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‘The first of a new genus’: Proud To Be a Female Journalist

  • Caroline Franklin
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Part of the Literary Lives book series (LL)

Abstract

It was to 72 St Paul’s Churchyard where her publisher Joseph Johnson lived above his shop that Mary Wollstonecraft had made her way in August 1787 after she had been dismised as a governess. She had frankly explained to him her intention to live by the pen. ‘After a short conversation, Mr Johnson invited her to make his house her home’ and by the end of September he had found her a house in George Street on the South side of Blackfriars’ Bridge. She lived there for the next four years. As Johnson’s protegé, she worked her literary apprenticeship: described by the publisher to Godwin as ‘the most active period of her life’ (MAVRW, p. 67).1 Godwin gave a negative picture of her ‘miscellaneous literary employment’ which has remained the conventional judgement ever since. Hack writing tended to ‘damp and contract…the genius’; because answering ‘the mere mercantile porpose of the day…touched [the author] with the torpedo of mediocity’. The ‘daring flights’ evident in Mary: A Fiction evaporated and Wollstonecraft even stooped to ‘homilylanguage’ (MAVRW, pp. 69–70). But Godwin preferred the sentimentalist to the polemicist in Wollstonecraft. He underestimated what a moraleboosting achievement it was for a female autodidact to keep herself entirely by the pen in the eighteenth century. This formative period was crucial in the making of Wollstonecraft as a writer.

Keywords

Eighteenth Century French Revolution Analytical Review Woman Writer Publishing Trade 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Godwin is quoting the words of Johnson in his memorandum on MW sent to her widower after her death, ‘A Few Facts’, Abinger Archive. Dep.6. 210/3.Google Scholar
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    J.W. Saunders, The Profession of English Letters (London and Toronto: University of Toronto Press, and Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), p. 160.Google Scholar
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    Helen Braithwaite informs me that Johnson’s business letterbook shows that he only reluctantly acceded to growing requests from authors to have their works printed locally, preferring to handle all aspects of publication himself in London.Google Scholar
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    Mitzi Myers gives an up-to-date account of the problem of attribution as well as an excellent analysis of Wollstonecraft as a critic of sentimental fiction in ‘Mary Wollstonecraft’s Literary Reviews’, in Claudia L. Johnson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 82–98.Google Scholar
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    This review seems to have been accidentally omitted from Todd and Butler’s Works of Mary Wollstonecraft.Google Scholar
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    James G. Basker, ‘Radical Affinities: Mary Wollstonecraft and Samuel Johnson’, in Alvaro Ribeiro, SJ and James G. Basker (eds), Tradition in Transition: Women Writers, Marginal Texts, and the Eighteenth-Century Canon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 41–55.Google Scholar
  49. 51.
    Helen Braithwaite notes that it may not be insignificant that Joseph Johhnson had become a principal part-owner in regularly-reprinted editions of the Rambler, Adventurer, Connoisseur, World by the 1790s (personal comment).Google Scholar
  50. 52.
    Edward Duffy makes this comment, though without noting Wollstonecraft’s authorship of the article in Rousseau in England: The Context for Shelley’s Critique of the Enlightenment (Berkely, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1979), p. 34.Google Scholar
  51. 53.
    Durant suggests she wrote a review ‘The Arts’ in October 1788 describing Boydell’s scheme for a series of paintings from Shakespeare. Durant, ‘Supplement’ to Memoirs, pp. 190–1.Google Scholar
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    See Scott Juengel, ‘Countenancing History: Mary Wollstonecraft, Samuel Stanhope Smith, and Enlightenment Racial Science’, English Literary History, 68:4 (2001), 897–927.Google Scholar
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    Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women’s Political Writing in England 1780–1830 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Caroline Franklin 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline Franklin
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WalesSwanseaUK

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