Gravestone of Mary Wollestonecraft
this my first post on Yours! I was encouraged by my aunt Misha Pelt to join this platform. My first post is story about my visit of London's cemetery, St Pancras Old Church, which is a original place of burial of Mary Wollestonecraft. One of the greatest female English writer, and even though she is no longer buried there, her spirit and legecy is very much present at this place.
I was trying to figure out, if I have enough time to do what I was indented to do, if my flight wasn’t delayed, and thus, I would get to St Pancras station three hours earlier. It was almost five in the afternoon and my best friend was about to get here in an hour. On one hand, that was great because I didn’t have that much time to kill and will see her soon, but on the other, it meant that I probably shouldn’t go and try find the place that I wanted to visit for months. Technically, an hour should be still enough time to go there and get back in time. According to Google maps the place was only eight minutes from here by walking, but that was preciously that catch! Give me a map and you can bet on the fact that I’ll get lost, even though it’s that close and in the area I know quite well, I was still confused, which way is the right one. However, in the end I’ve decided that I’ll try my luck and find this place after all. So, of course, I got lost like twice, before I figure out the right direction. A huge help was the building of one of my favourite institutions around here, the British Library. Frankly, it was also quite symbolic checkpoint as I was about to visit a churchyard where was a grave stone of one of the greatest figures of British literature, Mary Wollstonecraft.
The first time I came across Mary was in my first year of university, in Romanticism class. I remember how I find her interesting right away, not only because she was a mother of Mary Shelley, but for her own writing a strong personality and opinions, which were for 18th century women more than unusual. I remember how I immediately like her idea, that only when women received the same education as men, than and only then they, could be real partners and that women should have power over themselves rather than over men and be more than just generally silly creatures without any better use than pleasing the eye of society. I also enjoyed her sharp criticism of Edmund’s Burke Reflection on French Revolution, and her enthusiastic views on the equality of men (and more importantly of women). Therefore, when I discovered a lovely edition of her most famous publication A Vindication of The Rights of Women in one of Canterbury’s bookshops a year later, I did not hesitate and despite my nearly empty wallet I got it right away. However, it was not until I came across the book Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon, that I decided to go and visit her original place of burial, St Pancras Old Church in London.
It took me only another five minutes until I finally spotted the famous churchyard. I quickly hurried to the gate and found it, to my great relief, wide open. I entered without a hesitation and turned to the right. I could tell right away that this cemetery is no longer in use, all gravestones were clearly old and some of them even ruined, covered with moss. It almost reminds me the old Jewish cemetery in Prague, with its crumbling stones out of order…but then I recall, that this is the way how British cemeteries looks like and that is, precisely, why I find them so appealing. I was carefully looking at each grave trying to figure out what names are written there, but at some of these stones were letters no longer recognizable. However, I was not giving up hope, I knew that Mary’s grave stone should be in a good shape, despite to the state of the cemetery. It was after all a famous place. Thanks to Google pictures I had a good idea how the grave should look like, more like a short column rather than a board, and so far, I did not even take a glimpse of something like that, yet I didn’t want to take any chances and rather make sure that I’ll check everything. Although, I have to admit that after a good fifteen minutes of searching I started to feel a bit anxious. Yet, as I said, I wasn’t giving up hope, I was sure that I’m at a right place, so remain to stroll over the cemetery. Despite the fact, that it was no longer a place for a burial it was quite occupied, and by that, I mean occupied by living people, of course. I had the feeling, that today this place is used more like a park than anything else. I saw several people just chilling on the grass, reading or even having a picnic. Slowly, I moved to the other part of the cemetery, hoping that have a better luck here.
After many months of wanting to come and see this place I was finally here! Although I have to say, that I was quite happy that I did not find an opportunity to came anytime sooner than now. You might ask why so? Well it’s because now I had an improved plan of my visit, thanks to my aunt (and more importantly a dear friend) Misha. Coincidentally, we both were in Czech Republic at the same time (which happens like once in a year, giving the fact that she lives in Spain and me mostly in England), and therefore we had a chance to have a talk and of course I told her all about Mary and about my plan to visit her gravestone. Misha immediately took an interested in it and, as I said she helped me to improve my plan, by her genius idea! While I’m more literature person, Misha is the musical one. However, the thing what she does is far from ordinary playing songs and melodies on her guitar. She is a musical innovator and one of the things that she discovered is, that she is capable to derive a tune from the date of birth or a name of a person, and thus, she can create to anyone their original, and more importantly, personal song. Thus, here comes the idea! She has decided to create a Mary’s personal song and then send it to me, so I can play it when I get there, so the whole experience could be even more divine. I was immediately thrilled by that idea and was only hoping that I would be able to connect to internet on my phone when I get there and play the melody on Youtube, where Misha uploaded her video.
