I'm excited to be featured at Austenprose, one of the more erudite Jane Austen blogs out there, with a brief excerpt from A Different Woman. Thanks very much to blog proprietress Laurel Ann Nattress.
The cover of this final book in the Mansfield Trilogy carries on with the "tree" theme. Once again I worked with Dissect Designs. The emphasis on the four different seasons is our attempt to convey that this book is more of a collection of separate stories, wrapping up the story lines of the various characters. Fanny and William Gibson, Edmund Bertram and Mary Crawford, Maria Bertram Crawford and Fanny's brother John Price. A lot going on in this last book of the trilogy!
The finale to my Mansfield Trilogy is on the way!
Here is an excerpt from A Different Kind of Woman about John Price, Fanny Price's brother, bumping into his older brother Richard on a cold winter's day in London. Richard is a third mate with the East India Company. He's back from Cathay, and the two brothers decide to walk onto the Thames, which is frozen over. A Frost Fair is being held on the river.
The two brothers awkwardly slid down the causeway to the frozen river. The Thames was black with people and tents; they could hear a fiddler playing an Irish air, and young girls shrieked with laughter on the swings. They could smell wood-smoke and roasting meat.
Richard hailed the sight of a temporary tavern made of two canopies stitched together, called the “North-West Passage.” John ignored his invitation to go in for a drink and instead wandered slowly along the row of stalls that stretched almost across to the opposite bank.
The usual foul stench of the river was subdued by the cold, and the thick layer of ice beneath his feet. As to the thickness of the ice, he had no qualms about walking where so many others went, but he wished to know its precise thickness, merely as a knowable fact, because not knowing that fact was like an itch he could not scratch. He supposed someone in authority had drilled a hole and had measured the ice, to ensure the safety of the populace, and he hoped the information might be supplied somewhere, or had been printed in the papers.
Out of habit, he also watched the people, training himself to spot pick-pockets. Everyone appeared to be in excellent spirits. Rationally, though, John could see no advantage to walking out on a frozen river to go shopping. The same articles were for sale on the ice that one might buy anywhere, on any day—honey in the comb, candles, gloves. And yet everyone treated the occasion like a festival day. Just the novelty of being able to walk on the Thames, and suddenly everyone was willing to pay a higher price for gingerbread. There was no understanding people sometimes.
He came across a small bundle of rags which someone had left upon a low wooden stool. The bundle moved and he saw it was a tiny, hunchbacked old woman. Two crutches lay on the ice in front of her. She extended a bony hand with long dirty fingernails. “Your fortune, young sir?”
“Pardon?” said John.
“I can trace your fortune, sir. Give me your palm.”
John’s hands were firmly tucked in his pockets, out of her grasp.
He looked at her. “You can see into the future?”
“Yes, sir. I have the sight.”
“Then why are you dressed in rags if you know which horse will win at Newmarket?”
The woman gave John a piercing look. “Sir, I do not see horses, I see destinies.”
“So can I. I can tell you what yours is, for I am about to report you to the river police. You will be brought up at the Old Bailey, and you will be placed in the stocks. I’m surprised you did not know that.”
The woman swore a colourful string of oaths at him, snatched up her stool and crutches, and scurried away with surprising rapidity.
John continued his exploration of the fair and came across a stall of books. Out of habit, he started glancing over the titles laid out on the wooden counter.
“Well, hello yourself, John Price,” said a female voice. He looked up and saw a small figure swaddled in blankets and scarves standing behind the counter, and recognised Prudence Imlay, whose father owned his favourite book shop.
“Oh, hello Miss Imlay,” John answered. “How do you like being on the river?”
“I am slowly freezing to death,” answered Miss Imlay calmly. “And I might as well not have bothered to drag all these books down here. These, on the other hand, are extremely popular.” And she held out a poster with an engraving of London Bridge and a bit of doggerel:
The season cold
You now behold
A sight that’s very rare
All in a trice
Upon the ice
Just like a Russian fair.
