the British Navy of supplying food for the French Navy, Tutchin was arrested and imprisoned (again, having been so previously) for his beliefs and outspoken nature, and died from injuries sustained being beaten in prison. Interested? See it here>  

Share

“We sit in the mud… and reach for the stars”: A Tribute to Ivan Turgenev

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-9-39-50-pm

Recently I sat down and made a list of some authors and book-related events that I wished I knew more about. Too often we can find ourselves leaning towards what we already know – authors we are comfortable with and like. So to avoid stagnancy, we are going to do a couple blogs on things we are not experts in (not that we are experts in everything… just close). Behold… Ivan Turgenev. 

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-9-39-03-pmIvan Turgenev was a 19th century Russian author most well-known for his works Fathers and Sons, A Sportsman’s Sketches, First Love and A Provincial Lady. However, before becoming an author of novels, short fiction and plays Turgenev was a young Russian intellectual from a broken home. Born in Orel (now Oryol) to Sergei Turgenev and Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, a wealthy heiress. Turgenev did not experience a happy childhood – his father was a womanizer and his unhappy mother was quite abusive to the young Turgenev and his brother. Turgenev studied at the University of Moscow for a year once coming of age, and then spent the rest of his schooling at the University of Saint Petersburg from 1834 to 1837 – studied Classics and Russian Literature in particular. From 1838 to 1841 Turgenev attended the University of Berlin. While there, he was quite impressed with the German way of life and resolved to help bring ideas and concepts of the German Enlightenment to Russian society. 

Turgenev maintained friendships with several literary greats of the day – one of his closest friends being French author Gustave Flaubert and also maintaining relationships with fellow Russian authors Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, though his associations with both were often strained by differing opinions on literature and misunderstandings of personality. (Fun fact: in 1861, Tolstoy and Turgenev’s relationship was under enough stress to warrant Tolstoy challenging his acquaintance to a duel. Though he apologized afterwards, the two were not on speaking terms for the next 17 years.)

Turgenev’s first put his name on the radar of others with a work called Sketches from a Hunter’s Album (also called Notes of a Hunter, in some circles). It was a collection of short stories “based on his observations of peasant life and nature, while hunting in the forests around his mother’s estate of Spasskoye. Due to his time spent in Germany and his fascination with the Enlightenment, Turgenev was extremely anti-serfdom (a regular practice in Russia at the time), and this work published in 1852 is believed to have swayed public opinion at the time in support of exterminating the dated practice in 1861. Turgenev considered this work to be his single most important contribution to Russian literature, though in modern times it is not necessarily the one most know him for. 

See our 1st US book edition holding of Turgenev’s Dimitri Roudine here>

The 1850s-1860s were a considerably artistic time for Turgenev, he wrote several novellas, novels, short stories and plays while still in Russia. Slowly Turgenev traded his style of Romantic idealism with beautifully written phrases on nature and the inconsistencies of man and love for a more realistic style. In 1862 Turgenev’s most popular and enduring work was published, a novel called Fathers and Sons which was both beloved and reviled in Russian society – embraced by the modern thinkers and cast out by the more traditional, older generation. The extreme criticism he received for his work by the traditional thinkers spurred his final move from Russia – to live out the rest of his days between Paris and Baden-Baden. Turgenev is a fine example of a forward thinker who wasn’t scared to push the limits of what was expected in society at his time. Though the only thing I have read of his publications so far has been First Love (a short, and very interesting read – if anyone is looking for recommendations!)… I think I may just have to pick up a copy of Fathers and Sons next time I head over to the neighborhood book store…

Share

Boston or Bust! One Bay-Area Bookseller’s Look at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair (Said Bookseller Being our Very Own Vic Zoschak)

If it’s the second weekend in November, I must be in Boston.  Wait, I was in Boston last week, late October…?  Yes, this year, due to a date conflict at the Hynes, the Boston fairs were right in the middle of the 2016 World Series.  Can you imagine the craziness in town if the Sox had beat the Indians [who are looking pretty tough this post-season] and then the Jays…?  Hey, it’s bad enough as it is with a few hundred [thousand?] booksellers, collectors & librarians running around the Back Bay.

