Corresponding women project

“A society of their own” 1

“The party of free women is augmenting considerably”, wrote Claire Clairmont to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley on 16 September 1834: “Why do they not form a club and make a society of their own.”2 The third volume of Betty T. Bennett’s landmark edition, The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, provides an insider’s view of just such a society.3 In presenting a large number of letters from Mary Shelley to female friends and relations, it documents the interactions of a mutually supportive literary and social community, sympathetic to the cause of political reform and international in scope.4 Several of these women, heirs to the moral and political radicalism of Mary Wollstonecraft, sought to overcome the barrier of traditional notions of femininity in an attempt to forge — not always successfully — independent lives and careers.

Four holograph letters from Laura Tighe Galloni d’Istria (1809–1880) to Mary Shelley, written between 1848 and 1850, provide new information about the workings of this society of aspiring “free women”. The letters are preserved in the Abinger papers. Although they have received brief critical notice,5 they have not been published before. They are printed here in full, for the first time, by kind permission of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Pamela Clemit
Durham University

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The Clairmont circle

Professor Clemit's edition of Laura Tighe Galloni d’Istria letters to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley depends, for its title, on a letter to Mary Shelley from her stepsister Clara (Claire) Claremont. To provide the context for the d'Istria letters, Electronic Enlightenment is providing four related letters from Clara Mary Jane Clairmont to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and one from Clara Mary Jane Clairmont to Bartolomeo Cini (with translation from Italian into English), drawn from:

Read an excerpt from this collection.


1 Thanks are due to Bruce Barker-Benfield, Nora Crook, Cristina Dazzi, Doucet Devin Fischer, Michael Rossington, and Daniel E. White for help of various kinds.

2 The Clairmont Correspondence: Letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont, and Fanny Imlay Godwin, ed. Marion Kingston Stocking, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), i. 314.

3 The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, ed. Betty T. Bennett, 3 vols. (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980–1988). See also Betty T. Bennett, “Newly Uncovered Letters and Poems by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: ‘It was my birthday and it pleased me to tell the people so —’”, Keats-Shelley Journal, 46 (1997), 51–74.

4 For other examples of intellectual labour by women, individual and shared, in the nineteenth century, see Wollstonecraft’s Daughters: Womanhood in England and France, 1780–1920, ed. Clarissa Campbell Orr (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1996); Susanne Stark, “Behind Inverted Commas”: Translation and Anglo-German Cultural Relations in the Nineteenth Century (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1999).

5 See A. A. Markley, “Editor’s Introduction: Poems, Prose, Translations and Other Writings”, Mary Shelley’s Literary Lives and Other Writings, gen. ed. Nora Crook, 4 vols. (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2002), iv, pp. lxvii–lxix.

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