Free Love (1-act play)

This short play recreates the events of December 30th 1816 from the perspective of Claire Clairmont.

Dramatis Personae (in order of appearance)

CLAIRE Clairmont,                           Mary Shelley’s half-sister
William GODWIN,                             author of Political Justice, etc
MRS Mary Jane GODWIN,               second wife of the author
Percy Bysshe SHELLEY,                   poet
MARY Shelley (née Godwin),            Shelley’s second wife, author of Frankenstein
Leigh HUNT,                                     poet and publisher
BESS Kent,                                      Leigh Hunt’s sister-in-law
Thomas Jefferson HOGG,                 college friend of Shelley’s

Free love has this, different from gold and clay,
That to divide is not to take away…

Shelley, Epipsychidion, 1821

The scene is the modest drawing room of William Godwin’s rented house in Skinner St, London, around lunchtime on December 30th 1816. Although the décor is showing its age, there are numerous bookcases filled with books – literature of all kinds, philosophy and science, in English and a variety of European languages, reflecting Godwin’s broad scholarly interests. Towards the back of the stage, there is a medium-sized table, covered in a white linen tablecloth. On it, there are the makings of a frugal wedding reception. At the front of the table is a multi-layered wedding cake. Dining chairs are placed round the rear of the stage.

Initially, the curtain is closed to conceal this scene.

An old woman, dressed like a widowed Queen Victoria with a walking stick, walks slowly up through the auditorium and climbs uncertainly on to the stage. It is Claire Clairmont.

CLAIRE:                Just me left now then. Why did I not drown myself all those years ago, like Shelley? Now they are all dead – Shelley, Byron, Hunt, Hogg, even Mary has been dead for twenty years. But still I must wander the earth like Frankenstein’s monster, for ever exiled.

I have never told my story. Mary wrote her novels and her prefaces and her biographical notes – she turned Shelley into a saint. I did not have her gift for language and no one would have believed me anyway. But now there is no one left to gainsay me and – who knows? – it may help me find a little peace before I die.

My name is Claire, Claire Clairmont. Yes, the ‘scarlet woman’ who bore Byron’s “love” child and lived in occasional sin with Shelley – ah, it is all so long ago! Looking back now, there was one day, one event which was at the heart of that blackness. December 30th, 1816, the day Shelley and Mary got married. And I wasn’t even there!

This was our family home in Skinner St and here are my mother and stepfather.

[Claire sits on a bench front left as the curtain opens to reveal the drawing room and the wedding cake. Mrs Godwin is hurriedly bringing in fresh dishes from the wings, while Godwin in a slightly frayed suit is helping ineffectually. Wedding bells are ringing from a nearby church.]

MRS GODWIN:       They will be here any second! You’re not helping, you know …

GODWIN:               Don’t fuss, dear. They know to wait a few minutes.

MRS GODWIN:       Look at this oxtail – how could the son of a baronet eat that? What will Shelley’s friends think of us?

GODWIN:               Shelley’s friends, if he still has any, were not in church and will not be here. There will hardly be anyone.

MRS GODWIN:       And where is poor Jane? Why is she not here?

GODWIN:               Jane? You know we must call her Claire now.

MRS GODWIN:       Jane, Claire, she is still my daughter. I could bear it if she were here.

GODWIN:               They say Claire must look after my grandson in Bristol. And that she is not very well.

MRS GODWIN:       Do you believe that? (noises off)

GODWIN:               No matter. They are here.

[Godwin goes to open the door. Shelley carries Mary on stage back left, as if over the threshold. Both are dressed for their wedding but very soberly so. Mary is in noticeably higher spirits than Shelley. He puts her down abruptly, and they greet each other without obvious signs of affection. Meanwhile, Claire offers the following commentary.]

CLAIRE:                The happy couple! The notorious poet and atheist, Shelley, and my sister, Mary. I say “sister” but she was not really that. William Godwin was my mother’s second husband – I never knew my true father. And Mary never knew her mother, the great Mary Wollstonecraft, because she died giving birth to Mary. So the widowed Godwin married again and found himself with three daughters, not one. We all grew up here in this scruffy house in Skinner St – there was no money even to pay the rent. Mary was always the pretty one. I don’t think my mother liked that …

GODWIN:               (embracing his daughter) Mary! You make your poor old father so proud! How did you get to be so beautiful?

MARY:                   Nonsense, Papa.

