Godwin and Mary: Letters of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft by Ralph Martin WardleThe letters of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin mirror the relationship of a remarkable literary couple. The correspondence collected here covers the period from July 13, 1796, to August 30, 1797, when their friendship turned to romance, their romance to passion, their passion to consummation, their affair to a highly unconventional marriage during which they lived far enough apart to permit the continuing exchange of letters. Wardle, a superb editor, provides just enough annotation to allow the relationship to unfold by itself through the correspondence of these two doctrinaire rationalists, who both came late to love. . . . [Godwin & Mary] is the easiest, certainly the most delightful introduction to the life and prose of Mary Wollstonecraft.-Ellen Moers, New York Review of Books.
The Rights (and Wrongs) of Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft Three notes to William Godwin
At the end of the eighteenth century, no woman anywhere in the world could obtain higher education. Marriage was a tyrannical institution from which women could liberate themselves legally only with great difficult and at great cost — in the entire eighteenth century, only four women in Great Britain were able to obtain legal separation from their husbands. In Great Britain, chimpanzees and other nonhuman animals would obtain legal protection from abuse in — two decades before the first legislature addressing violence against women. Even these laws exempted husbands from prosecution — a wife was still considered personal property, to do with as the husband pleases. Against this backdrop, the self-educated political philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft April 27, —September 10, composed her epoch-making treatise Vindication of the Rights of Woman — the ignition spark of what we now call feminism.
Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century.
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She soon met an American businessman and adventurer named Gilbert Imlay. For a woman who had always prized reason above all else, Wollstonecraft soon discovered how easily romantic love could kick reason to the backseat. By April, Imlay and Wollstonecraft had begun an affair.
And he is surely correct. Godwin writes as a widower, but he is forthcoming about his late wife's previous loves, and, indeed, vigorously takes her side over her treatment at the hands of Gilbert Imlay when their affair came to an end. He is at one with Mary in her belief that an affair of the heart should be sincerely undertaken and pursued, regardless of social conventions, and he thinks she led an exemplary life in this respect. Indeed, what he wrote was conventional for biography in the sense of being a recommendation of its subject as an example. But it was revolutionary, in that the example being recommended was an unconventional, revolutionary model. Within the tradition of life-writing, there is a recurrent interest in death-bed scenes, whether they come as a repentance for past life as in Bishop Burnet's life of the poet Rochester or as a moment of culminating grace as in innumerable works of hagiography. The tradition extended to figures of the Enlightenment.
Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships, received more attention than her writing. Today, Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers , and feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative , a history of the French Revolution , a conduct book , and a children's book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason. After Wollstonecraft's death, her widower published a Memoir of her life, revealing her unorthodox lifestyle, which inadvertently destroyed her reputation for almost a century. However, with the emergence of the feminist movement at the turn of the twentieth century, Wollstonecraft's advocacy of women's equality and critiques of conventional femininity became increasingly important.