Washington Irving: Mary Shelley’s Last Man?

last man

BY TRACY HOFFMAN

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Last Washington Irving Wednesday, instead of blogging, I drove from Fort Worth to Waco and back, about 200 miles, to gather my things quickly from the office.

In addition to pandemic, we were also dealing with an impending spring storm last Wednesday in Texas, so I was trying to get back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area before strong winds, hail, and more were scheduled to hit.

I could only grab the essentials at my Baylor office to tote back to Fort Worth, where I have been “sheltering.” I cleared out hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, bottled water, and coffee stashes. I packed up student papers, notes for two research projects, and books—as many books as I could fit into my suitcases.

Ironically, the first book I thought of was not a textbook, nor was it a Washington Irving read. I did grab those, but I knew I’d remember to take them. Instead, I kept telling myself, “Do not forget Mary Shelley’s Last Man.”

I’m guessing few Washington Irving scholars have read the novel, although I would imagine most, if not all, Mary Shelley scholars know it.

I’ve given talks about this book and its connections to Washington Irving, though I haven’t published an article on it. Maybe I will, now.

The Last Man was the first book that came to mind when I started thinking about literature and pandemic. The story is about the last man to survive on earth, after a plague takes out everyone else.

In discussing Washington Irving’s relationship with Mary Shelley, I’ve argued that she influenced his Tales of a Traveller, and he influenced her Last Man. I’ve also presented the idea that Irving could have easily been the last man Shelley pursued before settling into a single life. Both Irving and Shelley remained single until their deaths, Shelley passing before Irving.

I’m not sure how important it might be to find traces of Irving in Shelley’s book, but for Irving studies, it’s important to know she influenced him–because Tales of a Traveller was a failure!

It was dark, depressing, offensive, the third in his trilogy of sketch books. This one book changed the trajectory of his writing, and if Shelley influenced his writing for ill, then perhaps he blamed her for his floundering career. That could be one reason he rejected her advances.

I’ve scoured The Last Man, looking for traces of Washington Irving, and I plan to pick up the task again, in light of all that’s happening.

– – – – –

Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

Published in: on March 25, 2020 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

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