I hope that I am not a snob when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge. In fact, I am a firm believer in taking knowledge wherever it manifests itself, and in whatever form it appears. I am convinced that I can learn as much from the cab driver as I can from the professor; as much from the street as from the university. Nevertheless, it was a surprise to me to be taught a lesson in literature by J. D. Wetherspoon.
It happened like this. Strolling through Bournemouth, I was suddenly struck by the artistry of a particularly distinctive pub sign. It was a representation of Frankenstein’s monster––classic Hollywood iconography, big, slab forehead and bolts through the neck, but well done. It halted me in my tracks. I looked at the pub name: The Mary Shelley.
Now, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is one of my favourite books, but I could not understand the Bournemouth connection. Why this pub, with this name, in this spot? Directly opposite the pub is an old church and churchyard. St Peter’s Church. It was there lay the answers to my question.
Forgoing the promise of a pint in The Mary Shelley, I crossed to the churchyard, strangely nervous, stalking along like Dr Victor Frankenstein in the Ingolstadt night, unsure of what I might discover amongst the rows of gravestones. A conveniently placed information-board provides a verification that my investigation is not in vain; draws me forwards; points me in the right direction.
Here lies Mary Shelley. Buried in a Bournemouth churchyard. And, buried with her, her famous parents William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, her not so famous son Percy Florence Shelley and, perhaps most bizarrely, the half-cremated, half-pressed heart of her very famous husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. Uncelebrated, unvisited, unprepossessing: quietly resting in a Bournemouth churchyard. If he had been alive, Thomas Gray might have written an elegy about it.
Thank you, Wetherspoon’s for directing me to this place of pilgrimage. Without you, I would have passed on by, forever bathed in a happy pint of ignorance.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow recommends reading Frankenstein.