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Every so often when you are researching, you stumble across what, at the time, seems like a rock; but when you look back turns out to be the proverbial golden nugget.

In this instance, for my research assignment, I stumbled over Fanny Imlay (later Fanny Godwin). Considering the family this young lady had, it is surprising that so little is known about her. Indeed, my lecturer had not heard of her either. What a fortuitous little stumble I had made. So much so that I was disappointed to not have enough time to change my project.

Let me now tell you who Fanny Imlay was.

Born in 1794, in France (during the Revolution) to Mary Wollstonecraft (a revolutionary proto-feminist author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman) and Gilbert Imlay (an american), as the result of their tumultuous love affair – which ended shortly after Fanny’s birth. Three years after Fanny’s birth Mary married fellow revolutionary author William Godwin, who later adopted Fanny, and shortly after their daughter Mary was born; and Wollstonecraft died due to complications from child birth. Fanny and Mary were then raised by William Godwin who remarried. The girls’ step-mother had two children of her own, Claire Clairmont being the one of importance to our tale (though there was the a brother to Claire and a half sibling whose father was Godwin). Near the end of Mary’s teen years the girls met Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, at some point Shelley, Byron, Claire and Mary ran off to Switzerland and stayed in a Chateau, where Mary began writing Frankenstein. During this time Shelly and Mary began an affair that would later lead to their marriage. On their return home, they found that Shelley’s wife had committed suicide, as had Fanny.

“On Fanny Godwin”

Her voice did quiver as we parted,
Yet knew I not that heart was broken
From which it came, and I departed
Heeding not the words then spoken.
Misery—O Misery,
This world is all too wide for thee.

Fanny committed suicide because the man she was in love with loved, instead, her younger sister.
A sad, sorry tale; and considering her famous relatives (even today) it is a wonder that Fanny is little known.
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