Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was the founder of modern feminism -- in her time,the most famous woman in Europe and America. In this exciting new biography, Lyndall Gordon proposes that at each stage of a passionate and courageous life -- as teacher, writer, lover, and traveler -- Mary Woll-stonecraft was an original. She had advanced ideas on education, and her views on single motherhood, family responsibilities, working life, domestic affections, friendships, and sexual relationships now look astonishingly modern. She tested new ways a man and a woman might come to know each other and live together. "Imagination must lead the senses, not the senses the imagination," she told her American lover, Gilbert Imlay, and repeated to her husband, William Godwin.
Vindication is the first biography to show this remarkable woman at full strength and bring out the range as well as the reverberations of her genius in the following and subsequent generations. Here is the drama of Wollstonecraft's life as a governess in an aristocratic family in Ireland, as an independent writer in London, as an on-the-scene observer of the French Revolution, and as a daring traveler to Scandinavia on the trail of an unsolved crime. Although she died young, her spirit and unconventional ideas lived on in the lives of her daughter, Mary Shelley, and three other heirs who had to contend with a counter-revolutionary age. Vindication offers new evidence for the influence of early American political thought in England and demonstrates for the first time the profound effect of Mary Wollstonecraft's own writing, especially her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, on American figures of the day, among them John and Abigail Adams. This groundbreaking biography follows the colorful wheelings and dealings of young American adventurers like Joel Barlowand the elusive frontiersman Imlay, who sought their fortunes amid the tumultuous events of late-eighteenth-century Europe and whose clandestine service to the fledglingAmerican government is newly explored.
This is a brilliantly told story, moving on from the issue of rights to larger questions that still lie beyond us: What is woman's nature? What will she contribute to civilization? Lyndall Gordon mounts a spirited defense of Mary Wollstonecraft, whose previous biographers have often doubted her integrity, her stability, and the exhilarating experiment that was her life. Vindication probes these doubts, measures Wollstonecraft's life against her own strengths instead of the weakness that sometimes held her back, and reinterprets her for the twenty-first century.
With Gordon, the life of the "famous, then notorious" Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) is in the hands of a scholarly admirer and defender, a distinguished biographer (of T. S. Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and others) as interested in Wollstonecraft for her mistakes as for her triumphs. For those familiar with the broad outlines of Wollstonecraft's personal life (her friendships with Jane Arden and Fanny Blood, her relationship with the painter Fuseli, her affair with Gilbert Imlay, her "friendship melting into love" with the philosopher Godwin), Gordon offers fresh detail and insight. She brings encyclopedic scope to her construction of a very British life deeply affected by tumultuous events in America and France. "She was not a born genius," Gordon says, "she became one," and Gordon succeeds admirably in showing readers how this independent, compassionate woman who devised a blueprint for human change achieved that distinction. Wollstonecraft's wide, evolving circles of friends, benefactors, mentors, admirers and detractors is richly sketched. Melodrama (a money-squandering, abusive father; a sister trapped in a tyrannical marriage; financial crises; unfaithful lovers; attempted suicides) abounds. Wollstonecraft's life was an adventurous one; in Paris, she watched as the admired French Revolution become the Reign of Terror. Yet Wollstonecraft's adventurous life illuminates rather than obscures the philosophical and historical work that made her the foremother of much modern thinking about education and human rights, as well as about women's rights, female sexuality and the institution of marriage. Deeply documented with Wollstonecraft's writing, contemporary memoirs, letters and archival materials, Gordon's biography is eminently readable and rewarding. Photos.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 02, 2006
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