Claire Clairmont - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Clairmont may have been sexually involved with Percy Bysshe Shelley at different periods, though Clairmont's biographers, Gittings and Manton, find no hard evidence. Their friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg joked about "Shelley and his two wives," Mary and Claire, a remark that Clairmont recorded in her own journal. Clairmont was also entirely in sympathy, more so than Mary, with Shelley's theories about free love, communal living, and the right of a woman to choose her own lovers and initiate sexual contact outside of marriage. She seemed to conceive of love as a "triangle" and enjoyed being the third. She had also formed a close friendship with Shelley, who called her "my sweet child" and inspired and fed off his work. Mary Shelley's early journals record several times when Clairmont and Shelley shared visions of Gothic horror and let their imaginings take flight, stirring each others' emotions to the point of hysteria and nightmares. In October 1814, Shelley deliberately frightened Clairmont by assuming a particularly sinister and horrifying facial expression. "How horribly you look ... Take your eyes off!" she cried. She was put to bed after yet another of her "horrors." Percy Bysshe Shelley described her expression to Mary Shelley as "distorted most unnaturally by horrible dismay". In the autumn of 1814 Clairmont and Shelley also discussed forming "an association of philosophical people" and Clairmont's conception of an idealized community in which women were the ones in charge.

Shelley's poem "To Constantia, Singing" is thought to be about her:

Constantia turn!

In thy dark eyes a power like light doth lie
Even though the sounds which were thy voice, which burn
Between thy lips, are laid to sleep:
Within thy breath, and on thy hair
Like odour, it is yet,
And from thy touch like fire doth leap.
Even while I write, my burning cheeks are wet
Alas, that the torn heart can bleed, but not forget!

Mary Shelley revised this poem, completely altering the first two stanzas, when she included it in a posthumous collection of Shelley's works published in 1824.< In Shelley's "Epipsychidion," some scholars believe that he is addressing Clairmont as his

Comet beautiful and fierce

Who drew the heart of this frail Universe
Towards thine own; till, wrecked in that convulsion
Alternating attraction and repulsion
Thine went astray and that was rent in twain.

At the time Percy Shelley wrote the poem, in Pisa, Clairmont was living in Florence, and the lines may reveal how much he missed her.

It has occasionally been suggested that Clairmont was also the mother of a daughter fathered by Percy Shelley. The possibility goes back to the accusation by Shelley's servants, Elise and Paolo Foggi, that Clairmont gave birth to Percy Shelley's baby during a stay in Naples, where, on 27 February 1819, Percy Shelley registered a baby named Elena Adelaide Shelley as having been born on 27 December 1818. The registrar recorded her as the daughter of Percy Shelley and "Maria" or "Marina Padurin" (possibly an Italian mispronunciation of "Mary Godwin"), and she was baptized the same day as the lawfully begotten child of Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin. It is, however, almost impossible that Mary Shelley was the mother, and this has given rise to several theories, including that the child was indeed Clairmont's. Claire herself had ascended Mount Vesuvius, carried on a palanquin, on 16 December 1818, only nine days before the date given for the birth of Elena. It may be significant, however, that she was taken ill at about the same time—according to Mary Shelley's journal she was ill on 27 December—and that her journal of June 1818 to early March 1819 has been lost. In a letter to Isabella Hoppner of 10 August 1821, Mary Shelley, however, stated emphatically that "Claire had no child". She also insisted:

I am perfectly convinced in my own mind that Shelley never had an improper connexion with Claire ... we lived in lodgings where I had momentary entrance into every room and such a thing could not have passed unknown to me ... I do remember that Claire did keep to her bed there for two days—but I attended on her—I saw the physician—her illness was one that she had been accustomed to for years—and the same remedies were employed as I had before ministered to her in England.

The infant Elena was placed with foster parents and later died on 10 June 1820. Byron believed the rumors about Elena and used them as one more reason not to let Clairmont influence Allegra.

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Famous quotes by percy bysshe shelley:

    Government is an evil; it is only the thoughtlessness and vices of men that make it a necessary evil. When all men are good and wise, government will of itself decay.
    Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

    A pard-like Spirit beautiful and swift—
    Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

    I have made my bed
    In charnels and on coffins, where black death
    Keeps record of the trophies won
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    Art thou pale for weariness
    Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
    Wandering companionless
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    Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
    Nought may endure but Mutability.
    Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)