A few mornings ago, I got bored and so wrote an essay, or at least the first draft of one because I was a mega-nerd in school back before it was cool. I’m just going to throw it here, unedited,
This one is from 1816, latter end of the regency, and involves:
But let’s start back in 1814.
In 1814, 22-year-old Percy Bysshe Shelley began an affair with 16-year-old Mary Godwin even though he had a wife, Harriet, who was pregnant, and two children. Both Percy and Mary were believers in free love, aka have all the sex with all the people you want, married or not. Harriet did not. Mary gave premature birth to her and Percy’s daughter in 1815, and that baby didn’t survive. Percy abandoned Harriet (he did continue to financially support her very well, and the never did divorce) and ran off with Mary and Mary’s step-sister, 16-year-old Claire Clairmont. There’s wide speculation that Percy and Claire had an affair as well, despite lack of solid proof, and it just makes sense given the overall WTFery of this literally 100% accurate post.
Claire was fluent in French (she was fluent in five languages by this time), and they were heading to Switzerland. So they needed her, but they were also all friends. Several weeks later, after they had run out of money, they went home to England. William Godwin, a political philosopher who was the first modern proponent of anarchism and an early supporter of utilitarianism, was pissed, of course, that two of his daughters ran away with a married guy. They ended up estranged for years. Though Godwin’s deceased wife wrote the book “Vindication of the Rights of Women” in 1792, and he believed in and applied the principles of women’s rights and equal education to his own daughters, this running-out was a deep betrayal.
Claire knew Lord Byron, and was head-over-heels for him. He was pretty depressed since his marriage with Annabelle Milbanke had come to an end, and that marriage, which resulted in a daughter named Augusta, is the subject of many books. So is Augusta, and almost everyone in the US and Europe know her later name very well. The marriage really wasn’t good. But, I mean, he had an affair with her half-sister. What did he expect? Women threw themselves at him since he was a world-wide sex-god (not even kidding–he was famous around the world for his sexual exploits, men wanted to be him, women wanted to be with him, a good number of men wanted to be with him as well, and it was known that he was bisexual).
Lord Byron wasn’t into Claire, but she was determined to have her way, and so she did. Before knowing she was pregnant with Byron’s baby, she convinced her friends, Mary and Percy (who had just become the parents of a baby boy), that the three of them should follow Byron to Switzerland again. Yeah. We call that “stalking” now, and at first, Byron would only let her be around if Mary or Percy were there. That didn’t last long, and, though they knew she was pregnant by this time, they ended up all kinds of kinky again. No, seriously. Go read Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. He wrote it, and it was about his own exploits and sexual conquests as he traveled around the world, where he had fun with women with men on both sides, sometimes more than one at a time. Somehow he managed to not die of an STD, though he did contract many.
So now the four of them were in Geneva in the summer of 1816. Byron’s personal doctor, John William Polidori, who was 18, since you could be a full-fledged doctor at 18 back then, pretty easily, joined them. He’s the only one not involved in sexual exploits..
In Geneva, Claire and Byron were shacking up some nights. Mary and Percy were getting busy a lot. Byron and Mary liked to get it on. Yes, yes, they were getting it on as well, only at least he, she, and Percy (who was still married to Harriet) were all okay with this, and Claire accepted it as well. Also remember it’s probably that Claire and Percy had been together. I’m actually surprised that Byron and Percy didn’t get together. John ostensibly kept his in his pants and quietly accepted 500 British pounds from publisher John Murray, who had the good sense to know that something good was about to go down. (Murray had good sense, period, and is the original publisher of Jane Austen’s books.)
On one of those spring nights in 1816, a thunderstorm made for an especially spooky night. Byron suggested to his friends (and Claire, since he was okay enough with her at this point) that they write “ghost stories.” That’s what they had for spooky stuff. Ghosts. Maybe goblins. Not vampires, though, or zombies, or anything. Some of them took this quite seriously, and kept working on their stories after returning to England. The world would come to thank them while largely forgetting most of their names.
Toward the end of 1816, soon after the suicide of Mary and Claire’s other sister, Fanny, Harriet Percy, still pregnant, drowned. It was believed to be on purpose. Suicide by drowning was very easy at that time, as the clothing of the era soaked up water and weighed people down. Harriet left their children with her sister. Percy fought for custody, and was advised by his lawyers that being married would improve his chances. So he and Mary, who was pregnant again, married. Mary Godwin became Mary Shelley. Yes, THAT Mary Shelley. The estrangement between Mary and her ended. But a judge still decided he was unfit, and so send the children to live with a clergyman’s family.
