I had some thoughts about the new sculpture commemorating Mary Wollstonecraft. It started as a Twitter post, then it got too long and I thought, nah, Facebook post, then it got longer and I thought, nah, blog post, and then it got longer and it became a published article! You can read it here:
"That my beloved Shelley should stand thus slandered"
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. Claire's little daughter Allegra was living with them, instead of with her father Lord Byron, whose home and lifestyle was unfit for a child.
Paolo Foggi, "that superlative rascal"
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.
What Happened To Elena Adelaide?
Well, in a previous blog post in this series I already mentioned the sad fact that a little girl named Elena Adelaide died in Naples in 1820. Her birth certificate said her father was the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and who her mother was is something of a mystery. In fact we can't be certain Shelley was the father, although he arranged for the birth certificate and signed it. Everything else on the birth certificate is wrong -- Shelley said the mother was his wife Mary Shelley, but he gave the wrong age, messed up the spelling of her name, and probably lied about the birth date as well.
The baby was left behind in Naples, fostered out to a local family when the Shelleys moved away, after having spent the winter of 1818/1819 there. It is very odd to think of an English couple of that time leaving an English child with an Italian family. It seems likely that Shelley really wanted to keep the child—the birth certificate indicates he was taking responsibility for the infant—and he had to improvise a solution and find another home for the baby when Mary Shelley refused to adopt the baby. Mary Shelley's journal, which is usually very terse, notes there was “a most tremendous fuss” (her euphemism for a fight or a quarrel) when she and Shelley left Naples at the end of February 1819. As we have seen, Mary Shelley was not Elena's mother and it seems she did not have any emotional connection to the baby, otherwise the Elena Adelaide wouldn't have been left behind in Naples.
About the author:
I blog about my research into Jane Austen and her world, plus a few other interests. Welcome! My earlier posts (prior to June 2017) are about my time as a teacher of ESL in China (just click on "China" in the menu below). More about me here.
© Lona Manning 2023