November 7, 2012
The Fleeting Life of Fanny Imlay (GRADED)
Born in France a midst the French Revolution, Frances “Fanny” Imlay was caught in a whirlwind life. Born as the illegitimate child of early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay, Fanny had no easy start in life. From her difficult childhood to the hard time she had with her family to her eventual suicide, Fanny was the constant in the lives of her loved ones. Her life was taken for granted and even though she had made no noteworthy achievements in the way her mother and half-sister had I find Fanny interesting because she was rarely spoken of after her death.
Fanny was born on May 14, 1794 in Le Havre, France. Fanny’s father stayed with her and her mother only for a few months before leaving them for “business”. Three months after Fanny is born, she contracts smallpox and retains the scars from the disease until her death. Fanny’s mother nursed her back to health in unconventional ways for the time; instead of purging, she cleaned the pustules twice a day until Fanny is cured. Fanny’s mother, the early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, took care of the infant alone until finally confronting Imlay in England. When Imlay refused to take Wollstonecraft back, she attempted suicide for the first time; however, Imlay heard of her intentions and arrived in time to save her. During this attempt upon her own life, Mary left the infant Fanny with her nursemaid who continued to care for the child while the mother was recovering. A few months later Mary travelled with Fanny and her nursemaid to Scandinavia where she tried to help Fanny’s father with a part of his business in hopes of winning him back. When this plan of action failed, Mary attempted suicide again and, once again, was saved. Finally understanding that Imlay would not take her back and that she had to live on for her child, Fanny’s mother began writing again. Soon she would meet William Godwin and begin a romance with him. Once Fanny’s mother realized she was once again pregnant, she married William Godwin and they stayed together until her death. Sadly, Mary’s death was not far off. After the easy birth of her first child, Fanny, Mary assumed she would need no more than a midwife to help her deliver this second child. This new baby, named Mary Godwin, would survive her birth, however, her mother would live only ten more days before the infection introduced to her body during the delivery would claim her life. This leaves three-year-old Fanny in the hands of her stepfather William Godwin, who must now also care for a newborn. Fanny’s maternal aunts offer to care for the Fanny since her biological father wants nothing to do with her but Godwin refuses their help. Four years later, Godwin remarries to a woman named Mary Jane Vial Clairmont. Clairmont brings two children of her own into the marriage, Charles and Claire. Around a year later, a baby boy named William Jr. is born to the Godwin family. This now makes five children that Godwin is responsible for and no steady source of income. It also appears that Mary Jane Clairmont favored her own children to Fanny and Mary. Mary Jane’s daughter Claire was educated in more French than the other girls were and after the new Mrs. Godwin becomes a part of the family Fanny gets no more formal education. The family was in debt and tension rose amongst the children and their new stepmother.
As the children entered their teen years, things seemed to continue to get worse in the Godwin home. When Percy Bysshe Shelley offered to take Fanny into his home as a guest with his new wife and her sister Godwin refused because he had heard of P.B. Shelley’s past, P.B. Shelley having eloped with his first wife Harriet Westbrook. Eventually P.B. Shelley came to visit William Godwin and he met Fanny, Mary, and Claire. The three girls all enjoyed his company immensely and P.B.