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


The way Mary Wollstonecraft died, and the manner in which her literary afterlife began were both imbued with tragic irony. Just as she had attained the relationship of mutual love between intellectual equals she had always craved, and was revelling in the realities of the maternal role she had theorized and philosophized for a decade, childbirth itself cut short her life. Because she happened to die in 1798, when anti-Jacobin feeling was at its height, her first biographer’s groundbreaking frankness about her life raised a cloud of scandal and satire which besmirched all the respectful plaudits she had hitherto accumulated as a woman of letters. Her reputation fell almost instantly into, if not obscurity, then such pestilential shade that the next generation of women writers would not dare to come near — at least publicly. Wollstonecraft’s disciples, Marys Robinson and Hays, did bravely produce their own ‘feminist’ treatises, testifying to her influence. However, Hays was constrained to bring out her Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women (1798) anonymously and only alluded to Wollstonecraft without naming her.1


Puerperal Fever Woman Writer Maternal Role Literary Life Print Culture 
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  1. 1.
    Described by its modern editor Gina Luria as a gentler ‘companion-piece to Wollstonecraft’s Vindication’. The two works would be also similarly linked together by socialist feminist William Thompson in his Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men, To Retain Them in Political and Thence in Civil and Domestic Slavery, etc (1825). See introduction to An Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women (1798, repr. New York and London: Garland, 1974), pp. 22–4.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Also published in 1799 was Mary Ann Radcliffe, The Female Advocate. Or, An Attempt to recover the Rights of Woman from Male Usurpation (1799).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    [Richard Polwhele], The Unsex’d Females: A Poem Addressed to the Author of the Pursuits of Literature (London: 1798), note 44 to line 174. The quotations are from Godwin’s Memoirs.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Vivien Jones, ‘The Death of Mary Wollstonecraft’, British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 20:2 (Autumn 1997), 187–206.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, 2 vols (London: Henry King & Co, 1876), 1: 282.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Quoted by Jones, ‘The Death of Mary Wollstonecraft’, 197. 7. C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, 1: 276.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Abinger Archive, Dep.b.227/8. Verso in another hand, ‘Since her marriage I have seen her often & intimately, & for affectionate manners, kindness of heart & excellence of understanding I have never known a being at all to be compared to her’.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Both quotations from Abinger Archive, Dep.b.227/8. Letterpress copy of letter written in November, perhaps to Skeys; and another of 4 October, perhaps to one of Wollstonecraft’s brothers, asking for information of her early life.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, 1: 285–6. 11. Mitzi Myers, ‘Godwin’s Memoirs of Wollstonecraft: The Shaping of Self and Subject’, Studies in Romanticism, 20 (Autumn 1981), 299–316.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    See Robert Anderson, ‘ “Ruinous Mixture”: Godwin, enclosure and the associated self’, Studies in Romanticism, 39 (Winter 2000), 617–45.Google Scholar
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    Myers, ‘Godwin’s Memoirs of Wollstonecraft: The Shaping of Self and Subject’, p. 311. 14. Andrew Elfenbein, ‘Lesbianism and Romantic Genius: The Poetry of AnneGoogle Scholar
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    Bannerman’, English Literary History, 63:4 (1996), 929–57, 933.Google Scholar
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    Helen M. Buss, ‘Memoirs Discourse and William Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, in Helen M. Buss, D.L. Macdonald, and Anne McWhir (eds), Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier Press, 2001), pp. 113–26, p. 122. 16. C. Kegan Paul, William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries, 1: 277.Google Scholar
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    Anti-Jacobin Review, 1 ( July 1798), 94–9.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Nicola Trott, ‘Sexing the Critic: Mary Wollstonecraft at the turn of the century’, in Richard Cronin (ed.), 1798: The Year of the Lyrical Ballads (Basingstoke: Macmillan — now Palgrave Macmillan, 1998), pp. 32–67, p. 35.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    Monthly Review, 27 (Nov. 1798), 321–3.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    ‘Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft’, Annual Necrology for 1797–8 (London: R. Phillips, 1800), pp. 454–6. Hays had also written an obituary in the Monthly Magazine, 4 (Sept. 1797), 231–3.Google Scholar
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    See B. Sprague Allen, ‘The Reaction against William Godwin’, Modern Philology, 16: 5 (Sept. 1918), 57–75.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    William Roberts, Life and Correspondence of Mrs Hannah More, 3 vols (London: R.B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1834), 2: 371.Google Scholar
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    Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799, repr. Oxford and New York: Woodstock Books, 1995), p. 48, henceforth cited in parenthesis in the text.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    Extracts from the journals and correspondence of Miss Berry: from the year 1783 to 1852, ed. Lady Theresa Lewis, 3 vols (London: Longmans, Green, 1866), 2: 91. Though the Victorian editor cites Wollstonecraft’s Thoughts on the Education of Daughters in her note, it is more likely that Berry is actually referring to the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft’s most famous publication.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Mary Thale, ‘London Debating Societies in the 1790s’, The Historical Journal, 32:1 (1989), 57–86, 82.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    Attribution by Wendy Gunther-Canada, ‘Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Wild Wish”: Confounding Sex in the Discourse of Political Rights’; ‘“The same subject continued”: Two hundred years of Wollstonecraft Scholarship’, in Mario J. Falco (ed.), Feminist Interpretations of Mary Wollstonecraft (Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996), pp. 61–83, 209–23.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    Barbara Caine, ‘Victorian feminism and the Ghost of Mary Wollstonecraft’, Women’s Writing, 4:2 (1997), 261–76. On Wollstonecraft’s influence on twentieth-century feminists, see Cora Kaplan, ‘Mary Wollstonecraft’s reception and legacies’, in Johnson (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft, pp. 246–70.Google Scholar
  25. 31.
    Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination, p. 248.Google Scholar
  26. 32.
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  27. 33.
    Kathryn Gleadle, The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women’s Rights Movement, 1831–51 (Basingstoke: Macmillan — now Palgrave Macmillan, 1995), p. 34.Google Scholar
  28. 34.
    Pam Hirsch, ‘Mary Wollstonecraft: a problematic legacy’, in Clarissa Campbell Orr (ed.), Wollstonecraft’s Daughters: Womanhood in England and France 1780–1920 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1996), pp. 43–60, p. 53; Pam Hirsch, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: Feminist, Artist and Rebel (London: Pimlico, 1998), p. 85.Google Scholar
  29. 35.
    Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, 1: 400.Google Scholar
  30. 36.
    ‘Mary Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft’ (13 October 1855), Essays of George Eliot, ed. Thomas Pinney (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963), p. 201.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Caroline Franklin 2004

Authors and Affiliations

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

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