Study Guide

Mary Wollstonecraft Introduction

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Mary Wollstonecraft Introduction

Today, we call the writer Mary Wollstonecraft a feminist. Since they didn't have that word when she lived in 18th century England, she got called a lot of other things - an "able advocate" If Wollstonecraft's ideas are good enough for Sasha Fierce, they're good enough for us.

Mary Wollstonecraft Trivia

At the age of 15, Wollstonecraft announced that she would never marry.

As a girl, Wollstonecraft would sleep in front of her mother's bedroom door to prevent her father from beating her mother.

Despite the fact that she had dabbled in novel writing herself, in her reviews Wollstonecraft echoed the 18th century worry that novel-reading was a frivolous hobby that deadened the intellect and loosened morals.

Wollstonecraft had feminist fans across the Atlantic. John Adams used to teasingly call his wife Abigail a "Disciple of Wollstonecraft."

Though William Godwin had been an outspoken opponent of marriage, ironically he refused to see his daughter Mary and her live-in boyfriend Percy Bysshe Shelley until the couple married.

When Wollstonecraft developed a crush on the painter Henry Fuseli, she suggested to Fuseli's wife that the three of them live together. Not surprisingly, Fuseli's wife did not like this idea. Fuseli stopped contacting Wollstonecraft after that.

Halfway through A Vindication of the Rights of Man, Wollstonecraft got a case of writer's block and called on her publisher Joseph Johnson. After listening to her agonize and complain about the progress of the work, Johnson offered to throw away all that she had written if it would make her happy. She was so annoyed by his indulgence of her stress-fest that she went straight home and finished the work.

Poor Fanny Imlay. William Godwin raised Wollstonecraft's illegitimate daughter by Gilbert Imlay after her mother's death, but never made any secret of his preference for his own daughter, Mary. Fanny committed suicide in 1816 at the age of 22.

Mary Wollstonecraft Resources


Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)
This is Wollstonecraft's masterwork. Though some male critics called her nasty names after its publication - "hyena in petticoats"_CITATION37_ comes to mind - astute readers realized that she was calling out her fellow women more than men. She knew they were capable of more than 18th century gender roles allowed them. Girls, rise up!

Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Fiction (1788)
This is Wollstonecraft's first novel. It rails against class and gender biases in 18th century England. Wollstonecraft was inspired by her experiences as a governess and companion to an elderly woman - both jobs she hated.

Lyndall Gordon, Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft (2005)
Gordon's acclaimed biography brings the pioneering feminist to life. You couldn't make up a better character than Mary Wollstonecraft - a passionate, world-traveling iconoclast who hobnobbed with some of the 18th century's most intriguing figures. Gordon's a great writer and really makes the story pop.

Diane Jacobs, Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft (2001)
Jacobs is a huge Wollstonecraft fan. Her book is a warm and intimate portrait of the writer. It looks at the dual nature of Wollstonecraft's personality - her fierce independence as a writer and feminist, alongside her suffocating, sometimes needy relationships with the people she loved.

Janet Todd, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life (2002)
This Wollstonecraft biography looks at her life by examining her letters. Wollstonecraft was a prolific letter writer and always demanded her letters back when a relationship ended. Sometimes that works against her - if everyone read all your emails (particularly the ones you wrote during breakups) you'd probably come off as a little crazy too.

Claudia L. Johnson, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (2002)
This is an invaluable guide for the Wollstonecraft student. Essays by Wollstonecraft scholars help explain her relevance and important contextual information to her works. There is also an insightful biography and timeline of Wollstonecraft's life.


Ludwig van Beethoven
Born not long after Wollstonecraft, Beethoven was also an important bridge between Classicalism and Romanticism. He played his first symphony in 1800, three years after Wollstonecraft died, and suffered profound hearing loss just one year later.

Jean-Baptiste Davaux, La Prise de la Bastille: Music of the Revolution
Infatuated with the Romantic ideals of the French revolution, Wollstonecraft moved to Paris in 1792, just three years after the storming of the Bastille. This music evokes that era, with its sentiments of liberté, egalité and décapitation.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was Wollstonecraft's contemporary. Born just three years before her in 1756, Wolfgang died six years before her in 1791. Sure, they were separated by the English Channel and half of Western Europe, but they both were trailblazers in their fields.