“What a terrible verse,” said John.
“I know. I wrote it,” answered she. “The first time I have sold my writing to the public and it has to be this.”
John wanted to say something encouraging. “Maybe if you write something better, the public will like it as well.”
“Are you going to buy a book, John Price?”
“Not today. I spent all my money at the King’s Arms.”
“Oh!” she said, surprised. “That’s not like you, surely.”
“For my brother,” he amended.
“Ah, well, you seldom buy our books anyway. Father says you treat our shop like a lending library.”
“That is why I take care to visit when he is not there,” said John. “And anyway, I prefer it when you are there.”
Miss Imlay looked away, then looked back.
“I think you are getting too cold,” said John, “your cheeks are turning red. If they turn white, then it is frostbite. You should be careful.”
Richard appeared out of the throng, and saluted John with another hearty slap on the back.
“Ho, John, you artful bugger! Not so backward with the ladies after all!” And he turned to bestow a devastating smile on Miss Imlay. He looked at her, and his smile dissolved.
“Oh,” he said, taking in the red smallpox scars which disfigured her entire face.
The girl flushed again, and turned away. “I think I shall start packing up. The sun is going down.” She bent down and disappeared behind the counter.
“Do you want any help, Miss Imlay?” asked John.
“No, thank you,” came her voice. “I can do it myself. My father is meeting me at the quay.”
“Very well, good afternoon,” said John, and he and Richard walked away.
“Poor girl—what a shame,” said Richard, his loud voice carrying across the ice. “Nice eyes. Pretty hair, too. Too bad about her face.”
“What about her face?” asked John.
“The pock-marks, what d’you think I meant!” Richard laughed. “There isn’t enough ale in London to make her into a beauty.”
“That is just her skin,” answered John. “That is not... that is not... what she looks like.” He tried to explain but Richard was not listening anyway.
Something was making John feel uncomfortable. He was not sure what it was. He thought he should go back to talk to Miss Imlay. “You go on, Richard,” he said. “Meet me back here tomorrow at the North-West Passage. Around midday.”
He ran, slipping and sliding, back along the rows of stalls, dodging children and stray dogs.
Prudence Imlay was still clearing the books off the counter.
“Even if you do not need help, Miss Imlay,” said John, “I can help you. That is, do you want help?”
Prudence tossed her head, but made no reply.
“Is something wrong? Are you angry?” asked John.
“Leave it to you, John Price, to not know when somebody is angry,” said Prudence. “A fine thief catcher you would make, if you do not know if someone is angry, or happy, or sad.”
“Are... you feeling sad?”
Prudence sighed. “I caught the smallpox when I was a child, and I did not die, but I know what I look like, and—and—that is just the way things are and I cannot change it. And I do not want to talk about it.”
“All right,” said John. He was rather relieved, because he was not good at that sort of talking. “Are you sure you do not want any help?” He was going to add, “books are heavy,” but decided that she, a book-seller’s daughter, already knew books were heavy.
“Not today, John,” said Prudence. “Go away.”
The King's Arms was a real tavern and lodging-house for sailors. The London Mudlark found an ale jug from the King's Arms while scavenging along the banks of the Thames. More about the 1814 Frost Fair at Madame Gilflurt's blog.
The East India Company sent trading ships to India and China to bring back silk, shawls, spices and more.
My novel, A Different Kind of Woman, is available for pre-order on Amazon now!
In the exciting conclusion of the Mansfield Trilogy, the lives and destinies of Jane Austen’s well-known characters are deftly blended with dramatic historical events. Fanny Price is torn between her love for William Gibson and her duty to her family. In London, Fanny’s brother John meets his match in a feisty bookseller’s daughter. And Edmund Bertram’s wife Mary meets the charismatic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and risks everything to gain the power and influence she craves.
Regency England comes alive in this tale of love, loss and second chances set against the real-life backdrop of political turmoil in England.
