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Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin

Mary Jane Clairmont Godwin, 1766-1841, mother of Charles and Claire Clairmont and the second wife of William Godwin. Little is known about her early life before she and Godwin were married in December 1801. It is assumed from the fact that they were married twice on the same day that she was never legally married to Charles Gaulis Clairmont but had taken his name for the sake of her children. His father had been a magistrate in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her maiden name, Vial, was likewise tracable back to Geneva, and she had been brought up on the continent speaking French. The numerous connections that can thus be made to the environment and circumstances of Frankenstein are offset by the cordial dislike in which Mary Shelley held her step-mother. If there are coded references in the novel that either Godwin or his wife would have discerned, they have never been deciphered by later commentators.

Mary Jane Godwin's reputation has suffered at the hands of Mary's antipathy and slighting remarks made by those of Godwin's friends who venerated his first wife Mary Wollstonecraft. She should, however, be recognized as occupying a singular professional position, for, in the guise of M.J.Godwin & Co., operator of the Juvenile Library, she was the only female publisher of substance in the London literary world of the early 1800s. She was likewise a translator from the French and, in her business acumen, something of a bulwark against the financial improvidence of her husband. After thirty-five years of marriage, she survived Godwin by five years.