Mary Wollstonecraft was an unusual woman. She left home at the age of 19 to escape her bullying father and his many failed business ventures. She worked as a school teacher and a governess before settling on a writing career.
Wollstonecraft’s political writings focused on the hot topic of the day, the French Revolution. She was a “republican” supporting the ideals of the French Revolution. In 1790 she became the first intellectual to challenge Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution when she published Vindication of the Rights of Man. Most intellectuals, however, sided with the conservative Burke as news spread of the violent Reign of Terror.
Wollstonecraft’s social writings also diverged from the mainstream. In 1792 she published Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which advocated gender equality and better education of women. She believed a better education would enhance their self-respect and self-worth. She also published a novel in which the women enjoyed sex and considered it ridiculous to pretend otherwise. (She beat Erica Jong by almost 200 years.)
Wollstonecraft’s private life shocked conventional society as much as her political and social views. While living in Paris she met Gilbert Imlay, an American businessman, and agreed to be his common law wife. However, Imlay deserted her after the birth of their daughter, Fanny.
Wollstonecraft returned to London and eventually moved in with William Godwin, another political and social radical. They both despised marriage as tyranny but married when she became pregnant. Wollstonecraft died soon after at the age of 38 about a month after the birth of their daughter Mary.
Daughter Mary is known to us as Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley was overshadowed in her own life by her parents’ notoriety. It left her feeling like a freak and a social outcast, much like the Creature in her famous novel. Psychologists might be able to explain it better; for the rest of us, it means that Mary Wollstonecraft was Frankenstein’s mother.
About Norma Shirk
Norma started her company, Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.
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