GODWIN:               My heart was pounding as we walked down the aisle together. I don’t think there can ever have been a more beautiful bride. You are a very lucky man, Shelley.

SHELLEY:             (shaking hands tentatively with Godwin) I know.

GODWIN:               And welcome to our humble abode!

SHELLEY:             It has been a long time.

GODWIN:               Indeed it has, but let us not talk of that today.

[They freeze as Claire rises sharply and waves her stick at them.]

CLAIRE:                I think perhaps we should. None of us has set foot in our home for two years! Why? Because my stepfather made it plain we were not welcome – and especially not Shelley, the evil seducer of his 16-year-old daughter, father of her bastard children, malign corrupter of every girl he met. One small problem – Shelley’s money might save Godwin from bankruptcy. And Shelley is finally doing the decent thing – no wonder my stepfather is so happy!

And I was happy too, for one brief instant, the instant Shelley first invited himself here on the pretext of introducing himself to the great William Godwin. Look at the man! (she strolls round Shelley, pointing at him with her stick) Look at his eyes, his cheekbones, his lustrous hair, his bearing, his graceful manner. We three girls all fell in love with him in that single second, here in this room. But Mary was the prettiest and the cleverest … what chance did her sisters stand?

And now they all pretend that nothing has happened.

[They unfreeze.]

MRS GODWIN:       But there are some people at the door. (She bustles over to open it) Ah, Mr Hunt and Bess and … I do not believe I know you, sir?

[Leigh Hunt enters, with his sister-in-law Bess Kent on his arm, while Jefferson Hogg follows diffidently behind.]

HOGG:                  My name is Hogg, madam. Jefferson Hogg.

SHELLEY:             (animated at last) Jefferson! Thank you for coming back! Hogg, this is my new father-in-law, Godwin, and Mrs Godwin, of course.

HOGG:                  (bowing) It is very kind of you to welcome us into your house.

SHELLEY:             And you too, Hunt. My oldest best friend and my newest best friend. How I would have gone mad without you both, especially these last three weeks.

HUNT:                   I only wish we could have done more.

SHELLEY:             (to Godwin) Hunt is going to publish my ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’!

HUNT:                   No need – you have married her instead! (Shelley alone laughs, long and hard)

SHELLEY:             And he and Hogg are helping with the court case.

GODWIN:               Ah, the court case. Drinks, everyone, we will start with a drink. (gesturing to his wife) Dearest …

[Mrs Godwin scuttles round, serving small glasses of madeira to each person, while Claire takes her chance.]

CLAIRE:                The court case. And so we approach the heart of the matter. Shelley wants custody of the two children of his first marriage. To win the case, he must show that he is respectably married and can offer a stable, family home. In the next few days the case will be heard by Lord Eldon in Chancery. This whole charade serves that end…

GODWIN:               So let us drink a toast to the bride and groom (glasses are raised) …

[There is some half-hearted clinking of glasses and confused echoes.]

GODWIN:               I am sure that some more guests will be with us in a minute and we will be able to enjoy this extraordinary cake. Is your friend Peacock coming, Shelley? Or Haydon?

SHELLEY:             Who? … I’m not sure …

GODWIN:               I saw that none of your family was in church.

SHELLEY:             It was all such short notice … Horsham is a long way …

MRS GODWIN:       (laughing awkwardly) Do they even know about it, Mr Shelley?

SHELLEY:             I … yes, yes of course … but (gesturing round the room) it would have been difficult …

MRS GODWIN:       Because our house is too small?

GODWIN:               Now, now, Mary Jane! Let us all be happy. For today, at least.

MRS GODWIN:       But where is my daughter? I have not seen her for so long. What have you done with her, Mr Shelley?

SHELLEY:             I have done nothing with her!  (all freeze)

CLAIRE:                Not strictly true, of course. Shelley has spent a lot of time with me over the last two years and more, walking out, talking, “consoling” me on my misfortunes, sometimes a little more … why, this very date is ringed in my diary because on 30th December 1814, Bysshe and I walked out to Kensington Park and … (Claire sighs at the memory) – when we got back we told Mary and that fool Hogg who was sniffing round, as ever, that the gates of the park had been locked and we had been stuck inside! How I loved him then. It all seems so long ago and that is not why I am stuck in Bristol!

The truth is … I am pregnant, eight and a half months pregnant with Byron’s child. In a few days I will give birth to the most beautiful girl, Alba – or Allegra, as Byron will make me call her – but even my mother does not know. Thus I will bring further disgrace on my “poor” parents.

