Famous tomb preserved, thanks to LU professor

The remains of Charles Clairmont, the stepbrother of “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley, are now preserved in an “honorary grave” due to the efforts of Lamar University assistant English Professor Sharon Joffe.
Sharon Joffe at Clairmont Tomb
Sharon Joffe at Clairmont Tomb

In 2018 when Joffe visited the Matzleinsdorf Cemetery in Vienna, Austria, she discovered that the Clairmont family tomb, likely containing the remains of Charles and definitely containing the remains of other Clairmont family members, was going to be demolished, the family bones reinterred in a communal grave and the tomb put up for sale.

Only a researcher, like Joffe, familiar with the letters and journals of Mary Shelley and of her stepsister Claire Clairmont, and the extended members of the Shelley-circle, would connect the Clairmont family tomb in Vienna to the famous writer of the 19th century. 

In 1801, Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin, married his second wife, Mary Jane Vial, some four years after the death of Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.  Charles and Claire Clairmont were the children of the second Mrs. Godwin.

Clairmont Tomb“I decided to see if I could spare the grave from destruction,” said Joffe. “I contacted Ms. Astrid Rypar of the Cultural Heritage Unit of Municipal Department - 7 for Culture in Vienna and provided her with information about Mary Shelley's stepbrother, Charles, and other members of the family who are buried in the tomb.” 

Joffe also explained that in addition to being the stepbrother of Mary Shelley, Charles was the English tutor to the Habsburg royal family. 

Rypar contacted the mayor's office, visited the tomb and then made a request that the mayor of Vienna, Mr. Michael Ludwig, consider Clairmont Gravepreserving the tomb for posterity. 

“Mr. Ludwig approved the request and declared the grave an ‘Ehrengräber’ (honorary grave),” said Joffe. “The tomb will not be demolished but will be preserved indefinitely and I played an instrumental role in protecting the grave.”

Joffe just published an article, “Saving the Clairmont Family Tomb,” in the “Keats-Shelley Review” Volume 34:2, 2020, describing her efforts to save and memorialize the grave as well as the significance of the tomb to Mary Shelley-circle studies.  As a researcher Joffe has edited the letters of Wilhelm Clairmont and Pauline Clairmont to their aunt, Claire Clairmont. The edited letters, “The Clairmont Family Letters: 1839-1889,” edited by Sharon Joffe, were published by Routledge in 2017. 

Currently, Joffe is editing the journals of Wilhelm and Pauline, and Routledge will be publishing the text in 2021, “The Clairmont Family Journals: 1855-1885,” edited by Sharon Joffe.  The manuscript is currently at the press.