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The Sage of Polygon Road

Claire Tomalin, 28 September 1989

The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Vols I-VII 
edited by Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler.
Pickering & Chatto, 2530 pp., £245, August 1989, 1 85196 006 6
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... Mary who? was the person I mostly seemed to be dealing with in the early Seventies, when I wrote a biography of the extraordinary woman whose works have now been collected for the first time, nearly two hundred years after her death. And ‘Mary Who?’ is still the common form of her name, outside a small circle of specialists and enthusiasts ...

Assertrix

Elizabeth Spelman: Mary Wollstonecraft, 19 February 2004

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination 
by Barbara Taylor.
Cambridge, 331 pp., £45, March 2003, 0 521 66144 7
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... who look after their children and clean their houses. One of the reasons Barbara Taylor thinks Mary Wollstonecraft rewards our attention two hundred years after her death is that Wollstonecraft’s fervid opposition to sexism was based on a ‘root and branch’ egalitarianism not easily compromised by ‘firm class ...

Narcissus and Cain

David Bromwich, 6 August 1992

Mary and Maria by Mary Wollstonecraft, Matilda by Mary Shelley 
edited by Janet Todd.
Pickering & Chatto, 217 pp., £24.95, January 1992, 1 85196 023 6
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Lady Sophia Sternheim 
by Sophie von La Roche, edited by James Lynn.
Pickering & Chatto, 216 pp., £24.95, January 1992, 9781851960217
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... is to see the same double bind in force against a writer as indifferent to worldly prudence as Mary Wollstonecraft. Her vindications of the Rights of Men and the Rights of Woman, books of great originality and psychological acuteness, are as widely discussed as ever, and yet, to judge by the number of editions and reprints, they have been demoted to ...

Mother-Haters and Other Rebels

Barbara Taylor: Heroine Chic, 3 January 2002

Inventing Herself: Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage 
by Elaine Showalter.
Picador, 384 pp., £16.99, June 2001, 0 330 34669 5
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... Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist heroine sans pareil, didn’t approve of heroines. Great Women – or ‘icons’, as Elaine Showalter prefers to call the three centuries’ worth of feminist ‘rule-breakers and path-blazers’ celebrated in her new book – get short shrift in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: I shall not lay any stress on the example of a few women who, from having received a masculine education, have acquired courage and resolution … Sappho, Eloisa, Mrs Macaulay, the Empress of Russia, Mme d’Eon etc ...

Menagerie of Live Authors

Francesca Wade: Marys Shelley and Wollstonecraft, 7 October 2015

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley 
by Charlotte Gordon.
Hutchinson, 649 pp., £25, April 2015, 978 0 09 195894 7
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... There were​ high hopes for the son of Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley, the grandson of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, but the boy told his mother that all he wanted was a quiet life and a sailing boat. She wasn’t wholly disappointed at his failure to distinguish himself ...

The Positions He Takes

John Barrell: Hitchens on Paine, 30 November 2006

Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’: A Biography 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 128 pp., £9.99, July 2006, 1 84354 513 6
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... Hitchens tells us that among others who wrote replies to Burke, along with Joseph Priestley and Mary Wollstonecraft, was William Godwin, which he wasn’t. He says that, unlike Paine, Wollstonecraft advocated votes for women, which she didn’t. Paine himself, Hitchens says, was not discouraged from writing Part One ...

The Professor

Marilyn Butler, 3 April 1980

A Fantasy of Reason: The Life and Thought of William Godwin 
by Don Locke.
Routledge, 398 pp., £13.50, January 1980, 0 7100 0387 0
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... a repressed personality, ripe for psychoanalysis; a role in the high dramas of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft, his daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, his son-in-law Shelley and the infant grandchildren; a circle of interesting friends, many of them articulate enough to leave written records, and famous ...

Almighty Godwin

Paul Foot, 28 September 1989

The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family 
by William St Clair.
Faber, 572 pp., £20, June 1989, 0 571 15422 0
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... that in the great scheme of things relations between men and women were a ‘trivial matter’. Mary Wollstonecraft soon put paid to that notion. When he met her first at dinner in 1792, Godwin was irritated by her bubbling assertiveness. But he met her again, and his tempestuous relationship with her in 1796 and 1797, their brief life together as ...

