Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft

Having had an opportunity to be educated, something that was uncommon for women of her time, Mary Wollstonecraft worked hard to become a writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights. Her most reputable work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, shared her thoughts on education for women. Even though she did not have such a long career, she wrote interesting novels and treatises. Her response to Edmund Burke’s critique of the French Revolution in Reflections of the Revolution in France made her instant fame.

Early life and education

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born on 27 April 1759 as the second child to a family of seven children of Edward John and Elizabeth Dixon. As much as the Wollstonecraft’s had a comfortable income during the writer’s childhood days, the father squandered all of it on speculative projects. Soon, they became financially unstable and were forced to relocate. Her drunken father was a violent man and would beat his wife, forcing Wollstonecraft to occasionally sleep outside her mother’s bedroom door to protect her. The teenage girl also played maternal roles with Eliza and Everina. For instance, in 1784, she convinced her sister Eliza to leave her husband and infant after suffering from postpartum depression.

Her love life was subject to much public scrutiny. She is known to have had affairs with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay (by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay). When her relationship with Imlay ended, the writer attempted suicide by jumping into River Thames but was rescued by a stranger.

She got married to William Godwin, a philosopher whom she met at a dinner party while writing reviews for Analytical Review. The two had a daughter, Mary Shelley, who would grow to become an accomplished writer, famous for the science fiction novel Frankenstein.

Her second birth appeared to have gone well but eleven days later, in March 1797, she died due to an infected placenta. In 1798, Godwin published Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which shed more light on his wife’s personal life.

Notable works

Besides A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), Wollstonecraft had a wide range of novels and children’s books. These included Original Stories from Real Life (1788), Mary: A Fiction (1788), and Maria or The Wrongs of Woman (1798).

Another notable work is Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), which Wollstonecraft wrote in response to an attack by Edmund on her friend Rev Richard Price at the Newington Green Unitarian Church. In it she advocated for republicanism while pointing out the ills in aristocracy.

She also published numerous reviews, more so for novels for the periodical the Analytical Review. While writing the reviews, Wollstonecraft read broadly and kept a company that helped expand her intellectual universe. She attended dinners where she met the likes of Thomas Paine and philosopher William Godwin.


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