I’m sure you know the story. Byron … “Lord” Byron as the world knows him … seduced me heartlessly and when I was pregnant, dropped me like a hot pototo to run back to his half-sister and countless other whores.

SHELLEY:             (unfreezing and approaching her) Ah, but that is not quite true is it, Claire?

CLAIRE:                It is absolutely true.

SHELLEY:             Did he seduce you? Or did you send him a letter, out of the blue without ever having met, giving yourself to him? Then did you not make all the arrangements, where to meet, how to keep it secret…

CLAIRE:                It was just a letter! I did not know he would use me and then wander off to Geneva without so much as a by your leave …

SHELLEY:             Geneva! And who should he find when he got there but … Claire Clairmont?

CLAIRE:                Not just me! You and Mary too, it was your idea! And then he seduced me all over again.

SHELLEY:             (shaking his head sadly) Claire, Claire! Even at seventeen, you knew how it would turn out.

CLAIRE:                I did not know he would abandon me.

SHELLEY:             You were too forward … he would not marry such a girl.

CLAIRE:                I thought he would want to be with me and his child.

SHELLEY:             No, the truth is, you saw what Mary had, with me, and you wanted the same thing, only better. A lord, not a mere baronet. The famous author of Childe Harold, not a dreamy failure like me.

CLAIRE:                This is all nonsense! He took advantage of my innocence and used me cruelly. Just as you did!

SHELLEY:             What?! I cannot talk to you when you are in this mood. I must return to my wedding day and my lovely bride.

[He rejoins the party which unfreezes.]

MRS GODWIN:       Is Claire not well? I have a mother’s instinct that something is wrong.

MARY:                   She is perfectly healthy, mama. But someone has to look after little William for us.

GODWIN:               I shall spend some time with my grandson from now on. I will teach him Latin.

MARY:                   He is a little young for that! Perhaps soon he will have a little brother or sister to play with …

CLAIRE:                (aside) A mother’s instinct? Mary will have a baby girl, Clara, almost nine months from now.

MARY:                   … William is a sturdy chap but he does pester me when I am trying to check the proofs of this cursed Frankenstein thing.

SHELLEY:             I’m sure he will have lots of playmates. And the book is nearly done. You will be famous, Mrs Shelley, and we will be rich.

MARY:                   Mrs Shelley … Mary Shelley – how can I get used to that? (they laugh) When we are rich, will we have a little house of our own, just you, me and William?

SHELLEY:             And what of your poor sister, Claire?

MRS GODWIN:       She will always be welcome here. Especially now that Fanny is … Fanny is gone …  (freeze)

CLAIRE:                Gone? Enough of weasel words – she is dead. Dead! Did you never hear of Fanny? Fanny Imlay, orphaned daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and a failed actor, and brought up by Godwin, alone at first, and then as a big “sister” to me and Mary. Fanny was quiet and, let’s be honest, very plain. She fell in love with Shelley like the rest of us, but no one noticed. While we gallivanted off to Geneva and set up our little “communities”, Fanny was stuck here in Skinner St with her dowdy parents.

Fanny wrote to Mary and to me and even to Shelley and begged to be allowed to visit, perhaps even to stay with us. Sometimes I confess we laughed at her behind her back. Then, just two months ago, she sent a desperate letter to us in Bristol, threatening to end it all. Shelley saw her, I think, and turned her down flat, then she journeyed on into Wales to a quiet boarding house. By the time Shelley followed her and found her, she was dead in her little room. Laudanum. Did we grieve for her? No, we were all too busy keeping her identity out of the papers, avoiding scandal. No one knew her, no one missed her.

And now, fifty years on, how do I view Fanny? As the wise virgin who foresaw the truth – that there was nothing in this vale of tears for her. I wish I’d had the courage to do likewise.

Do you think it’s callous to arrange a wedding so soon after such a family catastrophe? (laughs) Oh but there is more, so much more …

[The party splits into groups of two or three with their drinks. Mary and Hogg emerge at the front.]

MARY:                   Thank you for coming, Prince Prudent. I know it can’t have been easy.

HOGG:                  It hasn’t been easy for any of us.

MARY:                   I think things may be a little bit different from now on. But I just wanted you to know that I remember your kindness to me and our times together with fondness.

HOGG:                  (stiffly) Just as I do. But I don’t think I will be calling you “my dormouse” in days to come. Nor will I be your “sweet Alexy”.

