Claire Clairmont was a central, if minor, figure in the Romantic Era intellectual and literary circle of the Godwins, Shelleys and Byron: stepdaughter of William Godwin, stepsister and confidante of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, close friend and inspiration to poet Percy Shelley, paramour of Lord Byron and mother of his infant daughter Allegra. Although her life has been closely studied, her true paternity seemed to be a secret that died with her mother -- until now.Where the professionals had failed, the amateur triumphs! Psychologist and disability specialist by day, VPS turns into a masked crusader of genealogy by night! Remember my working definition of the amateur: someone doing it for love, not money.
Not only has VPS discovered the hidden truth, she has also tied up the package by creating a very tidy little website explaining it all. Mary Jane's Daughter is a model of its kind, everything it needs to be and nothing extra. She modestly presents it to the world thus:
I would like to bring to the attention of Romantic scholars, historians and biographers a collection of letters held by the Somerset Record Office which establishes the identity of the father of Mary Jane ‘Claire’ Clairmont...Imagine that email landing --THWAP -- in your inbox, amidst the departmental memos and students' excuses. Really, one could not ask for a better present.
Whoever gets their PhD out of this discovery ought to offer her proper homage: a stonking fee to be keynote speaker at top conferences. An honorary degree. Naming an asteroid after her. I believe the eldest son used to be deemed a suitable sacrifice, but of course we can't have that these days; far too sexist.
For the record, I have never been in touch with VPS, nor to the best of my knowledge with anyone who knows her, but I intend to set right that omission. Three thousand cheers for her.
(Of course, the entire thing could be a fraud, and the letters made up out of whole cloth. Short of traipsing down to Somerset Record Office, how am I ever to know? If I merely phone or email, what does that prove -- they could be in on the joke too. Ha ha. Not that I am bitter about being taken in by Gay Girl in Damascus or anything.)