As I discussed in previous blog posts, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley named himself as the father of a baby girl in Naples in February 1819. Whether or not he was truly the father is unknown, but historians are certain that the mother couldn't have been his wife Mary Shelley. However, some people think the mother might have been Claire Clairmont, Mary's step-sister, who accompanied them to Italy. (The portrait to the left was painted in Rome by their friend Amelia Curran. Claire didn't care for this portrait.)
Claire already had a daughter by Lord Byron, and she went with Shelley to Venice, ostensibly to visit her little daughter. So Claire was travelling with Shelley for several weeks without Mary, something which would raise eyebrows even today.
In Venice, Claire and Shelley met the English consul-general, Richard Hoppner and his wife.
A year and a half later, Shelley paid another visit to Lord Byron, and Byron told him that Mr. Hoppner had sent him a letter with some shocking gossip. (Byron had held on to this gossip for a year before Shelley heard of it.) To recap the gossip chain here: Shelley fired his manservant, Paolo Foggi. At the same time, Foggi married the Shelley's nursemaid, Elise Duvillard. The following summer, Elise was in Venice and gossiped about the Shelleys and Claire to the Hoppners. Mr. Hoppner wrote a letter to Byron which Byron showed to Shelley a year later. Most of Mr. Hoppner's letter is available online, here on page 20. (pdf)
Shelley wrote a letter to Mary, telling her about the Hoppner letter:
Shelley's very excited here, so I will recap. He is saying, "people said I slept with your sister, but meh, we've heard that before, amirite? I don't care if the Literary Review back in England hints that I've committed incest when they review my poetry, but what really upsets me is that anyone could think I'm the sort of person who could procure an abortion or abandon a child in a foundling home!"
First, let's pause to exclaim, along with Victorian-era Shelley biographer Thomas Cordy Jeaffreson, "Shelley said what to his wife?"
No, the biggest outrage to everyone involved--Elise, the Hoppners, Byron and the Shelleys--was the imputation that Claire tried to obtain an abortion with Shelley's help (by bringing her to Venice) and when that failed, he abandoned the child. Everyone--the Shelleys, the Hoppners, even Byron--express their revulsion at this.
Incidentally, at this time in Italy and in many places, churches made provision for desperate women to abandon their babies safely. (Of course when I say "safely," there was still a horrific infant mortality rate at the time). They could come to the church or foundling home in secrecy, deposit the baby anonymously in a device that resembled a lazy susan, and the baby would be taken into the foundling home and raised by nuns.
This kind of arrangement still survives in mainland China to this day. Parents can give up children whom they cannot provide for, or who are born out of wedlock without fear of reprisal.
However, Shelley did not dispose of Elena Adelaide in this fashion, although the possibility exists that he might have taken her from a foundling home. So, Shelley could have replied to the Hoppner letter with perfect honesty, "Hey, I never abandoned a child in a foundling home!" But he didn't say anything. He left it up to his wife, who had nothing to do with any of it.
Shelley wrote Mary, as we have seen, repeating the details of the allegations. He then asked her to answer the Hoppner letter and defend his honour. which she promptly did, in a passionate letter.
Most of Mary's letter is taken up with telling Mrs. Hoppner how much she loves Shelley and how inconceivable it is that anyone could believe this terrible gossip about her wonderful husband, gossip which is so dreadful she would rather die than repeat it:
She also gave some background on Elise and Paolo Foggi, to explain why Mrs. Hoppner should never have believed them. As for the idea of Claire being pregnant, she pointed out that the three of them lived together, and although Claire was ill for a few days that winter, she couldn't have been in an advanced stage of pregnancy or given birth at home (which of course is where people gave birth back then) without Mary noticing.
Mary asserts: "I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that Shelley never had an improper connexion with Claire... Claire had no child."
Shelley buffs have said, "Ah-ha, she said, 'Claire had no child," she didn't say, 'there was no child.' And somebody must have had one, because there was a baby--Elena Adelaide." Further, Mary does not directly address the accusations about abandoning a child or an abortion, except to say it couldn't possibly be true and the idea is so vile that she can't even write the words.