MARY:                   (putting her hand on his arm) You will always be my sweet Alexy. Just not in that way … (they freeze)

CLAIRE:                And what way was that we wonder? I think it is time for a little heart to heart with Mr Jefferson Hogg.

[She summons him over; he comes forward reluctantly.]

CLAIRE:                So, Mr Hogg … we shared a house together, yet I know so little about you. Tell me your story.

HOGG:                  I met Shelley when we were both undergraduates at University College, Oxford, and our lives have been intertwined ever since, perhaps always will be. I helped him write the pamphlet advocating the necessity of atheism, for which we both got sent down. Then, when he eloped with Harriet Westbrook on her sixteenth birthday, Shelley invited me to share their honeymoon in Edinburgh.

CLAIRE:                A strange thing to do …

HOGG:                  Well, we both know that Shelley is utterly hostile to the institution of marriage, but it wasn’t that. It’s more that he was scared of being alone for any period of time with just one person. Even then he talked of a community of like-minded individuals, sharing everything.

CLAIRE:                Everything?

HOGG:                  Yes, everything. He called it a Godwinian arrangement. Hence the little “misunderstanding” which I’m sure you heard about.

CLAIRE:                Perhaps. I heard that Shelley was called away to London and you propositioned the poor girl.

HOGG:                  I shudder to think of it now. She was rightly horrified. I thought Shelley had set the whole thing up that way. Indeed, I’m sure he did, but he just hadn’t got round to clearing it with Harriet.

CLAIRE:                He wanted you to make love to his bride?

HOGG:                  I thought so. I was young and innocent too. And Harriet was heartbreakingly beautiful. I was infatuated. Perhaps she married the wrong man.

CLAIRE:                There is no doubt of that. Poor Harriet! Whisked off her feet at fifteen, then she defended her “honour” until she was safely married. But for her there was no safety in marriage, was there?

HOGG:                  Not when he met you and Mary, no. I tried to help her, once she’d forgiven me, but …

CLAIRE:                But it didn’t stop you coming to live with us in Arabella Rd, did it?

HOGG:                  I … I … Shelley can be very persuasive, can’t he?

CLAIRE:                What a cosy foursome that was! Mary was pregnant and for a while Shelley seemed to find me rather better company.

HOGG:                  It was the same thing, wasn’t it? Shelley was not equipped for monogamy and when he was out with you, he felt it was only fair …

CLAIRE:                That Mary should find some consolation with you?

HOGG:                  Nothing ever happened, you know. And then she lost the baby a few days after it was born and it was never quite the same after that.

CLAIRE:                Oh, bad luck!  So you missed your chance with the first Mrs Shelley and then also with the second Mrs Shelley, as she is now. Are you attracted to anyone apart from Shelley’s conquests?

HOGG:                  With Mary I was just playing the part I thought Shelley wanted me to play. I think Mary would say the same thing. Our hearts weren’t really in it. With Harriet …

CLAIRE:                You really loved her? Was she carrying your baby when she …?

HOGG:                  Now is not the time to talk about it. It’s just three weeks. Three weeks! I should never have come today. The whole thing is barbaric.

[Hogg rejoins the others, leaving Claire to speak to the audience alone.]

CLAIRE:                And indeed Mary was not the last Shelley-substitute in Hogg’s life. After Shelley and Edward Williams were drowned in the Gulf of Spezia in 1822, Hogg was just the man to console Jane Williams, Shelley’s final paramour. The young widow came back to England and Hogg wooed her diligently until they married and – who knows? – lived happily ever after. Hogg could never have his first love – Percy Bysshe Shelley – but at the third time of asking he got the next best thing.

I have come back to haunt this feast like Banquo’s Ghost but really it should be Fanny or Harriet playing this role. How can these people sip their madeira and make polite conversation when it is just three weeks since Harriet has been fished out of the Serpentine? Shelley’s lawful wedded wife had been missing for more than a month and none of us even knew.

Shelley learnt of his wife’s death in a letter from his publisher, Thomas Hookham. His publisher! Harriet, pregnant, almost destitute and friendless, left her two children by Shelley and walked to Hyde Park and into the cold, welcoming water of the Serpentine. This was the letter she left for Shelley and her sister, Elizabeth.

[Claire takes out a letter from inside her dress, waves it to the audience and starts to read.]

