Fanny’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. Unfortunately no images of Fanny survive.
‘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…’
|Portrait of William Godwin’ by James Northcote, 1802|
The guilty party, who had unintentionally caused Fanny so much heartache and toil, returned to England after a few months in Europe, during which time Mary had begun to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein. But little did they realise in their creative bubble quite what a despairing situation Fanny was truly in. Unable to cope any longer, and with no way of escaping from the bitter influences around her, Fanny set out for Swansea, alone. When she arrived, she settled in the Mackworth Arms, having already sent out two letters to her stepfather and to Mary from Bristol. By the time the two received their letters, Fanny was dead.
Both William and Percy set out immediately for Bristol, shocked by the words Fanny had written. By the time they made it to Swansea, Fanny had been dead for days, having taken an overdose of laudanum. Behind her, she left the note that began this post.
Eager to minimise the resulting scandal, William ordered Percy to cover up the suicide as much as possible, which may be the reason part of the note is now missing. The rest of her story is uncertain, and even her reason for taking her life is much disputed. However, from the note she left behind, I think we can conclude that she had reached such a state of desperation that she felt she could no longer go on, and that it would be a relief to those whom she believed she had failed to please. So eager to help others, she had given little care to her own well-being. But we can’t suppose that she never had a happy time in her life. She had a great many friends who enjoyed her company, and she experienced much happiness in life away from the troubles she toiled with.
There is no record of Fanny’s burial or where her grave lies. Her anonymity remains to this day, the twenty two year old’s suicide more often than not only given a brief mention in books written about her famous family. But she had dedicated her life to helping them, and without her, no matter how little they recognised it, their life’s would have been far more difficult. Following her untimely death, Percy wrote a short verse about Fanny, maybe finally realising how good she had really been: