Mary Wollstonecraft: The Struggles of a Revolutionary
In the eighteenth century, a time of revolution and political reformation, many writers occupied themselves with producing political pamphlets and opinionated essays. Mary Wollstonecraft is no exception to this circle of revolutionary theorists, and is certainly regarded as one of the most profound feminist philosophers of the time. She wrote many works focusing on education, female rights, and politics. Her best known work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was an immediate success, and was one of the first works of feminist philosophy to be published at the time. Although her works were well regarded and she has become a prominent literary figure in history, the same success is not detected in her personal affairs. From a haphazard childhood, to attempted suicide, to her untimely death, Wollstonecraft’s personal life was plagued with turmoil.
Wollstonecraft was born April 27 1759 in London. Her father is said to have been abusive toward the family and they struggled financially. In 1778 Wollstonecraft left her home and after the death of her mother she began living with the Blood family. Shortly after the devastating death of her best friend and co-feminist Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft wrote her first novel, Mary: A Fiction. Wollstonecraft then traveled to Paris where she perused an American man named Gilbert Imlay, with whom she had a child and a phony marriage. Imlay later left her, resulting in her following him to London to mend their relationship. Upon his rejection, Wollstonecraft became depressed and attempted to commit suicide by consuming opium. When she was unsuccessful, she continued to attempt to win back his affections. It was during this time that she wrote many intimate letters in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark that were later published. Upon the realization that he did not reciprocate her feelings for him, she became extremely distraught and attempted suicide a second time by jumping into the River Thames, but was rescued by a passing stranger.
She soon met William Godwin through a literary circle and the two became romantically involved. She later became pregnant with Godwin’s child before the pair had wed. Consequently, against the proposed beliefs of Godwin in his work Political Justice, they married so that their child would be legitimate. This caused many rifts among their group of friends and acquaintances because Wollstonecraft was thought to be married to Imlay. Her marriage to Godwin unveiled the truth behind her false marriage.
The bliss of Godwin and Wollstonecraft’s marriage was cut short when Wollstonecraft tragically died only a few days after giving birth to their child Mary. Wollstonecraft fell ill with puerperal fever after an infection occurred during childbirth, which was a common occurrence in the eighteenth century. Her daughters were then left to be raised by Godwin until he later remarried.
From her troubled childhood to her own untimely death, one could assert that Wollstonecraft’s personal life was afflicted with tragedy and chaos. However, the same instances in her life contributed to her revolutionary writings during the 18th century, and are today considered important historical and literary works of the age of revolution.
“Mary Wollstonecraft.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 29 Sep. 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
“Mary Wollstonecraft.” Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Metaphysics Research Lab. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.