Imlay, Fanny

BORN 14 May 1794, Le Havre, Seine-Maritime - DIED 9 Oct 1816, Swansea: Mackworth Arms, in a small upper room
BIRTH NAME Imlay, Frances
CAUSE OF DEATH suicide by laudanum overdose

First daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, born from her liaison with the american officer Gilbert Imlay. She was named after Mary's friend Fanny Blood. Mary Wollstonecraft married Wiliam Godwin but died during childbirth and Godwin took care of little Fanny and raised her as his own child. It was not before 1806 that Godwin told her that he was not her father. She was modest and troubled and overshadowed by her half sister Mary, whose birth had resulted in the death of their mother Mary Wollstonecraft.

She knew the poet Shelley who often visited the Godwin family. Mary eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1816 and afterwards Godwin didn't want to speak to Shelley at all. Fanny seemed to be torn between the households of the Shelleys and the Godwins and was often depressed. In 1815 Mary Wollstonecraft's sisters refused Godwin's request to employ her as a teacher at their school in Dublin and Fanny must have felt that she belonged nowhere at all. She sadly committed suicide by taking laudanum at an the Mackworth Arms Inn in Swansea. She left a note:

"I have long determined that the best thing I could do was put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature existed as..."

The note wasn't signed. The Godwins thought that a hopeless love for Shelley might have been the reason. Her body wasn't claimed and she was buried anonymously at an unknown location without anyone of the family present (Shelley suggested he should look after her burial but Godwin didn't want him to). Half a year later some relatives and friends had still no idea that she was dead. Rumours circulated that she had been pregnant by Shelley and that her death was hushed up to avoid another Shelley scandal, but there is no evidence to support this theory.

• Mother: Wollstonecraft, Mary
• Sister: Shelley, Mary

Related persons
• was a friend of Shelley, Percy Bysshe

• Holmes, Richard, Shelley, The Pursuit, Penguin Books, London, 1987
• Mellor, Anne K., Mary Shelley, her Life, her Fiction, her Monsters, Routledge, New York, 1989
• Todd, Janet, Death & The Maidens, Fanny Wollstonecraft and The Shelley Circle, Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2007

Impekoven, Sabine

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 14 Mar 2018