Vaughan Williams
Vaughan Williams was an English composer of the early twentieth century. He was inspired by the English Romantic poets, including Percy Bysshe Shelley, who married Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary. He wrote a symphony movement inspired by Shelley's poem "Prometheus Unbound."


Mary Wollstonecraft
A portrait by artist John Opie, circa 1797.

Mary Wollstonecraft
A second portrait by Opie, circa 1791-1792.

William Godwin
Wollstonecraft's husband and the father of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary Shelley in an 1840 portrait by Richard Rothwell.

Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Second edition

A Vindication of the Rights of Women
First American edition of Vindication

Original Stories from Real Life
Frontispiece of Wollstonecraft's only children's book, carved by William Blake.

Movies & TV

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)
Wollstonecraft died just days after giving birth to her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later Mary Shelley. We are sure she would have been proud of her daughter's success as the author of Frankenstein. Kenneth Branaugh directed this film adaptation of the book, and even credits Shelley as a screenwriter.

The Affair of the Necklace (2001)
The French Revolution was an idealistic inspiration to Wollstonecraft and other English intellectuals. Hilary Swank stars in this period piece about an episode that allegedly helped ignite the revolt. It's not the greatest film of all time, but it's an interesting look at the frivolity and excess that fueled the rage of the French Revolution.

Amadeus (1984)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was truly a contemporary of Wollstonecraft's. Born just three years before her in 1756, Wolfgang died six years before her in 1791. This award-winning biopic evokes the times in which the two geniuses lived, albeit in Austria instead of England.


Unitarian Universalist Historical Society
Mary Wollstonecraft attended services of the Unitarian Universalists, a liberal, non-denominational church. Their historical society has a great biography page on Wollstonecraft that outlines her career. It also has a helpful bibliography to further reading on Wollstonecraft.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
This online encyclopedia looks at Wollstonecraft's contributions as a political philosopher. Her Vindication essays are some of the most eloquent analyses of human rights of the 18th centuries. We also recommend that you look up William Godwin's entry as well, to get a sense of just how radical these two were in their day.

The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft
The introductory sections to this invaluable reference guide are available online. It includes a detailed timeline of Wollstonecraft's life. You can also read an excerpt from the book by clicking on the "More information" link in the upper-left corner.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology
No, we haven't made the common mistake of confusing Mary Wollstonecraft with her famous daughter, Frankenstein author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. We just think that the elder Mary W. deserves her props as the maternal ancestor of a remarkably creative and iconoclastic line of artists. This chronology of Shelley's life explains all that happened after Wollstonecraft's early death in childbirth.

Spartacus Educational
This biography of Mary Wollstonecraft is hyperlinked to the hilt. Click around on this page and you can learn about the life stories of Wollstonecraft and everyone she hung out with. It's a great tool for understanding her place in the web of English Romantics. Women's History
Mary Wollstonecraft's entry in the women's history chapter is a clear, straightforward introduction to the woman who has been called the mother of modern feminism. It's hyperlinked to many other interesting articles within the same chapter.

Video & Audio

Karla Carter
Professor Karla Carter gives an interesting two-part lecture on Mary Wollstonecraft.

The Rights (and Wrongs) of Mary Wollstonecraft
A preview of a play about Wollstonecraft and husband William Godwin.

The Mary Wollstonecraft Song
We agree with Becky Marder and Dorothy Li that this is the best history project ever.

Wollstonecraft Live!
Wollstonecraft Live! is an annual festival in Newington Green that celebrates the life of Mary Wollstonecraft.

Vindication 2005
A fictional re-enactment of the meeting of Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
A free audio book of Wollstonecraft's classic tract.

Primary Sources

A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Wollstonecraft's 1792 feminist tract.

Mary, A Fiction
Wollstonecraft's first novel.

Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman
Text of Wollstonecraft's novel.

Posthumous Works
The writing that Wollstonecraft's husband published after her death, including the biography that ruined her reputation.

Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark
Writings from Wollstonecraft's Travels in Scandanavia.

Text of the novel by Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

Godwin's Collected Works
Online text of William Godwin's political writings.

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