Claire Clairmont - Later Life

Later Life

Shortly after Clairmont had introduced Shelley to Byron she met Edward John Trelawny, who was to play a major role in the short remaining lives of both poets. After Shelley's death, Trelawny sent her love letters from Florence pleading with her to marry him, but she was not interested. Still, she remained in contact with him the rest of her long life. Clairmont wrote to Mary Shelley; "He likes a turbid and troubled life; I a quiet one; he is full of fine feeling and has no principles; I am full of fine principles but never had a feeling (in my life)."

Devastated after Shelley's death, Mary returned to England. She paid for Clairmont to travel to her brother's home in Vienna where she stayed for a year, before relocating to Russia, where she worked as a governess from 1825 to 1828. The people she worked for treated her almost as a member of the family. Still, what Clairmont longed for most of all was privacy and peace and quiet, as she complained in letters to Mary Shelley.

Two Russian men she met commented on her general disdain for the male sex; irritated by their assumption that since she was always falling in love, she would return their affections if they flirted with her, Clairmont joked in a letter to Mary Shelley that perhaps she should fall in love with both of them at once and prove them wrong. She returned to England in 1828, but remained there only a short while before departing for Dresden, where she was employed as a companion and housekeeper. Scholar Bradford A. Booth suggested in 1938 that Clairmont, driven by a need for money, might have been the true author of most of "The Pole," an 1830 short story that appeared in the magazine The Court Assembly and Belle Assemblée as by "The Author of Frankenstein" Unlike Mary Shelley, Clairmont was familiar with the Polish used in the story. At one point, she thought of writing a book about the dangers that might result from "erroneous opinions" about the relations between men and women, using examples from the lives of Shelley and Byron. She did not make many literary attempts, as she explained to her friend Jane Williams:

But in our family, if you cannot write an epic or novel, that by its originality knocks all other novels on the head, you are a despicable creature, not worth acknowledging.

Clairmont returned to England in 1836 and worked as a music teacher. She cared for her mother when she was dying. In 1841, after Mary Jane Godwin's death, Clairmont moved to Pisa, where she lived with Lady Margaret Mount Cashell, an old pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft. She lived in Paris for a time in the 1840s. Percy Bysshe Shelley had left her twelve thousand pounds in his will, which she finally received in 1844. She carried on a sometimes turbulent, bitter correspondence with her stepsister Mary Shelley until she died in 1851. She converted to Catholicism, despite having hated the religion earlier in her life. She moved to Florence in 1870 and lived there in an expatriate colony with her niece, Paulina. Clairmont also clung to memorabilia of Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Aspern Papers by Henry James is based on the narrator's attempts to gain ownership of these items. She died in Florence on 19 March 1879, at the age of eighty. Clairmont outlived all the members of Shelley's Circle, except Trelawny and Jane Williams.

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