Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dreaming Up A New Novel For Someone Else To Write

I'm slightly hopeless when it comes to technology, so CanadaBoy set my cell phone alarm for me a couple of semesters ago. It goes off at six a.m. I don't have any classes until 9 a.m. right now, so I've been turning off the alarm ("Eine Kleine Nachtmusik") and going back to sleep until about 7:15. Lately, during those 75 minutes, my dream factory has been working overtime. First Lorrie Moore and now Percy Bysshe Shelley.

...It must have been the early 80's, because I was an English major undergrad once again. I was at one of the many parties we had, and someone asked what I thought of Shelley. That this person (male or female, I don't know) liked him was obvious, because they started quoting his poetry, and just wouldn't stop. I tried to change the subject. No luck. I got To A Skylark. I got Ozymandias. Finally, I said, "Well, you know, Shelley WAS kind of an asshole..." It worked. While my fellow party goer looked on, horrified but silent, I started reciting the facts that I could remember from Shelley's biography. He'd just run off with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin when I woke up...
I woke up wondering if anyone has ever done a biographical novel about Shelley. Then I wondered if anyone has ever done a biographical novel about Shelley's first wife, Harriet Westbrook. Shelley eloped with her when she was about sixteen. Five years later, she was dead, a suicide. She took a permanent bath in the Serpentine River, in Hyde Park in London. By this time, Harriet and Shelley had had a couple of children but he was openly living with Mary Godwin and his children with her. After Harriet's death, Mary became Shelley's second wife until he took a permanent bath (assumed accidental) a few years later at the age of 29, but not before Mary thoroughly kicked his literary ass all over the place in a famous incident involving a certain ghost story-writing contest.

Shelley was not an exact contemporary of Jane Austen's, but he was doing all of his running around at roughly the time she was writing her novels. Harriet and her family were almost certainly a lot closer to Austen-think than Shelley-think. What would it have been like to have someone like Shelley unleashed in your family in that time and place? I'll bet that their heads were literally spinning on their collective necks. His behavior makes Wickham look like a Sunday school parson.

Did Shelley push Harriet over the edge? Was it icily disappointed parents? A disapproving society? Did she quietly throw herself into the Serpentine, or did she make scenes like Alanis Morrissette in "You Oughta Know"?

Some biographers and lit crits suggest that Harriet was as dumb as a box of rocks and of course poor brilliant Shelley just had to go and find someone who could be his intellectual equal, or at least close to his poetry-god powers. I'm thinking of a word that starts with a B, and it's not Bysshe.

It goes without saying that this novel (do you think Serpentine is a good title?) would be a bleak but enjoyable read, if anyone is up to the task. I don't expect it, but a brief mention in the acknowledgments section would be lovely, or you could just dedicate the damn book to me...hmmmmm...something artsy-fartsy like my name and underneath it, "Blue Hearted Bookworm" written in Latin.

I'm so far behind on my reading that it's absurd, and now I'm dreaming up novels for people to write so I can add to my TBR! Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly.


Kathy said...

Too bad I can't write -- I'd love to read this novel, though. Shelley was kind of a jerk. And I don't buy that about his first wife being dumb -- never have. I do like Shelley's poetry though -- even if I do think he's a jerk.

Halie said...

I like Shelley's poetry, but in regards to his personal life, he makes me laugh. He and Byron would've been the perfect couple... or maybe they were, haha.

Unknown said...

I needed a good chuckle! You are right about forcing him on your family during that day in age! Wow! I wish I had the motivation to write it for you.

Bookfool said...

Wow, it's a great idea. I know next to nothing about Shelley, but you've got me intrigued.

Care said...

You are hilarious.

Was it you that was trying to come up with a word - THE word - that describes when you stumble upon the title of book within the pages of the narrative? Please tell me it was you.