CLAIRE:                ‘When you read this letter, I shall be no more an inhabitant of this miserable world. Do not regret the loss of one who could never be anything but a source of vexation and misery to you all … (scanning down the page) … I have rushed on my own destruction. (more scanning) My dear Bysshe, let me conjure you by the remembrance of our days of happiness to grant my last wish – do not take your innocent child from Eliza who has been more than I have, who has watched over her with such unceasing care. – Do not refuse my last request – I never could refuse you and if you had never left me I might have lived but as it is, I freely forgive you and may you enjoy that happiness which you have deprived me of. Now comes the sad task of saying farewell – oh I must be quick. God bless & watch over you all. You, dear Bysshe and you, dear Eliza. God bless you all is the last prayer of the unfortunate    Harriet S––’

And yet here we are, a few days later, going through this charade of a marriage so that Chancery will grant you (gesturing to Shelley) custody of Ianthe and baby Charles. Could you not even respect her final wishes?

SHELLEY:             (coming forward to defend himself) It is my right as their father and my responsibility!

CLAIRE:                It is your right? Then the law is an ass. Byron will use the same words in taking my lovely Alba from me and what will he do with her?

SHELLEY:             I have no idea.

CLAIRE:                He will ignore her and place her in a rat-infested convent – no, prison – in some disease-ridden Italian marshland, and … and …

SHELLEY:             And what?

CLAIRE:                (collapsing in tears) He will murder her. There, I have said it. He will murder my lovely girl. And he had the wealth to look after her properly; you do not even have that. What sort of life will you be offering Ianthe and Charles if you win your case?

SHELLEY:             The same as for baby William.

CLAIRE:                Hah! That boy will be dragged across Europe, forced to endure conditions that no child should ever face.

SHELLEY:             Why? We hope to live quietly in Marlow.

CLAIRE:                (she beats ineffectually on his chest) Because … because … oh, I cannot bear it! But you will not win – this charade will be in vain. Lord Eldon will grant custody of Ianthe and Charles to Elizabeth and Harriet’s parents. The children will be spared their father and you will never see them again. Not once. Your lovely Ianthe will grow up happy and healthy and your only grandchildren will be hers.

SHELLEY:             Why are you telling me all this? I who have done so much for you? Mary and I will welcome you and your baby to our new home. To you, Mary has been like ….

CLAIRE:                Like a sister?

SHELLEY:             Like a rock. And from now on I will be like a rock to her. This whole business with Harriet has taught me many things. I will not make the same mistakes again. I shall start right now (he goes back to put an arm round his wife).

CLAIRE:                (shouting after him) You can never change! Perhaps none of us can.

[She returns to her seat and puts her head in her hands, sobbing silently.]

GODWIN:               We cannot wait for ever. It seems that no one else is coming back from St Mildred’s. So I’d like to say a few words and then perhaps the lovely bride will cut the cake and we will share that, er, sacrament.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for sharing our happiness with us today. We all hope to show our support and love as Bysshe and Mary start out on their married life together. It will be a long and sometimes difficult journey, I’m sure, but with so much literary talent as well as love to sustain them, and with the support of their friends and family, I am sure they will do the old institution of marriage proud. If they are half as happy in marriage as Mary Jane and I have been, then they will be lucky indeed.

I could not let this moment pass without some words about our dear, departed daughter, Fanny, for whom we all still grieve. I am sure she will be always in our hearts. And it is a shame that little William could not be here on his parents’ big day. And our other daughter, Jane, I mean Claire, of course. So let us drink a toast to absent friends.

ALL:                      (raising empty glasses) Absent friends!

GODWIN:               And now, Mary, will you do the honours?
[Mary takes a large knife and begins to hack at the cake, shovelling slices on to plates. The hubbub rises as these are shared round. Hunt and Hogg take their cake to a spot where they will not be overheard.]

HUNT:                   A very pretty speech for one who holds such views as his!

HOGG:                  Delicately done, I’m sure. I don’t think there will be any mention of “free love” today.

HUNT:                   Godwin was a young man when he wrote Political Justice – we can hardly blame Godwin for all this.

HOGG:                  But don’t you see that that was why Shelley hunted out Godwin in the first place – it validated his own instinct for polygamy. And it was a real bonus that Mary and Claire had grown up in an environment where such ideas had been put into practice. He sensed that these two 16-year-olds would be more compliant than Harriet had ever been, and so it has proved.

HUNT:                   It is a bitter pill for the old man to take, having to try to protect his daughter from exactly the sort of relationship that he had himself advocated.