Scandal’s Hostages

Claire Tomalin, 19 February 1981

The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Vol. 1 
edited by Betty Bennett.
Johns Hopkins, 591 pp., £18, July 1980, 0 8018 2275 0
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... remarked a French gentleman travelling through Savoy in 1823 in the same carriage as Mary Shelley and observing her as she checked her small son Percy’s self-willed behaviour. She was pleased enough to report the compliment to Leigh and Marianne Hunt in a letter; and if she seems a little arch in liking compliments, she strikes the reader too ...

May I come to your house to philosophise?

John Barrell: Godwin’s Letters, 8 September 2011

The Letters of William Godwin Vol. I: 1778-97 
by Pamela Clemit.
Oxford, 306 pp., £100, February 2011, 978 0 19 956261 9
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... novels of the 18th century and of the founding text in the philosophy of anarchism, the husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, the father of Mary Shelley, and the friend or acquaintance of almost everyone on the liberal left over 50 of the most intellectually exciting years in British history. In November last year his ...

The Adventures of Richard Holmes

Michael Holroyd, 1 August 1985

Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer 
by Richard Holmes.
Hodder, 288 pp., £12.95, July 1985, 0 340 28337 8
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... needing the decisive experience of a first-hand witness, he soon becomes absorbed in the life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Once again he follows literally and imaginatively where the biographical materials lead, discovering ‘a wholly different world-view of what a revolution required of its participants’. In particular he moves away from a boyish urge ...

Forget that I exist

Susan Eilenberg: Mary Wollstonecraft, 30 November 2000

Mary WollstonecraftA Revolutionary Life 
by Janet Todd.
Weidenfeld, 516 pp., £25, April 2000, 0 297 84299 4
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... Mary Wollstonecraft’s defenders have always found their task difficult. Writing her life to disastrous effect in 1798, intent on establishing her as one of those beings ‘endowed with the most exquisite and delicious sensibility, whose minds seem almost of too fine a texture to encounter the vicissitudes of human affairs, to whom pleasure is transport, and disappointment is agony indescribable’, an ‘incomparable woman’ than whom ‘perhaps no human creature ever suffered greater misery’, a ‘female Werther’, even a second Goethe, the still grieving widower William Godwin was forced to concede that his improbable dear was ‘what Dr Johnson would have called, “a very good hater” ...

Irish Adventurers

Janet Adam Smith, 25 June 1992

The Grand Tours of Katherine Wilmot: France 1801-3 and Russia 1805-7 
edited by Elizabeth Mavor.
Weidenfeld, 187 pp., £17.99, February 1992, 0 297 81223 8
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... servants: ‘Lord and Lady Mount Cashell, Helena Jane and me pack’d in the Family Coach, with Mary Lawless, Mary Smith, Blanchois, and William in another carriage, driving full speed, nine Irish Adventurers, to the French dominions.’ Two at least of these Irish adventurers were as ready as William Wordsworth had been ...

The Perfect Plot Device

Dinah Birch: Governesses, 17 July 2008

Other People’s Daughters: The Life and Times of the Governess 
by Ruth Brandon.
Weidenfeld, 303 pp., £20, March 2008, 978 0 297 85113 4
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... six exceptional women, talented or spirited in ways that defy the stereotype of the governess. Mary Wollstonecraft used her work as a governess to develop the ideas that were to make her a pivotal figure in the development of feminism. Claire Clairmont, briefly Byron’s lover, and the mother of his daughter Allegra, led a colourful life as a ...

Carers or Consumers?

Barbara Taylor: 18th-Century Women, 4 November 2010

Women and Enlightenment in 18th-Century Britain 
by Karen O’Brien.
Cambridge, 310 pp., £17.99, March 2009, 978 0 521 77427 7
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... a huge innovation – so huge that its full implications took nearly a century to register. Even Mary Wollstonecraft and Catharine Macaulay didn’t fully grasp its potential, although their arguments for women’s rights could not have been formulated, O’Brien insists, without the ‘sociological and economic vocabulary’ provided by the conjectural ...

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