So yes, Wednesday October 26th, found yours truly boarding a direct United flight, SFO – BSO.  My usual [bad] luck took a vacation, and the flight departed [more or less] on time, arriving right around dinner time.  Which I had at the conveniently-located restaurant next to my hotel, Rooster Bistro.  Totally forgettable.  Totally.

A good night’s sleep suppressed that memory, and when Thursday dawned, I made my way to the North Bennett School in the company of Laurelle Swan [Swan’s Fine Books, Walnut Creek CA], an ABAA scholarship recipient to that day’s ABAA/RBS Educational Seminar.  A joint effort, this year 30 bibliophiles gathered to hear the likes of David Whitesell, Terry Belanger, Todd Pattison, Don Lindgren & Nina Musinsky speak about their respective areas of expertise.  I, while there that morning to welcome those 30, was not a seminar registrant this year.  So once all had departed for their designated classrooms, I departed for Brattle Book Shop, 9 West Street.  On arrival, I immediately headed for the 3rd floor [Rare Books].  For those not ever having had the pleasure, Brattle gets lots of books.  Lots.  And Ken frequently pencils bookseller-friendly prices on the flyleaf.  And, this week there was a 50% sale in effect, which began on Monday.  [Note to self: fly out earlier next year].  Yes, I soon expect parcel(s) to arrive from Brattle [as do, I’m sure, hundreds of other booksellers].

Thursday night, traditionally, is the night for the meeting of the ABAA Board of Governors.  This year was no different, and we convened at the nearby Brasserie Jo.  The meeting was filled with typical ‘governing’ administrative matters, which I only mention here, because as part of the meeting, the board approved 7 new ABAA members, of which 5 will be noted here, for, in the past, I have often crossed paths with these fine folk: Kim Herrick, Laurelle Swan, Andy Langer, Michael Thompson & Abby Schoolman.  Congrats to you all!

broadsideAs is the custom at the Boston fair, Friday night 5 pm rang the opening bell.  I, like many others, made my way in & started visiting folks I knew…  and quickly realized it was downright hot in the hall!  I don’t know the gate, but if ambient temperature reflects occupancy, it was well attended!  I recorded but a single purchase that night, but hey, if, as was the case here, it’s an unrecorded 19th C. adventist broadside, I’m [very] ok with that.  Thank you John.  My book scouting continued the next morning at the Boston Book, Print & Ephemera Fair.  As said elsewhere, “the incomparable Peter Luke snared most of my attention (not to mention funds) with such great items as this 19th C. execution broadside.”

Saturday night.  Why does everything gets scheduled Saturday night?   The Grolier reception.  RBS gathering.  Trivia night.  What to do?  Well, in this case, since I had a Grolier nominee in the works, that got some time.  As did the nearby BSO, which played Mozart & Bartok.  My advice, skip the Bartok should it ever come up.  

An image Vic nabbed at the BSO!

An image Vic nabbed at the BSO!

Sunday, my luck returned true to form…  United 477 was 2 hours late departing Boston.  I shouldn’t complain too much however, as the reason for the ATC induced delay was rain in San Francisco.  We need it.  As I need Boston.  It’s a great fair, in a great town, and I always come away with some great items.  Next year, it’s in November, after the World Series.  So no dilemma about where to be when the Giants are playing … whomever [the Sox?  If so, then I’ll be in Boston again in October!].  In either case, see you there.

PS.  Yes, I know, I need to take more pictures.  I’ll ask Greg for lessons.

Share

Happy Birthday to our Favorite Children’s Book Serialist… Mr. Edward L. Stratemeyer!

