Cover image for Mary Wollstonecraft : a revolutionary life
Mary Wollstonecraft : a revolutionary life
Todd, Janet, 1942-
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Publication Information:
New York : Columbia University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xxii, 516 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
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PR5841.W8 Z63 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, it argues that it is her life and letters that are her most lasting legacy. It shows how she strove to reconcile integrity and sexual desire, the duties and needs of a woman, motherhood and intellectual life, domesticity and fame.

Author Notes

Janet Todd is Research Professor of English at the University of Glasgow. She is the editor of A Wollstonecraft Anthology and her writings include The Sign of Angelica: Women, Writing, and Fiction, 1600-1800 .

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Thanks to her Vindication of the Rights of Women, it would not be a surprise to find Wollstonecraft's name among the possible answers to a question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? But the life of this eighteenth-century woman is at least as remarkable as her work. Todd, an English professor at the University of East Anglia, draws heavily on Wollstonecraft's letters in this thoughtful biography. Few would consider Wollstonecraft affable: she resented her father's economic failures and the frequent moves they required; was contemptuous of her doormat mother; "mothered and smothered" her sisters; chased feckless lover Gilbert Imlay, father of her daughter, Fanny, across Europe; and attempted suicide when he ended their relationship. The tone of complaint in her letters and her refusal to recognize fault in herself will convince many readers she would not be a good candidate for best friend. But Wollstonecraft traveled uncharted waters: her voice, though egotistical, is unquestionably modern, a "consciousness . . . sure of its significance, individuality and authenticity." Appropriate where biographies and women's studies are popular. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Mary Wollstonecraft may be called "the mother of feminism," but motherhood in all its various aspects represented little but trouble to her. All her life, according to Todd (Aphra Behn), she resented her own mother because she had breast-fed only her brother, leaving Mary to the wet nurse, and because she detested the model of long-suffering patience in the face of paternal tyranny that was her mother's accommodation to marriage. Later, Mary would intervene energetically following the birth of her sister's child, encouraging Eliza to run away from husband and baby to pursue an independent female existence, although Eliza proved to be woefully inadequate at it. Mary's own first-born was the result of a passionate and illicit affair with an American, Gilbert Imlay, who dumped her when the baby was less than a year old. Finally, and tragically, Mary herself died at 38, after giving birth to a second daughter, another Mary, who would grow up to write that classic of grotesque creation, Frankenstein. Despite, or perhaps because of, the burden of her gender, and despite her poverty, frequent depressions and occasional suicidal moments, Wollstonecraft's achievement was astounding: several novels; many essays, reviews and books of advice; and, notably, The Vindication of the Rights of Women, a fundamental feminist document. By Todd's account, Wollstonecraft could be prickly, sometimes needy, often arrogant and wrong-headed. Todd brings her back to life in all her splendid contradictions, without condescension, idealization or, happily, without recourse to intrusive psychologizing. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this first full-length biography of Wollstonecraft in more than 20 years, Todd (The Secret Life of Aphra Behn) has drawn on past studies but focuses on her life as revealed in her letters and on their relationship to her work. Wollstonecraft, whose A Vindication of the Rights of Woman later established her reputation as the mother of feminism, was nearly always troubled by financial and family worries, had a volatile temperament, and craved an enduring emotional and sexual relationship, which led her to two suicide attempts. Nevertheless, Todd sees her as self-confident and outspoken, often prickly, and determined to make her own way as a writer and advocate of women's rights. Ironically, she died a few days after childbirth and less than a year after her marriage to William Godwin, in whom she seemed to have found a satisfactory emotional and intellectual match. One can assume she would have been pleased that their daughter became the writer Mary Shelley. This incisive, scholarly biography is appropriate for academic and large public libraries and all women's studies collections.DPatricia A. Beaber, Coll. of New Jersey, Ewing (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. ix
List of principal charactersp. xiii
Part I

p. 1

Part II

p. 121

Part III

p. 203

Part IV

p. 365

Notesp. 459
Bibliographyp. 497
Indexp. 507