Finally! Not far from me I spotted a grave which looks a lot like the one from the picture I found on the internet! My heart excitedly skipped a beat and I took a deep breath, I was so sure that I found it! Naturally, I quickly made my way closer to the grave and already from a distance tried to read what was written there. I immediately decipher the words Mary Godwin, which was a good sing but also, it somehow didn’t look right! Both of these names were correct ones, because shortly before her death was Mary Wollstonecraft wed to William Godwin and she did took his name, yet I was so sure that she did not gave up on her maiden name and that this name was supposed be graved in the stone! Only when I got really close to the grave I realised what’s wrong with it….it wasn’t Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, but Mary-Jane Godwin, the second wife of William Godwin. It was slight disappointment, but on the other hand it meant, that I must be really close! I stepped only slightly to other direction and spotted that from the other side of the gravestone is written another name William Godwin, so I paused. He wasn’t the reason I came and I have to say that I have a several objections against his personality. Yet, he was also an important author who undoubtedly contributed into British literary and philosophical heritage, for that I stopped for a minute and paid him my respect. But then finally, I found what I was so long looking for! Only on the other side, I finally saw these words: Marry Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author of Vindication of the rights of women, born in April 27 1759, Died in September 10 1797.
For a good few seconds I was stoned. I could not believe that I actually found it!!! I took step even closer and carefully touched the stone. I noticed that on the top of the grave were placed few daises, completely dry by now, but I was quite sure that they are not that old. Suddenly, I was a bit sorry that I myself did not bring any flowers or candles for Mary, but then it hit me! I might did not brought any flower but I bring her something else, her own melody! Luckily, the internet connection did not disappoint me and I was able to listen to song which Misha created especially for this precise moment, and I have to say, it felt so right! I could feel how every tone runs through my senses and chilled me to the bone. Almost, as in a daze I have touched the gravestone and carefully traced each letter with my slightly shaking fingers, and all I could think of, was how probably the exact same thing used to do Mary’s younger daughter, Mary (Shelley), when she was as a child visiting her mother’s grave and learning how to read. I wasn’t quite sure to which of these two amazing women I’m paying the respect, probably to both! I felt such strong emotions, that I almost started to cry. I had to stepped back for a moment. I also lifted my eyes from the grave and looked around, I thought that I must appear as a fool to other people, but the truth was, that no one really paid me any attention and even so, I did not really care. I spotted a young couple not so far from me, the girl was probably learning how to ride a bicycle, while the boy was patiently explaining to her what to do. Close by were also two men, who were probably the only ones who glanced over my direction. I was wondering if they thought me crazy or they were aware of whose grave it is and understood why I’m here. I was sure that my presence there was not something extraordinary or unusual, the daisies on the grave were my proof after all. I had to go and sit down on the bench nearby to immediately write everything down, otherwise, knowing myself, I was risking that I’ll forget the details of my visit here. So, I sat, again thinking about Mary W. Shelly, who used have her first meetings with her great love, Percy Bysshe Shelley, on benches of this grave yard. I was fascinated by the fractures of time, being on the same place as this people but at the same time so far, far from them. I finally took out the headphones from my ears, but the wonder! Even then, I still could hear guitar strings…in a different melody but there was still a playing guitar somewhere. Yet, I did not see anything. Only when I stood up as I was about to leave, I spotted and old men to really playing guitar… what a coincidence! I smiled at him as a thank you, for only deepening my already sublime feeling of this place. I didn’t spend as much time here as I wanted to, I had to go and meet my best friend. Besides, I already knew that this is not my last and only visit of this place. I’ll come back and I’m sure that Mary’s presence will still be here, even after all this time.