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-22-01-am

On October 4th, 1862, a children’s literature tycoon was born. With his humble beginnings, of course, no one ever would have suspected that a talented writer and publisher was in their midst. Stratemeyer was born the youngest of six children in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a young tobacconist and his wife. Both of Edward’s parents had immigrated from Hanover, Germany in 1837, and yet Stratemeyer’s main language was English growing up. 

As a child, Stratemeyer read Horatio Alger often, enjoying his rags-to-riches tales immensely. He later was said to have remarked on how much Alger’s stories influenced him as a young man, and gave him some of the confidence he later used to begin his career. It looks as though even as a teenager Stratemeyer had some idea of what he wanted to do as an adult, as he opened his own amateur printing press in the basement of his father’s tobacco store. He printed local & homemade flyers and pamphlets, and a few short stories such as The Newsboy’s Adventure and The Tale of a Lumberman. After graduating high school, Stratemeyer worked daily in his father’s shop, and kept up printing a few items here and there. It wasn’t until he turned 26 that he sold his first story to popular children’s periodical Golden Days, and received $76 for his contribution (a fact that the helpful internet informs us was over six times the average weekly paycheck for the average US citizen at the time). 

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-20-45-amAfter experiencing this hint of fame and riches, the young writer moved to the larger city of Newark (NJ) and opened a paper shop. He continued to write while earning his daily bread, and penned stories in many different genre’s – short westerns, serials for New England periodicals, dime novels, detective fiction… you name it, he wrote it (well, perhaps except for romances. But I digress). In 1893, just three short years after moving to Newark, Stratemeyer was hired by well-known dime-novel author Gilbert Patten to write for the Street & Smith periodical popular with young boys & men at the time, Good News. Stratemeyer was a popular editor & author at the magazine. 

Just a year later in 1894, Stratemeyer began publishing some of his stories as hardcover novels, the first of which being Richard Dare’s Venture – part of the Bound to Succeed series. Though his first four novels sold reasonably well, the publisher of the stories, Merriam, was unable to publish any further stories due to an economic depression that struck the United States in the late 1890s. Stratemeyer wouldn’t be sad for long, however, as shortly thereafter publisher W. L. Allison picked up his books and published twelve of his titles, and in 1899 an amazing thing happened to young Stratemeyer… he was asked to finish writing for two of his childhood heroes! 

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer's favorite!

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer’s favorite! See it here>

First Stratemeyer was asked by Lee & Shepard to pen the last book in a series begun by “Oliver Optic”, of William T. Adams. Adams had passed away before being able to complete the series, and the fans were left with baited breath. Around the same time, author Horatio Alger’s health was declining and he was also unable to finish his writings. Stratemeyer began work on Alger’s stories shortly before Alger’s death in 1899. Alger’s sister Olive negotiated with Stratemeyer to complete some of Alger’s stories that remained as notes or early chapters but that were never finished, and publish them under Alger’s name. The first popular series that Stratemeyer wrote was known as The Rover Boys – an instant success and a series that achieved immense popularity. Stratemeyer is even said to have mentioned that this series was his favorite throughout the years of authorship and publication!

In 1905, just a few short years later, Stratemeyer formed the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate and began hiring journalists and other writers to pen stories based on his plot ideas. Stratemeyer paid each author a flat rate for the books they submitted, and then kept all of the copyrights to the novels themselves. The journalists wrote under pen names, which also allowed different authors to publish books in the same series. In this vein, printer, author and publisher Stratemeyer was now acting as a “literary agent” for ghostwriters in a way. 

Through the Syndicate, Stratemeyer would be the imagination behind quite a few immensely popular series books, including the Tom Swift series, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and the Nancy Drew books. Though there are many more titles and series under the Syndicate’s name, these are the most well-remembered today. After Stratemeyer’s death in 1930 at the age of 67, the ownership of the Syndicate was passed on to his two daughters, Harriet and Edna. At first, the sisters thought to sell the Syndicate, but quickly realized that they preferred to keep their father’s business alive. They went on the keep the Syndicate running for twelve years together, and then Harriet kept the Syndicate together until her death in 1982. 