And so the story of Shelley and the mysterious lady and the mysterious baby basically ends there, except for a little bit more to do with Elise, which I discuss below.
People who have tried to sort out truth from falsehood and fact from gossip in this affair are confounded by the behaviour of everyone involved.
If Elise entered a shot-gun marriage with Paolo Foggi, why didn't they keep the baby?
If it was Elise's baby, as some have suggested, why would Elise open this can of worms with anybody, and why wouldn't Shelley and Mary say, "there was a baby, and it is the baby of Elise and our rascally ex-servant"?
Why would Shelley put his name on the birth certificate unless it was his child or unless he intended to adopt the baby and raise it as his own child. And if he needed or wanted to adopt a baby girl the night before he left Naples, why?
If Claire was the mother, why was she content to abandon the child with a Neapolitan family? She was heart-broken when she had to give her daughter Allegra to Lord Byron to raise; she greatly regretted doing so.
If Claire wasn't Shelley's mistress, why didn't Mary and Shelley insist that she write a letter to the Hoppners, telling them to stop spreading horrible gossip about her? These rumours affected her reputation as much as Shelley's and were more damaging for a lady than for a man.
OTOH, if Claire was Shelley's mistress, why did Shelley turn to his wife to defend him and why did she agree to do it?
If Elena Adelaide was a Neapolitan foundling whom Shelley adopted to help console Mary for the loss of their daughter Clara, why isn't that mentioned in the letter to the Hoppners? It would explain where the bizarre story came from and put the matter to rest.
Why did Shelley leave it up to his wife, who didn't go to Venice, to insist that he and Claire didn't have an affair? Was he just too distraught? Was he implying that the whole worrisome, ghastly business was beneath his notice? Is asking your wife to mop up a mess like this a very nice thing to do?
What if Shelley wanted Mary to write the denial precisely because she didn't know the whole truth? Whereas if he wrote a denial, he knew he would be lying about some or all of it?
And don't forget the mysterious lady. Why was Shelley telling Lord Byron and others that he was being pursued by a mysterious lady?
More perplexing behaviour: In 1820, Shelley and Mary were complaining that Paolo Foggi was blackmailing them and they had to resort to a lawyer to deal with it. Yet after Foggi was supposedly silenced, Foggi's wife Elise continued to write to Mary and ask for money. According to Mary, this was not an extortion letter, but a begging letter. As she told Mrs. Hoppner, "The other day I received a letter from Elise, entreating with great professions of love, that I should send her money!"
As Shelley biographer Richard Holmes notes, "this was done in a quite innocent and beseeching way and without a hint of blackmail." This is further evidence, as far as I'm concerned, that there never was a blackmail attempt--the supposed blackmail by Paolo Foggi was just an invention of Shelley's to explain why he had to see his lawyer in Pisa.
A further mystery--a mystery in the sense that it goes against what we know of human nature--in 1822, Elise and Claire met again in Florence. They met almost every day for a number of weeks. This despite the horrible things Elise had supposedly told the Hoppners about her, which included: having an affair with her sister's husband, and insulting and taunting her sister Mary every day with how Shelley didn't love her any more. For what it's worth, Elise denied ever saying any of those things to the Hoppners.
In my forthcoming novel, A Different Kind of Woman, I have provided some answers to these mysteries.
This blog post is the seventh in my series about some enduring mysteries in the life of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Scroll down for links to the entire series.
The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley, along with her step-sister Claire Clairmont and their two little children, spent the summer of 1818 in the resort town of Bagni di Lucca, in Italy.
Naturally, their lovely villa came equipped with a cook and housemaid. They also had a nursemaid for the children. Mary's favourite nursemaid, the Swiss nanny Elise, was in Venice looking after Claire Clairmont’s daughter by Lord Byron, but an English girl named Milly stayed with them in Bagni di Lucca. And they had a man-servant, an Italian named Paoli Foggi.
