Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life

TODD, Janet

Published by London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000.
ISBN 10: 0297842994 / ISBN 13: 9780297842996
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Hardcover, 8vo., brown cloth boards in fine dustjacket, black & white photographs, notes, bibliography, index, 516pp. Mary was a very unusal woman for her period in history and while famous for her "Vindication of the Rights of Woman" in 1792, should also be recognised for her novels and letters. Bookseller Inventory #

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With Mary Wollstonecraft and her A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792, a modern female consciousness came clearly into being, one that tied the mind to the body. This beautifully written biography, the first new study of Mary Wollstonecraft in thirty years, argues that it is her life and letters that are her most lasting legacy.

Her story reads like a novel -- extraordinarily scandalous in conventional terms (a close involvement with a woman, two male lovers, an illegitimate child, and a habit of initiating amorous relationships), yet in her own terms always principled and highly moral. She strove to reconcile integrity and sexual desire, the duties and needs of a woman, motherhood and intellectual life, domesticity and fame.

Review: The founding mother of feminism comes across as vividly as the heroine of a romantic novel in this fascinating biography, which quotes extensively from Wollstonecraft's correspondence to evoke her high-strung personality. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) gained an early horror of traditional marriage from observing the relationship of her despotic father and submissive mother. There were no accepted outlets for her energy and ambition in 18th-century England; not until she moved to London in 1788 and became "the first of a new genus," a professional woman writer, did Wollstonecraft come into her own as a member of a circle of radical intellectuals. A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792, made her famous, but she remained needy, self-absorbed, and self-dramatizing. "She could not bring herself to use the rational language of The Rights of Women on herself," writes British scholar Janet Todd. "Her own life was always delivered in the language of sensibility." Todd capably summarizes Wollstonecraft's writings and gives detailed accounts of her most important relationships: her stormy bond with her sisters; an intense teenage friendship with Fanny Blood, who later died in her arms after childbirth; the unhappy love affair with American Gilbert Imlay, father of her first child, whose infidelity prompted her suicide attempt; and an emotionally tumultuous but happy marriage to philosopher William Godwin. Modern feminists reading this unvarnished account may wish Wollstonecraft weren't quite so neurotic, but Todd must be admired for refusing to tidy up her subject's messy personality. --Wendy Smith

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life
Publisher: London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000.

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