HOGG:                  Wait till he hears what has happened to Claire!

HUNT:                   Some time later today, I should imagine. I don’t think we should be here to see it.

HOGG:                  But can’t we have our cake and eat it first? (they laugh)

SHELLEY:             (tinkling his glass; the others fall silent) I would just like to reply on behalf of myself and Mrs Shelley. You will all know that Mary and I have been living together as man and wife for some time so this is just the icing on the cake, as it were. And delicious icing it is too! Marriage will not change our love for one another or our feelings towards our friends and family. It will be the best of all Godwinian arrangements. We want to thank all those who have stood by us these last two years when we lost our baby and … and all the other events that have befallen us.

[They all freeze. The lighting gradually fades until Claire stands alone in one spotlight. A second spotlight picks out each of the characters in turn.]

CLAIRE:                Enough, enough! Such hypocrisy! You are all ghosts and you cannot hurt me now! How will all your hopes turn out? I will tell you.

Leigh Hunt, you face a long slow decline into poverty and isolation. Your journals will fail and the men who might have helped you, like Byron and Shelley, will all be dead. Your domestic affairs are already a scandal in polite society and one day Dickens will make fun of you as Skimpole in Bleak House. Your sister-in-law, Bess, will find solace in writing a best-selling book about pot plants but that will not keep you in your old age.

Thomas Jefferson Hogg, your legal career will be blighted by the deeds of your youth but you will live happily enough with Jane Williams, surviving blackmail attempts and a life of obscurity. There will be no more Memoirs of Prince Alexy Haimatoff and your half-written biography of Shelley will be littered with lies and prevarications. You will die, appropriately enough, of gout.

Mr and Mrs Godwin, you too face penury and the scorn of polite society. Shelley will never give you the money that you crave, partly because he never has any to give. You will be the last to hear about my scandalous affair with Byron and the child that will be born a few days from now. You will never forgive me, nor will I ever be welcome in Skinner St again.

Shelley, your fate is well-known. Soon you will come with me to Italy to help me deliver Alba to Byron. You, Mary and I will not return – at least, until you, like Harriet, are drowned. Your little racing boat, the Don Juan, will go down not far from our little beach-house on the Bay of Lerici. You will be buried close to John Keats in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

And you, sister Mary? Your heart will be broken long before Shelley’s death, not just by the pain of exile and your husband’s infidelities but by the loss of your children. William will die quickly in the heat of an Italian summer, from malaria. The baby you are now carrying, Clara, will contract dysentery and waste away. Only your fourth child, Percy, will survive. Somehow you will keep going after Shelley’s death. Frankenstein will bring you fame and fortune. You will dedicate yourself to your husband’s literary legacy and the rehabilitation of his reputation. You will never marry again and you will die long before me.

So now I’m the only one left. I never married, never had another child. Byron and Shelley were my only lovers and I could never trust another man after that. I had no money and would have to work as a governess to make ends meet. But who would let someone like me with my reputation and supposed radical views close to their children? I had to go far, far from England, to the ends of the earth where my name was not known. I went to Prince Alexy’s fabled home, St Petersburg, and nearly died of cold. I worked in Moscow, Vienna, Paris, gradually closer to the home I could never return to. I did not walk into the Serpentine, my pockets weighted down with stones.

What did I learn in those far off times? Under the influence of the doctrine of free love, I saw the two finest poets of England become monsters of lying, meanness, cruelty and treachery. Under the influence of free love, Lord Byron became a human tiger slaking his thirst for inflicting pain upon defenceless women.

I was a moth singed by that flame. I gave Shelley the best eight years of my life, sharing him with Mary and a host of others. I almost bore his child too, but it wasn’t to be. On the very day that I lost the baby, Shelley’s Swiss maid, Elise, actually did bear his child. How could anyone forgive him that? But I did. He held us all under his spell.

I was Shelley’s creature and, with my creator dead, I had no choice but to wander the earth alone, even to the frozen north, cursed and shunned by almost everyone who knew who I was.

Free love is a destroying scourge which immolates its victims and causes bitter tears to flow, mine most of all. Shelley and Mary’s wedding day was a brief moment of hypocrisy and self-serving cant but at least marriage brought Mary a little peace and happiness before the storm clouds gathered once again.

I have trespassed on your patience too long already. Farewell!

[The spotlight dies. Curtain.]



A longer version of this play, written for radio, may be heard at (copyright © the author)