Foggi was more or less in charge of running the household, dealing with tradesmen, doing the shopping and so forth. When Shelley and Claire Clairmont decided to go to Venice because she was worried about leaving her daughter Allegra in Byron’s custody, Foggi went to the nearby town of Lucca to arrange for transportation.
By the winter of 1819, the Shelleys were unhappy with Foggi, and dismissed him. Mary Shelley later explained that he had been stealing from them and furthermore, the nursemaid Elise Duvillard had “formed an attachment” to him; in other words, he’d gotten her pregnant and “we had them married.”
In recalling these events, Mary Shelley wrote that Elise was “in danger of a miscarriage” when she married Paolo Foggi. The newly-married couple left the Shelleys’ service and went to Rome. Was Elise pregnant when she left? Had she miscarried? Or did she deliver her baby in Naples before leaving for Rome? If she had given birth to a living baby that winter, then Foggi could not have been the father, as Elise was in living in Venice most of the previous year, looking after Allegra.
Some scholars have speculated that Elise is the mother of Elena Adelaide. But if the Paolo-Elise marriage was a shotgun marriage, then why would they leave their baby behind and why did Shelley claim to be the father on the birth certificate? And, if Elena Adelaide was Elise’s child, why did she later claim that Shelley and Claire Clairmont had a baby and abandoned it in a foundling home? Why bring up these accusations if the baby was in fact her child, by Foggi or by Shelley?
In June 1820 Shelley told his friends the Gisbornes: “The rascal Paolo [Foggi] has been taking advantage of my situation at Naples in December 1818 to attempt to extort money by threatening to charge me with the most horrible crimes.”
Shelley does not specify what this “situation” was but it probably involves his Neapolitan “ward” Elena Adelaide.
The odd thing about this, which I've never seen any biographers discuss, is that successful blackmailers say, “give me money or else I will spill the beans on you.” But Foggi and Elise had already spilled the beans—they had already told the English-consul general in Venice, Richard Hoppner, that Shelley had gotten Claire pregnant, attempted to abort the child in Venice, then she gave birth and they abandoned the baby in Naples. Hoppner was so scandalized by this gossip that he wrote Lord Byron:*
“at the time the Shelleys were here [in Venice] [Claire] was with child by Shelley: you may remember to have heard that she was constantly unwell, & under the care of a Physician, and I am uncharitable enough to believe that the quantity of medicine she then took was not for the mere purpose of restoring her health. I perceive too why she preferred remaining alone at Este notwithstanding her fear of ghosts & robbers, to being here with the Shelleys.” The lurid details are here, on page 20 (pdf). Hoppner says, "This account we had from Elise (the nursemaid) who passed here this summer..."
So we know Elise and perhaps Paolo were in Venice, spilling the beans, by May of 1820 or earlier. However, the Shelleys didn't know the Hoppners had heard this gossip for another year.*
On June 15, Shelley made a flying visit to Livorno, then came back to Pisa and ordered Mary to pack up--they moved to Livorno. (Claire was living with an old friend from England at this point).
Shelley biographers repeat the explanation that Shelley and Mary Shelley gave to the Gisbornes: They needed the services of their lawyer Frederico Del Rosso in Livorno because Paolo Foggi sent “threatening letters saying he would be the ruin of [Shelley] and “laid an information” that is, laid some charges against Shelley. Del Rosso dealt with it somehow and Foggi was ordered to leave Livorno “in four hours.”
Was it that easy to "crush" and silence a lowly servant who was making life unpleasant for a high-born Englishman? And how would ordering Foggi to get out of town prevent him from spreading his rumours or attempting blackmail? Rather, it would ensure that he would be even angrier. If he had travelled from Naples, to Rome, to Venice and then to Livorno, why would being told to get out of Livorno shut him up? This doesn’t make much sense to me. But this is the version given in Shelley biographies.
