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.
Shelley was not in Naples when the baby girl died. The death was reported to the authorities by a cheese-maker and a potter. The address given for her was in a working-class section of Naples. There was no doctor's certificate, but a civil servant attested that he went to the home to see the dead child.
Her death did not necessarily come as a result of ill-treatment or neglect. High child mortality was a miserable fact of life in the days before vaccinations and public hygiene, and many children died young. Jane Austen's novels mention children dying and mothers dying in childbirth as a routine occurrence. This period of life was attended by much more anxiety than today. People of that time believed there was a connection between teething (dentition) and the fevers, illnesses and death of their children. The second summer of childhood, when the first molars emerge, was a time for catching measles, fevers, meningitis, typhoid. That's why my pioneer ancestors always breastfed past the second summer, to maintain the baby's immunity.
Shelley was not present when this form was filled out. Scholars assume that “Gebuin” is another attempt at Godwin, Mary Shelley's maiden name. (see the previous post on Elena Adelaide's birth certificate and baptism certificate).
Livorno is where the Shelleys' friends, the Gisbornes, lived. (Shelley and Mary lived in Pisa at this time.) Maria Gisborne was a friend of the Godwin family. In fact William Godwin, Mary Shelley's father proposed marriage to her after Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin died. She turned him down.
When Percy and Mary Shelley moved to Italy with their two children, they met up with the Gisbornes and it was a great comfort to Mary Shelley to have a loving, motherly figure like Maria Gisborne in her life, considering that she ran away from home at 16 with Shelley.
Putting Maria Gisborne down as the parent on the death certificate is not to suggest that Shelley had an affair with Maria Gisborne. My theory is that Shelley provided the name “Maria Gisborne of Livorno” to the foster family as a person to contact if necessary. Another person involved in caring for Elena Adelaide also lived in Livorno, a lawyer named Del Rosso. He was the Gisbornes' lawyer as well.
I think Shelley gave Maria Gisborne's name to the Neapolitan foster family as a form of insurance; in the event of his own death—and he often believed he was near death—Elena's caregivers would have someone to contact. (As it happened, he survived Elena, but not for long.) He involved the Gisbornes in the banking and legal arrangements he made for the baby. The letter about teething, mentioned above, was written to Maria Gisborne.
Maria Gisborne, however, was more of a friend of Mary Shelley's than Percy, given her long friendship with the Godwin family. She would have wanted an explanation for why Percy Shelley was paying to take care of a baby whom he called his "ward."
I hypothesise that Shelley told the Gisbornes who Elena Adelaide's mother really was, or at least he told Maria Gisborne (Mr. Gisborne was seen by the Shelleys as being a bit dim-witted). That's one of the scenes in my upcoming novel, A Different Kind of Woman.
In addition to his sorrow over the loss of Elena Adelaide, the mysterious events of that winter in Naples would come back to haunt Percy Shelley in other ways.
Update: I have also excerpted and expanded my story about Shelley and this literary mystery in a separate novella, Shelley and the Unknown Lady. Love my cover by Dissect Designs!
My second series about Shelley and another mystery in his life.
Next post: Paolo Foggi, "that superlative rascal"
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