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‘A genius will educate itself’: Mary Wollstonecraft as Autodidact

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

Abstract

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in Primrose Street, London, on 27 April 1759, the second child and eldest daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Wollstonecraft. Her mother’s maiden name was Dickson; she was an Irish Protestant from Ballyshannon. If Mary’s secondary status in the eyes of her parents through her sex and age was calculated to sting Wollstonecraft into proving herself, then her loss of economic and class status as a young woman would be another spur. Her grandfather had been a wealthy silk merchant in Spitalfields who had left £10,000 to his son, but Mary’s father tried to distance himself from trade and set up as a gentleman farmer first in Essex, and then near Beverley in Yorkshire, quickly ruining himself and the whole family through extravagance and incompetence.

Keywords

Female Education Young Lady Female Artist Literary Life Print Culture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, eds Pamela Clemit and Gina Luria Walker (Ontario and Letchworth, Herts: Broadview Press, 2001), p. 44. Henceforth cited in parenthesis as MAVRW.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, ed. Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler (London: Pickering, 1989), 1: 124. All quotations are taken from this edition and will henceforth be cited in parenthesis.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Matthew Mercer, ‘Dissenting Academies and the Education of the Laity, 1750–1850’, History of Education, 30:1 (2001), 35–58; and William St Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys: A Biography of a Family (Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989), pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    I am indebted to Michael Franklin for tracing the quotations except for William King, which was provided in Janet Todd’s The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 2. The latter only came out as this book was being revised.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Malcolm Andrews, The Search for the Picturesque: Landscape Aesthetics and Tourism in Britain 1760–1800 (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1989), p. 86.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Susan Gubar, ‘Feminist Misogyny: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Paradox of “It takes One to Know One”’, Feminist Studies 20:3 (1994), 453–73.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    See Stuart Brown’s entry in The Dictionary of Eighteenth-Century British Philosophers, eds John W. Yolton, John Valdimir Price and John Stephens (Bristol and Sterling, Virginia: Thoemmes Press, 1999), 2, 872–4.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Letter of 18 Feb 1784. Abinger archive, Dep.b.210/9.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    William Robinson, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Stoke Newington in the County of Middlesex, Containing an Account of the Prebendal Manor, the Church, Charities, Schools, Meeting Houses etc (London, 1842).Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    John Gasgoigne, ‘Anglican Latitudinarianism, Rational Dissent and Political Radicalism in the Late Eighteenth Century’, in Knud Haakonsen (ed.), Enlightenment and Religion: Rational Dissent in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 219–240, p. 224.Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Barbara Taylor argues for the religious context of Wollstoncraft’s feminism in ‘The Religious Foundations of Mary Wollstonecraft’s feminism’, in Claudia L. Johnson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 99–118. Her impressive monograph on the subject, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) came out as this book was at the revision stage. Chapter 3 is essential reading on MW’s personal faith.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    I am indebted for my summary of Price’s theology to D.O. Thomas, The Honest Mind: The Thought and Work of Richard Price (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), chs 1–5.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    See Cheryl Turner, Living By The Pen: Women Writers in the Eighteenth Century (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 36–9.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse (eds), The Ideology of Conduct: Essays in Literature and the History of Sexuality (New York and London: Methuen, 1987), p. 4.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Gary Kelly, Revolutionary Feminism: The Mind and Career of Mary Wollstonecraft (Basingstoke and London: Macmillan — now Palgrave Macmillan, 1992), p. 31.Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    Hannah More, Essay on Various Subjects, Principally Designed for Young Ladies, 2nd edn (London: Wilkie, 1778), p. 3. All quotations are taken from this edition and henceforth cited in parenthesis.Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    See John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London: Harper Collins, 1997), p. 78.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 49.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Quoted in Claire Tomalin, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1974), p. 75.Google Scholar
  20. 26.
    Katherine Sobba Green uses the term in connection with Mary: A Fiction in The Courtship Novel, 1740–1820: A Feminized Genre (Lexington, Kentucky: University of Kentucky Press, 1991), p. 96.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination, p. 193; see also: Jacqueline Pearson, Women’s Reading in Britain 1750–1835: A Dangerous Recreation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination, pp. 108–10. She comments that a strong Platonist element was discernible in Unitarian thought, especially in Price’s moral philosophy and the writings of Anna Barbauld.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination, p. 205.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    English Review, 16 (1790), 465. See also Monthly Review, NS 2 (1790), 352–3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Caroline Franklin 2004

Authors and Affiliations

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

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