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After two ill-fated affairs, with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay , Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin , one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement. Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38 leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. She died eleven days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Shelley , who would become an accomplished writer and author of Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April in Spitalfields , London.

Consequently, the family became financially unstable and they were frequently forced to move during Wollstonecraft's youth. Moreover, he was apparently a violent man who would beat his wife in drunken rages.


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As a teenager, Wollstonecraft used to lie outside the door of her mother's bedroom to protect her. For example, in a defining moment in , she convinced Eliza, who was suffering from what was probably postpartum depression , to leave her husband and infant; Wollstonecraft made all of the arrangements for Eliza to flee, demonstrating her willingness to challenge social norms. The human costs, however, were severe: her sister suffered social condemnation and, because she could not remarry, was doomed to a life of poverty and hard work.

Two friendships shaped Wollstonecraft's early life. The first was with Jane Arden in Beverley. The two frequently read books together and attended lectures presented by Arden's father, a self-styled philosopher and scientist.

Wollstonecraft revelled in the intellectual atmosphere of the Arden household and valued her friendship with Arden greatly, sometimes to the point of being emotionally possessive. Wollstonecraft wrote to her: "I have formed romantic notions of friendship I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none. Unhappy with her home life, Wollstonecraft struck out on her own in and accepted a job as a lady's companion to Sarah Dawson, a widow living in Bath.

However, Wollstonecraft had trouble getting along with the irascible woman an experience she drew on when describing the drawbacks of such a position in Thoughts on the Education of Daughters , In she returned home upon being called back to care for her dying mother. She realized during the two years she spent with the family that she had idealized Blood, who was more invested in traditional feminine values than was Wollstonecraft.

But Wollstonecraft remained dedicated to Fanny and her family throughout her life she frequently gave pecuniary assistance to Blood's brother, for example. Wollstonecraft had envisioned living in a female utopia with Blood; they made plans to rent rooms together and support each other emotionally and financially, but this dream collapsed under economic realities.

In order to make a living, Wollstonecraft, her sisters, and Blood set up a school together in Newington Green , a Dissenting community. Blood soon became engaged and after their marriage her husband, Hugh Skeys, took her to Lisbon , Portugal, to improve her health, which had always been precarious. After Blood's death in , Wollstonecraft's friends helped her obtain a position as governess to the daughters of the Anglo-Irish Kingsborough family in Ireland.

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Although she could not get along with Lady Kingsborough, [15] the children found her an inspiring instructor; Margaret King would later say she 'had freed her mind from all superstitions'. Frustrated by the limited career options open to respectable yet poor women—an impediment which Wollstonecraft eloquently describes in the chapter of Thoughts on the Education of Daughters entitled 'Unfortunate Situation of Females, Fashionably Educated, and Left Without a Fortune'—she decided, after only a year as a governess, to embark upon a career as an author.

This was a radical choice, since, at the time, few women could support themselves by writing. As she wrote to her sister Everina in , she was trying to become 'the first of a new genus'. She also wrote reviews, primarily of novels, for Johnson's periodical, the Analytical Review.

Wollstonecraft's intellectual universe expanded during this time, not only from the reading that she did for her reviews but also from the company she kept: she attended Johnson's famous dinners and met such luminaries as the radical pamphleteer Thomas Paine and the philosopher William Godwin. The first time Godwin and Wollstonecraft met, they were disappointed in each other. Godwin had come to hear Paine, but Wollstonecraft assailed him all night long, disagreeing with him on nearly every subject. Johnson himself, however, became much more than a friend; she described him in her letters as a father and a brother.

While in London, Wollstonecraft pursued a relationship with the artist Henry Fuseli , even though he was already married. She was, she wrote, enraptured by his genius, 'the grandeur of his soul, that quickness of comprehension, and lovely sympathy'. Reflections on the Revolution in France was published on 1 November , and so angered Wollstonecraft that she spent the rest of the month writing her rebuttal.

Mary Wollstonecraft - Wikipedia

A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke was published on 29 November , initially anonymously; [24] the second edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Men was published on 18 December, and this time the publisher revealed Wollstonecraft as the author. Wollstonecraft called the French Revolution a 'glorious chance to obtain more virtue and happiness than hitherto blessed our globe'.

Wollstonecraft was compared with such leading lights as the theologian and controversialist Joseph Priestley and Paine, whose Rights of Man would prove to be the most popular of the responses to Burke. She pursued the ideas she had outlined in Rights of Men in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , her most famous and influential work. Britain and France were on the brink of war when she left for Paris, and many advised her not to go. She sought out other British visitors such as Helen Maria Williams and joined the circle of expatriates then in the city.

On 26 December , Wollstonecraft saw the former king, Louis XVI, being taken to be tried before the National Assembly, and much to her own surprise, found 'the tears flow[ing] insensibly from my eyes, when I saw Louis sitting, with more dignity than I expected from his character, in a hackney coach going to meet death, where so many of his race have triumphed'. France declared war on Britain in February Wollstonecraft tried to leave France for Switzerland but was denied permission.

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Life became very difficult for foreigners in France. Then, on 12 April , all foreigners were forbidden to leave France. Having just written the Rights of Woman , Wollstonecraft was determined to put her ideas to the test, and in the stimulating intellectual atmosphere of the French Revolution , she attempted her most experimental romantic attachment yet: she met and fell passionately in love with Gilbert Imlay , an American adventurer. Wollstonecraft put her own principles in practice by sleeping with Imlay even though they were not married, which was unacceptable behavior from a 'respectable' British woman.

