Mary Wollstonecraft

“Mary Wollstonecraft: (1759-1797) English author. Wollstonecraft is famous for her groundbreaking Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), and as the wife of William Godwin and the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Yet her political and literary life developed much earlier. Wollstonecraft was the father of an alcoholic father, from whom she tried to protect her mother, just as she helped her sister flee an abusive husband. After helping to found a girl’s school, working as a governess, and suffering years of poverty, she began to write. Her first novel, Mary, a Fiction (1788), was actually based on her own life. In the same year, she published a children’s book (later illustrated by William Blake). Her A Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790) predated Thomas Paine’s famous response to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France and was similar in kind. In her more famous Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she showed how women were an oppressed group as much as the working class. Her analysis of social roles and the effect of laws that reduced women to the status of nonpersons was a model for later feminists.

Wollstonecraft lived in France during the revolution’s most violent phase, and began an unhappy affair which led to a child and two suicide attempts, She met Godwin after her return to London, and married him in 1796. She died the following year after giving birth to her daughter Mary.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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