I want you to see my little girl, who is more like a boyShe is ready to fly away with spiritsand has eloquent health in her cheeks and eyesShe does not promise to be a beauty; but appears wonderfully intelligent; and, though I am sure she has her father's quick temper and feelings, her good humour runs away with all the credit of my good nursing.(20 Sept 1794, ibid., 262)Following Wollstonecraft's death, Godwin was genuinely loving towards his adopted daughter. Between 1797 and 1800 he was assisted by Louisa Jones, a friend of Godwin's sister, who fulfilled the role of foster-mother and housekeeper at the Polygon. Writing to Godwin on 9 March 1798, Jones described how Fanny's animation exceeds any description I can attempt to offer you (quoted in Hindle, 339). Another glimpse of her character comes from Godwin's close friend, Charles Lamb, who in late 1805 described Fanny sitting for a portrait (whereabouts unknown) by the artist Elizabeth Dawe: Miss Dawe is about a portrait of sulky Fanny Imlay alias Godwin: but Miss Dawe is of the opinion that her subject is neither reserved nor sullen (letter to William Hazlitt, 11 Nov 1805, in E. W. Marrs, 2.188). Earlier that year Godwin had refused a proposal from Eliza and Everina Wollstonecraft that their niece, now aged eleven, attend the school they ran in Dublin. In response he committed himself to educate Fanny at home and on 8 February 1806 according to his diary Godwin undertook an explanation with Fanny (the underlining denoting the event's significance), in which he revealed that he was not her natural father and explained her true parentage (Mellor, 14).
It is very painful for me to have to mention papa's affairsparticularly as you appear to wish to avoid them … [Y]ou know he cannot write when pecuniary circumstance's overwhelm him, you know that it is of the utmost consequence for his own and the world's sake that he should finish his novel and is it not your and Shelley's duty to consider these things? (Clairmont Correspondence, 1.81)On 8 October 1816 Fanny Godwin boarded the coach for Bristol en route to Swansea. Her suicide note, written on 9 October at the Mackworth Arms inn, Swansea, explains clearly that she intended to take an overdose of laudanum not for her own sake, but for the good of others:
I have long determined that the best thing I could do was to put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature ever existed as(quoted in St Clair, 411)Her signature was missing, having been torn from the note possibly by staff at the inn aware of the indignities which the law commanded for suicides (ibid.). On 9 and 10 October respectively Shelley and Godwin travelled to Bristol to find Fanny, each having received letters that indicated her wish to die. On 11 October Shelley reached Swansea where he learned of Fanny's death the previous day. On the following day an article in the Swansea newspaper, The Cambrian, described the discovery of the unidentified body of a woman about 23 years of age, with long brown hair, [and] dark complexion; the article reported that the woman's stockings were marked with the letter G [Godwin] and on her stays the letters M. W. [Mary Wollstonecraft] are visible (Stocking, 1.87). On 13 October Godwin learned of Fanny's death from Shelley and wrote to him expressing his horror that the public papers should find out about the suicide. He begged the poet to avoid anything that leads to publicity. Go not to Swansea; disturb not the silent dead (13 October 1816, quoted in St Clair, 412). Shelley complied, and neither he, nor any member of Fanny's family, claimed her body. Indeed, the suicide was so successfully hushed up that Fanny's stepbrother, Charles Clairmont, had not learned of her death a year later. It is thought that she was buried at St John's Church, Swansea, which was rebuilt and renamed St Matthew's in the following decade. In February 1817 Henry Crabb Robinson, having been told of the suicide by Charles Lamb, described Fanny Godwin in his diary as very plain, but upright and generous. She adopted Godwin's opinions and justified Mary Godwin in her elopement with Shelley. She was pitied and respected (Clairmont Correspondence, 1.89). Shelley's short poem, Friend, had I Known thy Grief, his only written response to Fanny Godwin's suicide, was published posthumously by Mary Shelley in 1839.
The Clairmont correspondence: letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont, and Fanny Imlay Godwin, ed. M. K. Stocking, 2 vols. (1995) · M. Hindle, Victim of romance: the life and death of Fanny Godwin, Women's Writing, 13 (2006), 33147 · The letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. W. Marrs, 3 vols. (19758) · A. K. Mellor, Mary Shelley: her life, her fiction, her monsters (1988) · B. Pollin, Fanny Godwin's suicide re-examined, Études Anglaises: Grande-Bretagne, États-Unis, 18 (1965), 25868 · W. St Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys: the biography of a family (1989) · E. W. Sunstein, Mary Shelley: romance and reality (1989) · J. Todd, ed., The collected letters of Mary Wollstonecraft (2003) · diary of William Godwin, Bodl. Oxf.; godwindiary.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/index2.html, accessed on 16 July 2012
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Frances Godwin (17941816):