Vindicating Mary Wollstonecraft

Thoughts on the education of daughters: with reflections on female conduct, in the more important duties of life

by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited and introduced by Gina Luria
Garland Publishing, 160 pp., $22.00

Mary, a fiction

by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited and introduced by Gina Luria
Garland Publishing, 187 pp., $22.00

A vindication of the rights of woman: with strictures on political and moral subjects

by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited and introduced by Gina Luria, by Miriam Kramnick
Penguin, 319 pp., $3.50 (paper)

Posthumous works, Vol. 1: The wrongs of woman, or Maria (1st eight chapters)

by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by William Godwin, edited and introduced by Gina Luria
Garland Publishing, 181 pp., $22.00

Posthumous works, Vol. 2: The wrongs of woman, or Maria (chapter 9 to end) and The first book of a series of lessons for children

by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by William Godwin, edited and introduced by Gina Luria
Garland Publishing, 196 pp., $22.00

Posthumous works, Vol. 3: Letters [“to Imlay”]

by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by William Godwin, edited and introduced by Gina Luria
Garland Publishing, 192 pp., $22.00

Posthumous works, Vol. 4: Miscellaneous pieces

by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by William Godwin, edited and introduced by Gina Luria
Garland Publishing, 195 pp., $22.00

Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman

by Mary Wollstonecraft, with an introduction by Moira Ferguson
Norton, 154 pp., $1.95 (paper)

Memoirs of the author of a vindication of the rights of woman

by William Godwin, edited and introduced by Gina Luria
Garland Publishing, 199 pp., $22.00

Mary Wollstonecraft: A Critical Biography

by Ralph M. Wardle
University of Nebraska Press, 366 pp., $3.75 (paper)

Godwin and Mary

edited by Ralph M. Wardle
University Press of Kansas, 125 pp., $4.00

Mary Wollstonecraft

by Eleanor Flexner
Penguin, 307 pp., $2.50 (paper)

The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft

by Claire Tomalin
New American Library/Mentor, 316 pp., $1.95 (paper)

A Different Face: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft

by Emily Sunstein
Harper and Row, 355 pp., $15.00

Aspects généraux du roman féminin en Angleterre de 1740 à 1800 nouvelle série #52, Editions Ophrys 1966

by Philippe Séjourné
Publication des Annales de la faculté des lettres Aix-en-Provence

La Destinée féminine dans le roman européean du dix-huitième siècle 1713-1807: Essai de gynécomythie romanesque

by Pierre Fauchery
Librairie Armand Colin, Paris

When the final word is said on Mary Wollstonecraft she will appear to us, I suspect, as one of the most powerful and distinctive prose writers in the language. The one work by which she is generally known today, her 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Woman, establishes Wollstonecraft as the greatest of polemical feminists. But she wrote a great deal more, and wider acquaintance with the complete oeuvre, now slowly coming back into print, may well inspire a reassessment of the history of English Romanticism to include the turn-of-the-century woman writer, who, like Wollstonecraft (and Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth, Burney), wrote prose fiction, treatises, letters, essays, and diaries, rather than poetry. “I am compelled to think that there is some thing in my writings more valuable,” she wrote Godwin in 1796, “than in the productions of some people on whom you bestow warm elogiums—I mean more mind—denominate it as you will—more of the observations of my own senses, more of the combining of my own imagination—the effusions of my own feelings and passions than the cold workings of the brain on the materials procured by the senses and imagination of other writers.”

Mary Wollstonecraft’s career as a writer began in 1787 when she was twenty-eight and ended with her death in childbirth ten years later. Thus the great event of her day was the French Revolution, and as a radical thinker on women, politics, and religion she belongs among the English Jacobins. As a writer she was a contemporary of Burns and Blake, who, like her, are difficult to label. “Pre-romantic” is too pale a term for their vigorous originality; yet we normally date the start of English Romanticism with the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Wordsworth and Coleridge were more than ten years younger than Mary Wollstonecraft, whose Posthumous Works also appeared in 1798.

The philosopher William Godwin, Wollstonecraft’s husband during the last five months of her life, included in these four posthumous volumes Wollstonecraft’s most powerful novel, the unfinished Maria; and many of her love letters, which are extraordinary; and her essay “On Artificial Taste,” which had appeared in the April 1797 Monthly Magazine. Eleanor Flexner has suggested that this essay, retitled by Godwin (more accurately) “On Poetry, and our relish for the beauties of nature,” may have influenced the romantic poets. It is at least worth noting that the year before Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” Mary Wollstonecraft defined the poet as “the man of strong feelings” who “gives us only an image of his mind, when he was actually alone, conversing with himself, and marking the impression which nature had made on his own heart.”

As a prose stylist, Wollstonecraft was of course (being a woman) largely self-taught. The haste, the padding, the disorganization of the hack writer are her worst faults, from which none of her volumes is free. She published too much: eight books of fiction and nonfiction as well as translations and reviews during her single …

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