This is not going to be a bio of Mary Wollstonecraft or an impartial critique of her works and impact. No this is going to be a straight-up piece of hero worship. There aren’t many heroes in the text of Frankenstein or surrounding its author. But Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley’s mum who she never really met is a force to be reckoned with. Her legacy looms large in Shelley’s life, with the author often remarking on the expectations that she would do great things because of her lineage. Whilst William Godwin, Shelley’s father lived long enough to grow conservative and gradually let his radical views fall by the way-side, Mary Wollstonecraft did not have that chance, as she died, still a relatively young woman, from complications after giving birth to Mary Godwin (later Shelley).
Mary was not Wollstonecraft’s first daughter, she had a daughter named Fanny who she raised as a single mother at a time when that was just not the done thing. She felt no need to become attached legally to the fathers of her children but did marry Godwin prior to Mary Shelley’s birth. She believed strongly in female emancipation and the necessity of educating girls so that they were not dependent on husbands or other male family members. Her most notable work is probably “A Vindication of The Rights of Woman” which was a follow up to her original work “A Vindication of the Rights of Man”. “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” laid out an amazing protofeminist agreement for, not only the reasons that women should be educated, but that girls had been socially conditioned into being demure, fragile “idiots”. It is a thrilling book to read when you put it into the context of its time. She was telling the reader, who at that stage was assumed to be a man due to the low levels of female literacy, that female education and empowerment was their problem too, and that they should be encouraging their sisters, wives and daughters to take an interest in things outside the domestic sphere.
She was in France during the French revolution, she had many affairs and she also had a friend named Fanny Blood (which is an AMAZING name might I add) in her youth and they had that type of intense friendship that can become completely co-dependent until Fanny died.
This is basically turning into a non-chronological list of why I love Mary Wollstonecraft. Her novel “Maria: Or the Wrongs of Woman” (1798) is a tragedy that also serves as a damning indictment of the power imbalances in marriage, with men being literally able to lock up their wives under the pretence of them being hysterical. She was also a prolific letter writer, whose letters were published in volumes that sold remarkably well.
I’m going to come back to Wollstonecraft again another day because she is just so important to not only the creation of Frankenstein, but crucial to early feminism.
We owe so much to her. Let’s try not to forget her.