Today, Edward Stratemeyer’s books are largely considered some of the most beloved and well-known children’s series books in the business. They certainly opened a door for series books, and gave many authors the ability to write a be published (even if it wasn’t under their name and they had no rights to their work… but regardless). Happy Birthday to Edward L. Stratemeyer!

Share

Happy International Literacy Day! All Hail the Printing Press

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-11-16-17-am

As everyone (at least, everyone who is reading this blog) probably knows, the advent of the Printing Press in 1454 (the year the Gutenberg Bible was printed) instigated a major boom in reading and literacy worldwide. Suddenly even the common man could afford a booklet or even a book… there was no longer an aristocratic or religious hold on reading! Huzzah! But how much did it really and truly do? The results are endless. In honor of International Literacy Day, we’d like to take a look at the beginnings of printing for the masses and how it helped shaped the modern world.

A long, long time ago (not in a galaxy far away), in the 13th & 14th centuries, printing used a technique now known as “block-printing”. Characters and images were literally carved into a block of wood, ink was poured into the crevices, and then the block was pressed onto paper. You can imagine how time consuming and expensive this method was, as each block of words or pictures had to be carved by hand. As “trendy” as woodcuts are now in fine press items, back then they were almost a nuisance – the wooden blocks tended to break after too much use and once a single thing changed within the image an entirely new block would need to be created. As governments and businesses grew to realize the importance of written records in their lives, demand for an easier printing technique became apparent.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-11-12-07-am

Johannes Gutenberg

Though several print specialists were looking into faster & easier ways to print for the masses with moveable metal type, the first to make his mark was the well-known Johannes Gutenberg, an aristocrat from Mainz, Germany. Born in 1398, he was in his 50s when his fame spread far for his invention developed with an alloy of lead and tin that would be more durable and far easier to re-use when placed in a printing press. In his format, the reusable separate pieces of type would be placed in the press, and then the mirror images of each letter were carved in relief to create words. And since the letters could be rearranged into any format – the possibilities were endless! Any type of writing could be printed – finally printing was not only a technique used for the wealthy or the church.

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-11-12-32-am

A printing press similar to the one that Johannes Gutenberg set up in the 1450s.

In 1452 at the age of 54, Johannes Gutenberg was finally able to get the necessary funds together to begin what would become his legacy – the Gutenberg Bible. He printed two hundred copies of his Bible in 1454 and sold many of them (for very large sums of money) in 1455 at the Frankfurt Book Fair (glad to know Book Fairs were enjoyed even so long ago!) According to one online source, the Bibles cost the equivalent of three years’ pay “for the average clerk.” (So available for the masses, but sort of not.)

In less than 50 years, over twenty-five hundred European cities boasted printing presses, and the technique grew and spread like wildfire. Of course its immediate effect was that it multiplied by hundreds the production of the written word, and also (quickly) cut the cost of books to an affordable treat. A large population of the world was hungry for information, and the printing press was able to give them what they needed. Though at first the texts still mainly dealt with religious subjects, they soon dealt with a variety of topics and were purchased and read by all kinds of people – scientists, students, businessmen and nobility all benefitted from the advance in printing technology. The advances in many fields (particularly in science and technology) were obvious – the propagation of knowledge in a form available to all manner of people made the sharing of ideas and observations all the more easy.

In a way, the advent of the printing press in the mid 15th century could easily be compared with the spreading of ideas via the internet currently. A quick and easy (not to mention cheap) way of spreading religious, scientific, political and moral thoughts and conceptions went “viral” and literacy rates worldwide boomed in the 1500s. On today, International Literacy Day, we should give thanks to the invention that (in a way) started it all! All hail the moveable type printing press!

A modern day printing press!

A modern day printing press!

