omg what about Romantics bookshop AU (the events of Mary working in Godwin's shop on Skinner St. negotiable)
LET’S DO THIS.
Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin inherited management of the new-and-used bookshop from William Blake. No one quite knows how Blake got a hold of it, or kept it going all those years, what with his alarming decorating habits and his naked disdain for “the mere drudgery of business” and other things Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs refer to as “paperwork.” No one is quite sure what he’s up to now, either—a great opus, surely—the point is, he was more than happy to turn over the actual running of the place to people who know how to fill out a publisher co-op.
A note: by “people” we mean Mary. Percy and John Keats are charming with customers and perfectly capable of using the point-of-sale or the alphabet, but Mary is the only one with previous experience in a bookstore. Sure, it was her parents’ anarcho-feminist publishing house-cum-storefront, but restock reports are restock reports, she’ll get it figured out, okay, just do what she says.
Coleridge and Wordsworth are part time as they have, you know, actual lives to get back to, but they stay on to help keep this ship afloat.
Wordsworth is the events coordinator; he is far better at interacting with the real world than anyone else here, and will cope with as many finger-shaking publicists and entitled self-pubbers as necessary on the condition that he never, ever has to answer the question “Can I return this when it arrives from Amazon?” or go hunting for a book “by that famous guy.”
Coleridge, even less equipped to deal with the public than anyone else here, is the resident back room troll, aka the shipping and receiving department. It’s work for someone detail-oriented and meticulous, with a good memory, who is also high as balls a goodly portion of the week.
Then there’s the poetry guy, “You know, the poetry guy, is he working today?”
No, no he’s not, because George Gordon Byron does not actually workhere. Employment in the shop, Mary has gently explained to more than one romantic-minded pensioner, involves a lot of hauling heavy boxes around and absolutely no reading in an armchair.
It definitely doesn’t involve stomping around with an overpriced coffee drink lecturing would-be customers on how overrated Shakespeare is. (How overrated EVERYTHING is.) (Here, have some Milton, it will do you good.) (Ah, one of my books! Allow me to inscribe it. No, really, I insist, on the house.) (THAT IS NOT HOW CONSIGNMENT POLICIES WORK, GEORGE.)
But Byron is surprisingly good at organizing poetry readings and open mics, energetic and engaging and generally with it, maybe because he enjoys being a character in the local literary scene almost as much as he enjoys actually declaiming his work, or maybe because Polidori always manages to remember the refreshments.
So the store stays in business, bolstered by its hip reputation, its variety of events, its well-read and winsomely attractive booksellers.
Sure, some people may prefer bookstores where books are actually categorized helpfully by genre and author, rather than by loose categorizations like “sci fi Mary loves” and “sci fi Mary hides in the corner because of that godawful objectifying 80s cover art, what century is this” and “glorious nature” and “daddy issues” and “Gothic romances we just get in because Caro Lamb keeps requesting them, honest” and “It’s not just Gothic romance, okay, it’s art.”
But at stores like that you can’t provoke Coleridge into emerging from the back room to argue with Byron about Shakespeare, or keep tabs on the local poets’ sex lives, or participate in the annual Hallowe’en “write a ghost story” sleepover. So it becomes a local feature. Shop local, people.
Also local features:
The events board which keeps devolving into Keats’ “anonymous” love letters which keep devolving into “for a good time call” graffiti and scurrilous accusations re: Byron’s love life.
Speaking of love lives. Mary and Percy: are they dating? Are they doing it? Are they doing it in the stock room as we speak with only a stack of recently-flung-aside books on the French Revolution for cover? The world may never know. (Spoilers: Yes, yes they are.)
Byron and Caro Lamb: Are they dating? Are they doing it? Are they making poetry night really awkward with their thinly veiled sex poems and break up letters? (Spoilers: YES, YES THEY ARE.)
Byron and pretty much anyone else: Are they doing it? (Eh probably.)
Nobody can write a shelf-talker that will actually fit on the shelf. Six hundred words of ardent admiration? Check. Eight pages of critical analysis? Sure. Concise and marketable book rec? No one can help you.
Except sometimes Byron, but mostly he just scrawls rude words on everyone else’s recommendations.
(And the hearts and smiley faces written on shelf talkers for his friends’ books? Totally not him, why would you think that.)
(Ditto the hearts and smiley faces on his own books.)
Walter Scott, who actually works at the Waterstones down the street.
During the infamous “Byron Summer” of 1816, Mary Shelley began drafting a novel titled Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus.
While gathered around a fire in Villa Diodati, Lord Byron issued a challenge to his friends: write a ghost story. For days, Mary could come up with nothing.
“’Have you thought of a story?’I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.”
Finally, after considering how a corpse might be reanimated, inspiration struck Mary in the form of a “waking dream.” Mary could not sleep that night, and her mind wandered:
“I saw - with shut eyes, but acute mental vision - I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion… His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. […] I opened [my eyes] in terror. The idea so possessed my mind that a thrill of fear ran through me, and I wished to exchange the ghastly image of my fancy for the realities around.”
Mary finally had her story. She thought to herself, “I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others.” However, Mary had found much more than a ghost story. While critics were originally harsh in their reviews of Frankenstein, the novel would long outlive anyone present for its creation. Frankenstein is widely regarded as one of the first-if not the first-pieces of science fiction.
While scholars will debate to what length Percy Shelley helped Mary write Frankenstein, most agree he did little more than editing. The idea and writing was entirely the work of Mary Shelley.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley! (née Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851)
English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. (Wikipedia)
From our stacks:
1. “Mrs. Percy Shelley” from The Romance of Mary W. Shelley, John Howard Payne and Washington Irving. The Bibliophile Society. This Edition is Limited to 470 Copies. Printed for Members Only. Boston, 1907.
2. Title page of
The Romance of Mary W. Shelley, John Howard Payne and Washington Irving. The Bibliophile Society. This Edition is Limited to 470 Copies. Printed for Members Only. Boston, 1907.
3. Cover detail from Proserpine & Midas. Two Unpublished Mythological Dramas by Mary Shelley. Edited with an Introduction by A. Koszul. London: Humphrey Milford, 1922.
On Sunday June 26, 1814 a nervous Mary Godwin, perched on her mother’s grave, bared her heart to the eclectic poet that had entered both her life and her heart with a suddenness that frightened her. Her step-sister Claire sat on a faraway stone, unable to hear the conversation. While Shelley’s response is unknown, it was obvious he returned the sentiment. The two returned to Godwin’s home arm in arm.
Shelley had been making regular visits to the Godwin house for some time, discussing a variety of topics with Mary’s father, William Godwin. In June, he finally became fully acquainted with Mary and he was overcome with passion. Right under Godwin’s nose, one of the most brilliant, tumultuous love stories was forming.