Mary Shelley’s Sister

By Chelsi Robichaud

 

When I was young, Louisa would celebrate my ability to read. In my adult life, it became less fascinating, especially with Mary’s talent for writing.

There are times where I enjoy looking back at my governesses’ diaries to see how things have changed. When Papa left, I refused to send him kisses. Only to my dear sister, I would say.

Only to Mary. Soon she will no longer be Mary Godwin; with Percy, she will be Mary Shelley. How am I to live with this information? Papa would accuse me of being overly sensitive, I am sure. But it breaks my heart to see them go.

Now I am to remain in this household with a distressed mother and an enraged father. His daughter and his pupil eloping. Surely he could not have predicted Percy’s actions. How shocked he would be, then, to know I had been dreaming of a similar fate with the poet.

I am too mild-mannered for him, I believe. Mary’s head is full of adventures and monstrosities: creatures I could never imagine. She impressed Percy the moment they met, near our mother’s grave.

This did not come as a surprise to me; Mary had a fascination with mother’s remains. She wished dearly she could have met her. I believe she resented me for having met her when I was a baby.

I did not meet Percy in such a romantic place as the resting grounds, but in an area much more common to the average person: the dinning room. I sensed there existed a meaningful connection between us, as well.

He sat across from me, his hair combed back, wearing a blue coat. I remember thinking at the time of how it matched his eyes brilliantly, but of course was too timid to tell him so. Mary said he only had eyes for her that night, but both Claire and I knew that was untrue. His eyes wandered over all three of us, and I frequently perceived his eyes pausing on me. I was younger then, and foolish to believe it meant anything romantic for Percy. But a man had looked at me, and smiled a wonderful smile, meant so much then.

“Fanny, what are your passions?” he asked me. Only then did I realize that Mary and Claire had been talking of their hobbies and interest.

“Reading,” I told him. I felt spectacularly dull in that moment. But Percy did not take my answer to mean dull.

“Truly? What kind of reading? Not poetry, I hope. If so, I’m most certain my wife would find reason to be jealous of you.”

I looked over to Mary, then to Father. Her face had turned red. For the first time in my life, the thrill of victory run through my chest. Immediately, I felt ashamed at being so petty, but I could not help it. Not when Mary had always been the most celebrated daughter. Father’s mouth drew into a thin line, but he could not rightly reprimand Percy for what he said. It was in jest, after all.

“I enjoy religious meditations,” I said.

“Well, it seems you have yet another philosopher in the house!”

 

Percy’s wife was Harriet Westbrook. I heard them quarrelling early in the morning. She had come to our home to see him. Mary stood next to him, wringing her hands. Harriet was the perfect picture of a woman scorned, and I thought dimly that she would have played the perfect part of a witch in one of Shakespeare’s plays. She yelled at him, tears streaming down her face. Mary, too, looked like she would cry; I had known the signs since I was young. Even from the distance of my window, I could tell she was sniffling.

“I will kill myself!” Percy hollered, then. Harriet stopped crying. Mary went still. “I will do it! I will take my own life. Don’t you see the grief you are causing me?”

That was the end of the argument. I had never seen Percy so fitful before. In that moment, he appeared like a child to me. Yet I still loved him. How I wished I could run down and be amongst the women who wept for his threats. But I could not. I steeled myself and shook silently in my room. I withheld my grief when Mary told me of their encounter.

 

Now they are gone, Percy, Mary and Claire. I do not know what he expects of my half-sister, nor why he and Mary brought her along with them. I had heard her railing against her mother several days ago, but knew not why. She, too, had most likely confessed her sinful attachment to Percy. In a way, I admired her for her bravery. She confessed what I could not. I had not told a soul about my affections for him, and his words, and his beautiful smiles.

 

Harriet died shortly after Mary and Percy left. She did what he could not; she took her own life. Now I am contemplating doing the same. I know father loves me, but he cannot provide comfort. He is too upset over Percy’s departure with two of his daughters. I have now become invisible to both of them. I help with chores around the house, but my duties have become those of a servant.

Why was I not chosen? Why was I left behind? Part of me knows why. I could not be the kind of wife Percy desires. I could not lay with him while he lies with my sisters, too. I could not accept his lovers. But Mary and Claire could.

 

Despite my religious leanings, I do not wish to join the Anglican Sisterhood. I do not wish to remain here, mourning as a widow without ever having a husband. I do not wish to see my father cry every evening, without once glancing at me.

I will do as my mother did. I will walk into the ocean, and hold my breath.

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Chelsi Robichaud is a 22 year old English student residing in Ottawa. Her work on mental health has appeared in The Perch magazine and The Commonline Journal. She loves writing about historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and day to day life.

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Since 2000, The Copperfield Review has been a leading market for historical fiction. Copperfield was named one of the top sites for new writers by Writer's Digest and it is the winner of the Books and Authors Award for Literary Excellence. We publish short historical fiction as well as history-based nonfiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews.
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