Share

Happy Birthday to Mary Shelley… and the Birth of Frankenstein

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 1.58.49 PM

Once upon a time, there was a large house that sat alone on a cliff in the countryside. It contained more dark corners and cobwebs to count. On one dark and stormy night, inside that house a birth took place. One young lady (and a terribly naive young and handsome doctor) created a terrible creature that would come to haunt the world for years to come. His name… was Frankenstein.

(I was joking about the cliff thing. I have no idea if there were any cliffs or cobwebs about that weekend. In any case…)

Mary Shelley was born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in August of 1797. She was the daughter of the famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the political activist William Godwin. The young Mary was raised by her father after her mother passed away only a month after her birth. Godwin raised his daughter in a relaxed well-off atmosphere, being sure to educate her thoroughly (in literature and the humanities, as well as his own political ideologies). In 1814 at the age of 17 she began a romantic relationship with a fan of her father’s – one Percy Bysshe Shelley. Unfortunately Shelley was already married and their relationship would cause both parties much heartache and also and pain for their loved ones. Mary and her stepsister Claire Clairmont traveled through Europe for a few months, where she became pregnant with Shelley’s child. The daughter was, unfortunately, prematurely born and passed away.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 1.58.24 PMFrom here the story only gets stranger and stranger – with reports that the three traveled around Europe for six weeks on foot reciting poetry and the great classics to each other, returning (when Wollstonecraft was reportedly with child) penniless and bedraggled. After returning, Mary and Shelley (with neither families on speaking terms with the young couple) lived together in a cottage in Bishopsgate. In mid 1816, numerous disheartening events took place – both couples endured suicides from each side of their relationships. Mary’s eldest half-sister Fanny committed suicide (long to have been thought to be because of her exclusion from the circle that Mary and Claire were a part of) by taking an overdose of laudanum in an inn in Wales. A couple months later, Shelley’s wife Harriet was found drowned in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park, the result from her own suicide. Though both events undoubtedly shook the young couple, it did not detract from their hasty marriage a short three weeks after Harriet took her own life.

Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont had fallen in love with Lord Byron (despite his lack of affections towards her) and convinced the Shelleys to rent adjoining houses with the director on the shores of Lake Geneva. She resumed a sexual relationship with Byron, that eventually amounted to a daughter (and little else, as it was said that Byron could not stand her personality and constant desperation for him). In any case, this proved to be a most fruitful summer for Mary (or shall I say, Mrs. Shelley?) as it was here at Byron’s Villa Diodati that the group would meet and work on their writings.

Percy Shelley, the love of Mary's life!

Percy Shelley, the love of Mary’s life!

One night at Villa Diodati, Byron, Shelley, Mary, Claire and Byron’s young doctor John William Polidori made a pact to each write a ghost story. Though this caused Mary severe amounts of anxiety at her lack of ideas, she eventually became haunted by the image of a young man reanimating a corpse… and so Frankenstein was born! Though she began it as a short story, with Percy’s encouragement she fleshed the idea out into her first full-length novel. She would later remark on this summer of writing and editing as the time “when [she] first stepped out from childhood into life.”

This time of writing and intellectual stimulation did not last long, however. The Shelley’s were tormented by the deaths of all but one of their children – and just a few short years later Shelley would drown in a sailing accident off the coast of Italy. Though Mary Shelley continued to write throughout her lifetime – stories for ladies magazines, five volumes of “Lives” to the Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopaedia, novels such as The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck in 1830, Lodore in 1835 and Falkner in 1837 – her primary concern was the welfare and well-being of her one surviving child, Percy Florence. She made sure he was brought up in a manner that would have suited his father, and the mother and son were close and very fond of each other. She became quite ill towards the end of the 1830s, and passed away over a decade later of what is suspected to have been an undiagnosed brain tumor. She was only 53 years old. A year later, her son and his wife finally opened her box desk, and are said to have found locks of her two dead children’s hair, a notebook with entries from both herself and Percy Shelley, a copy of on of his poems along with a silk satchel of his ashes and the remains of his heart.

Now that’s true love, eh?

Share