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Long-lost Mary Shelley letters surface after more than 150 years

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley loved her son -- but she wished he were a little bit taller.

That's what she wrote in one of the letters in a recently discovered cache. The correspondence is the first set of unpublished letters by the author of "Frankenstein" to surface in a number of decades -- and they were so lost that no one was looking for them.

The letters were discovered by a researcher who stumbled across them while doing an Internet search for something entirely different.

"I thought: 'What is this?' and clicked on the link," Nora Crook, an emeritus professor at Anglia Ruskin University, told the Guardian. "I knew right away they had never been published before."

Shelley's letters were written between 1831 and 1849 to Horace Smith and his daughter Eliza. The friendship between Smith and Shelley had been known before, but the letters show her personality -- loyal, grateful and attentive, Crook says, as well as revealing her "charming wheedling side."

Shelley was the daughter of proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the wife of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He died in a boating accident in 1822. The Shelleys had one surviving child, a son who was also named Percy.

"Percy is growing up a very fine young man & developing tastes & talents that would remind you of his father," she wrote. When he was at Cambridge, she wrote, "he is getting all that we could wish -- he is getting very liberal -- & has so much character & talent -- though still shy -- that I have every hope for his future happiness." Praising his sweet nature, she admits, "I am mortified he is not taller."

Two years after the letters stopped, Shelley would die of a brain tumor; in the later letters, she writes of feeling unwell. In 1846, she apologetically noted that her letter might appear "blotty and invalidy."

Something these letters have that no others from Mary Shelley do are the wax seals, still attached. Shelley used red wax and imprinted "Mary Shelley" in plain script when sealing her letters (a photo is at the Guardian).

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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