Published Title: 

Chronicling Sorrow

Section type: 

While returning home from a visit to a village on the Gulf of Spezia, Percy Bysshe Shelley and a friend drowned when their boat sank during a storm, on July 8, 1822. For a few months after her husband’s death, Mary lived at Albaro, on the outskirts of Genoa. Her only regular companions were her toddler son, Percy Florence, and the “Journal of Sorrow,” which she began on October 2, 1822.

Mary confided her innermost thoughts to this journal, a page of which is seen in this section. She writes: “White paper — wilt thou be my confid[a]nt? I will trust thee fully, for none shall see what I write.” To be sure, Mary would not have wished to share the entries she wrote immediately after the death of her husband, in which her remorse and despair sometimes approach hysteria. But she left no instructions for the “Journal of Sorrow” to be destroyed after her own death and was perhaps reconciled to the idea that this, and her other journals, would eventually be seen by other eyes.

Although Mary’s one wish was to live quietly in Italy with her surviving son, lack of money forced her to return to England in 1823. She received a meager allowance from Shelley's father, Sir Timothy, who refused to meet her. Mary remained haunted by her eight years with Shelley: “I can never cease for a second to have him (Shelley) in my heart and brain with a clearness that mocks reality, interfering even by its force with the functions of life.”