In 1817, Claire and Byron’s daughter was born. For a shirt time, Claire and baby Allegra lived with Mary and Percy. When Claire left, Percy offered her and baby Alba, later renamed Allegra, financial support and wrote them into his will.
Mary Shelley and John Polidori, continued working on the stories they had started in Geneva when Byron suggested they tell each other “ghost stories.”
In 1818, Percy’s finished piece, Ozymandias, was published, as was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a story seen as so horrific that the public thought a man had to have written it, was published anonymously. This is the book credited with starting the genre now known as science fiction. Fantasy stories had existed before, but science fiction was separated out as the events happen through deliberate decisions rather than something just existing, like magic or dragons that didn’t come about by humans making decisions and using technology to make that happen.
In the spring of 1818, Claire sent Allegra to Byron, convinced his substantial wealth would make him more suitable. Byron agreed on the condition that Claire stay out of their lives, though he did allow a few visits. While Allegra was alive, he never had much to do with her, and sent her to a convent.
In 1819, John’s piece was published. The Vampyre (spelled as such) started a “modern vampire” trend that continues to this day. Byron’s well-known work, Don Juan, which was inspired by Percy, was published anonymously. It was seen as extremely obscene, yet was also very popular.
In 1821, at the age of 25, John died by self-poisoning. He had suffered depression.
In 1822, Allegra died at the age of 5 in the convent where she had spent the last 13 months of her life. When Byron found out about her death, the news hit him extremely hard, and he notably felt incredibly remorse. Her funeral was lavish, and he wanted her buried under a particular tree in a churchyard where he used to go as a child, which was his “favorite spot in the world.” Since he’d become infamous by then, for the stories and affairs that had also made him so popular, and Allegra was born out of wedlock, the church picked a different spot and allowed no grave markings, despite his desire for a marble tablet. (It took until 1980, a full 158 years later, for her to finally be recognized and receive a commemoration). “Let the object of affection be snatched away by death, and how is all the pain ever inflicted upon them avenged!” He wrote to his friend, the Countess of Blessington, few months. “How did I feel this when my daughter, Allegra, died! While she lived, her existence never seemed necessary to my happiness; but no sooner did I lose her, than it appeared to me as if I could not live without her.” Only after she was gone did he look back on Allegra’s toddlerhood annoying traits with fondness. (This is part of why I view my own daughter’s annoying behavior with some fondness—it means she’s alive to be annoying.)
Claire was convinced Byron had killed her, though she died likely of typhus, and was surrounded by three doctors and all of the nuns in the convent. Claire was absolutely devastated.
A few months later, Percy, aged 29, died in a sudden storm while on a boat. He drowned. There’s evidence it was murder for political reasons, but he was also depressed and had wanted to die. In the lack of convincing evidence, however, it could also have been an accident. Before his death, Percy had a dream about Allegra rising from the sea, beckoning him.
In 1824, at the age of 36 and one day shy of two years after Allegra’s death, Byron died. I’m not even going to touch on the last two years of Byron’s life, which made a turn for the amazing. Its more complex than the rest of this combined, beginning with him having to leave Countess Teresa Guiccioli , selling his home to help raise funds for the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire and pouring everything he had into the cause, involved him adopting a young Turkish Muslim girl who had been orphaned so he could send her to safety, and ultimately dying of sepsis following a bloodletting after he got sick. But let’s just say he is so much to thank for Greece’s independents that it was said after his death that, had he survived, he may have been made King of Greece.
In 1835, Byron’s daughter, Augusta, whom Byron called by her middle name, Ada, married William King. When William was made Count of Lovelace in 1838 Augusta King became known as Ada Lovelace. Ada is well-known for recognizing the abilities of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine that extended far beyond math. She wrote the world’s first computer program. She only lived until 1852, age 36, when she died of uterine cancer. Though unable to see her as she grew up, until his death when she was eight, Byron provided for her and sought news about her, and despite her mother’s vocal concern that she’d inherited her father’s “madness,” Ada was always interested in her father, and was buried next to him as she’d requested Her mother was indifferent toward her. They weren’t close.
In 1851, Mary Shelley died of a potential brain tumor. In her own life, she went on to champion women’s causes waaaaay ahead of her time, such as aid and protection for women born illegitimately (aka whose parents weren’t married at the births of their daughter), lesbians, single mothers, and women who had affairs, all women who were seen as utterly worthless at the time (because you can always control the first three of those things, right?). She’s amazing.
In 1879, Claire Clairmont died at 80, outliving all the rest by decades, and still believing that Byron killed Allegra.