"The Trial of Love" was published in 1834 as part of the Keepsake. "The Trial of Love" is best seen as a retelling of the suspected love triangle between Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and her half-sister Claire, during their 1818 stay in Italy. While the retelling adds more of a paternal love than what existed in real life, the parallels are glaringly obvious. The story contains themes of familial obligation and identity, all which ultimately hint at the subjective nature of history.
The story surrounds a young woman, Angelina, who has been wooed by a nobleman's son, Ippolitto. Ippolito's father, conversely, does not like Angelina. Angelina was orphaned young and was raised by nuns in a convent, making her unfit to marry Ippolito. Ippolito, however, was insistent and so his father forced them into a vow of silence and separation. Also living at the convent is a nobel born woman named Faustina, with whom Angelina develops a strong sisterhood. A year after coming to the convent, Faustina goes off to complete her education, leaving Angelina alone.
The story picks up with Angelina gathering herself to go see Faustina, who has returned after completing her education. After a brief and joyous reunion, the two separate to complete some errands. While out walking, Angelina runs into Ippolito. Ippolito expresses his unaffected love, but is rebuffed by Angelina's silence. She sticks strictly to her vow, causing Ippolito to wrongfully assume that she has moved on to another lover. He vows to find her new lover and charges off.
On the next day on their walk, Angelina and Faustina run into Ippolito once again. This is the first time that Faustina has ever met Ippolito. Angelina breaks her vow of silence momentarily to to promise she will not speak of this to anyone. Ippolito is again bothered by her coldness. Ippilito is taken to the convent that Faustina is staying at to recover after an injury sustained by a buffalo.
Faustina implores Angelina to come visit the the convent to see Ippolito. Angelina agrees, but once she arrives at the convent, she discovers Ippolito's silence. Soon after, Faustina comes to Angelina in a panic over her father's interest in marring her off to Ippolito. Angelina grows ill from worry for her friend after she hears this news, and is put on bed rest. Angelina writes a letter to Ippolito cautioning him about her friend while alluding to their marriage to be. Once Angelina is well enough once again, she decides to visit the convent once more. Instead of being greeted by Ippolito, she meets Faustina with the letter. Faustina is hurt by the letter, which Angelina takes and retreats back to her room. She then receives a letter from Ippolito that does not bode well for their relationship. Ultimately, the silence pact is too much for Ippolito and Angelina to overcome, and Faustina marries him instead.
One theme that is quite prevalent in " The Trial of Love" is the obligation to family, or rather what people do because of family. The premise of this story is dependent on Ippolito and Angelina's obligation to each other but also to their father; in Angelina's case, father-in-Law. What is interesting is that It was Angela that held stronger to that obligation than Ippolito, even though it was Ippolito's father that set up the vow.
Another instance of familial obligation can be seen between Angelina and Faustina. These two are inseparable and create the drama that eventually leads to the story's resolution. What is again interesting is the twist to their relationship - they two are not actually related. But this fictive relationship that they do have serves as their connector piece which compels them to act the way that they do towards each other. It's why Angelina wrote the letter and it's why Faustina confided in Angelina.
Another theme that is quite rampant throughout this story is identity; identity meaning the manor in which someone defines themselves or are defined. Angelina and Fuastina experience a challenge to their identity throughout this trial of love that speaks to the heart of one of Mary Shelley's over arching themes: that women are defined by their relationship to men in this story. Angelina is set up to be betrothed to Ippolito and for a year that defines her silence. Faustina was originally defined by her lineage, but after her encounter with Ippolito, her relationship with Angelina changed. Ultimately their relaionship is repaired, but this process is one that was prompted by a man.
Another concept that this work, as a whole, can be viewed in conversation with is the subjectivity of time. This story is a reworking of what was misconstrued as happening between Mary Shelley, her husband, and her stepsister. This story mirrors their trip to Italy in 1818 and serves as a teaching tool about identity, familial obligation, same-sex friendships, and the role of women. This story ultimately served as a tool, that retelling a story changes a story. History is nothing but a retelling of what has passed. Likewise, history changes from perspective to perspective. The difference in perspective can best be seen in the difference between what Ippolito interpreted from Angelina's silence and what she actually meant by her silence.
Eakin, Paul John: “Breaking Rules: The Consequences of Self-Narration.” Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, Vol24.1 (2001), 113-127