Screen Memories and Fictionalized Autobiography: Mary Shelley’s Mathilda and The Mourner
Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal
In Mathilda, Mary constructs the memory of a banished and rejected suitor and in doing so she revises her own traumatic courtship of Percy as well as by Percy. In this version of her ur-narrative, the heroine is oblivious to the suitor, and it is the father who reacts with hysteria and eventually a confession of his unnatural, incestuous desires. The key to understanding Shelley’s use of screen memories can be located in the need to uncover the wound that each text explores, partially seen but also partially screened from view. In Mathilda it is the issue of courtship by an interloper, but is the interloper suitor meant as a screen for Percy or Mary? I would contend that both texts present a split suitor because in some way the two faces of the courtship are both Mary and Percy. In other words, just as Percy wooed Mary away from her father, so did Mary woo Percy away from Harriet. The screen being erected here also protects Mary from viewing herself; it blocks out her identity as husband-stealing adulteress.