However, it appears the only source Shelley scholars have for the Foggi blackmail plot, is the letters Percy and Mary Shelley wrote to the Gisbornes. No threatening letters have survived and unfortunately neither have Del Rosso’s office files. So we have Shelley, at the exact same time he gets word that Elena Adelaide is very ill and may be dying, telling his wife, “Honey, we've got to move to Livorno right away. That pest, Paolo Foggi. has been sending me threatening letters.” (The Gisbornes were in England at that time, so the Shelleys moved into their empty house.)
Then Shelley comes back from the lawyer’s office and tells her, “Problem solved, honey. The lawyer told Foggi to get out of town.” Mary Shelley believes him and that’s what she writes to the Gisbornes.
We know Shelley was hiding his arrangements about Elena Adelaide from Mary. He sent money for Del Rosso to pay for “expenses in Naples,” via the Gisbornes, and he told them, “If it is necessary to write again on the subject of Del Rosso” to send a letter to the post office for “Mr. Jones” and he would pick it up there. However, now the Gisbornes were out of town and he had no-one to communicate with Del Rosso on his behalf. He seems to have genuinely very saddened and concerned about her, and this explains, I think, why he high-tailed it to Livorno. We know that at this time he told Del Rosso that if the baby survived her illness, he wanted to have her sent to him.
So yes, Paolo Foggi complained and gossiped about Shelley, to who knows how many people, but was he really the reason Shelley had to see Del Rosso at the end of June 1820?
In my forthcoming novel, A Different Kind of Woman, I have given the Shelleys some information of their own with which to threaten Foggi, to get him to be quiet.
A year later, Shelley visited Lord Byron and Byron showed Shelley the letter from the Hoppners that he'd received eleven months before, detailing the rumours about Shelley and Claire and an abandoned baby. The result was two remarkable letters, one from Shelley to Mary and one from Mary Shelley to Mrs. Hoppner, which we’ll take a closer look at in the next post.
Next: “That my beloved Shelley should stand thus slandered!”
Shelley biographer Richard Holmes writes at length about the Elise/Claire/Elena Adelaide/Shelley mystery in his biography of Shelley and also in Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. He believes Paolo Foggi began blackmailing Shelley as soon as Elena Adelaide died, but this means he would have got word of the girl's death weeks before Shelley did. If Foggi was in Livorno the same time Shelley was, how would he hear the news sooner? Shelley had a lawyer looking after his affairs and it still took at almost a month for him to hear the news. Livorno is 525 kilometres from Naples, If Foggi was in Naples when the baby died, how did he get to Livorno so quickly? Mary Shelley's diary indicates that Shelley told her about Paolo's blakmail plot on the 13th of June. My alternate theory is that Shelley got a letter from Del Rosso letting him know, that he had heard from Naples and the baby was very ill, and he made up the story about Paolo Foggi. In some future post, I might write about how this fits into Shelley's life-long persecution complex.
May 1820 or earlier- Elise spills beans to Hoppners
June 9, 1820 -- Elena Adelaide dies (corrected from earlier post)
Late June 1820 - Shelley receives word that Elena is very ill, does not know she is already dead
June 1820 – Shelley receives letters from Paolo, threatening to spill the beans?
Sept. 1820 – Hoppners tell Byron about the beans which were spilled
August 1821 – Shelley visits Byron and sees Hoppner letter
Previous posts in this series:
Shelley and the Mysterious Lady
Shelley: Pursued or Pursuer?
In the Deep Wide Sea of Misery
Who was Elena Adelaide?
A Falsified Birth Certificate
What happened to Elena Adelaide?
About the author:
I'm a writer and a teacher of English as a Second Language. "Laowai" means foreigner. Check further down for tags for specific subjects. My earlier posts (prior to June 2017) are about my time in China, more recent posts focus on my writing. Welcome!
JAFF: Jane Austen Fan Fiction
TINYFCC: This is not your father's Communist China
YDCTHTCAETTBELH: You don't come all the way to China and expect things to be exactly like home.