Despite her rejection of the sexual component of relationships in the Rights of Woman , Wollstonecraft discovered that Imlay awakened her interest in sex.

Conduct Books for Girls in Enlightenment France

Wollstonecraft was to a certain extent disillusioned by what she saw in France, writing that the people under the republic still behaved slavishly to those who held power while the government remained 'venal' and 'brutal'. I cannot yet give up the hope, that a fairer day is dawning on Europe, though I must hesitatingly observe, that little is to be expected from the narrow principle of commerce, which seems everywhere to be shoving aside the point of honour of the noblesse [nobility]. For the same pride of office, the same desire of power are still visible; with this aggravation, that, fearing to return to obscurity, after having but just acquired a relish for distinction, each hero, or philosopher, for all are dubbed with these new titles, endeavors to make hay while the sun shines.

Wollstonecraft was offended by the Jacobins' treatment of women. They refused to grant women equal rights, denounced ' Amazons ', and made it clear that women were supposed to conform to Jean-Jacques Rousseau 's ideal of helpers to men.

As the daily arrests and executions of the Reign of Terror began, Wollstonecraft came under suspicion. She was, after all, a British citizen known to be a friend of leading Girondins. On 31 October , most of the Girondin leaders were guillotined; when Imlay broke the news to Wollstonecraft, she fainted. Imlay's blockade-running gained the respect and support of some Jacobins, ensuring, as he had hoped, his freedom during the Terror.


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Her sisters believed she had been imprisoned. Wollstonecraft called life under the Jacobins 'nightmarish'. There were gigantic daytime parades requiring everyone to show themselves and lustily cheer lest they be suspected of inadequate commitment to the republic, as well as nighttime police raids to arrest 'enemies of the republic'. It is impossible for you to have any idea of the impression the sad scenes I have been a witness to have left on my mind Wollstonecraft soon became pregnant by Imlay, and on 14 May she gave birth to her first child, Fanny , naming her after perhaps her closest friend.

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He promised that he would return to her and Fanny at Le Havre, but his delays in writing to her and his long absences convinced Wollstonecraft that he had found another woman. Her letters to him are full of needy expostulations, which most critics explain as the expressions of a deeply depressed woman, while others say they resulted from her circumstances—a foreign woman alone with an infant in the middle of a revolution that had seen good friends imprisoned or executed. In July , Wollstonecraft welcomed the fall of the Jacobins, predicting it would be followed with a restoration of freedom of the press in France, which led her to return to Paris.

The winter of —95 was the coldest winter in Europe for over a century, which reduced Wollstonecraft and her daughter Fanny to desperate circumstances. It was first published in London in , but a second edition did not appear until She was trying to counteract what Furniss called the 'hysterical' anti-revolutionary mood in Britain, which depicted the revolution as due to the entire French nation's going mad.

She condemned the Jacobin regime and the Reign of Terror, but at same time she argued that the revolution was a great achievement, which led her to stop her history in late rather than write about the Terror of — Seeking Imlay, Wollstonecraft returned to London in April , but he rejected her. In May she attempted to commit suicide, probably with laudanum , but Imlay saved her life although it is unclear how. Wollstonecraft undertook this hazardous trip with only her young daughter and a maid. She recounted her travels and thoughts in letters to Imlay, many of which were eventually published as Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark in Let my wrongs sleep with me!

Soon, very soon, shall I be at peace.

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Woman’s Voice at the Age of Enlightenment

When you receive this, my burning head will be cold I shall plunge into the Thames where there is the least chance of my being snatched from the death I seek. God bless you! May you never know by experience what you have made me endure. Should your sensibility ever awake, remorse will find its way to your heart; and, in the midst of business and sensual pleasure, I shall appear before you, the victim of your deviation from rectitude.

She then went out on a rainy night and "to make her clothes heavy with water, she walked up and down about half an hour" before jumping into the River Thames , but a stranger saw her jump and rescued her. I have only to lament, that, when the bitterness of death was past, I was inhumanly brought back to life and misery.

But a fixed determination is not to be baffled by disappointment; nor will I allow that to be a frantic attempt, which was one of the calmest acts of reason. In this respect, I am only accountable to myself. Did I care for what is termed reputation, it is by other circumstances that I should be dishonoured. Gradually, Wollstonecraft returned to her literary life, becoming involved with Joseph Johnson's circle again, in particular with Mary Hays , Elizabeth Inchbald , and Sarah Siddons through William Godwin.

Godwin and Wollstonecraft's unique courtship began slowly, but it eventually became a passionate love affair. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration. Their marriage revealed the fact that Wollstonecraft had never been married to Imlay, and as a result she and Godwin lost many friends.

Godwin received further criticism because he had advocated the abolition of marriage in his philosophical treatise Political Justice. Godwin rented an apartment 20 doors away at 17 Evesham Buildings in Chalton Street as a study, so that they could both still retain their independence; they often communicated by letter.

On 30 August , Wollstonecraft gave birth to her second daughter, Mary.


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Although the delivery seemed to go well initially, the placenta broke apart during the birth and became infected; childbed fever was a common and often fatal occurrence in the eighteenth century. I know from experience we were formed to make each other happy.

I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again. Although Godwin felt that he was portraying his wife with love, compassion, and sincerity, many readers were shocked that he would reveal Wollstonecraft's illegitimate children, love affairs, and suicide attempts. Hard was thy fate in all the scenes of life As daughter, sister, mother, friend, and wife; But harder still, thy fate in death we own, Thus mourn'd by Godwin with a heart of stone.