Born into poverty to an abusive father who squandered a family
fortune, with no opportunity for further education, and limited
social and intellectual circles determined by her sex, Mary
Wollstonecraft became the mother of feminism in all its forms. When
Wollstonecraft wrote A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN, the
hallmark manifesto in which she insisted that women enjoy the same
rights and liberties as men, she gained worldwide recognition and
began to live the life she had always imagined. She lived in Paris
at the time of the French Revolution and gave birth to the child of
an American lover who eventually deserted her. Later, she married
the philosopher William Godwin but perished in childbirth --- that
child, Mary Godwin, went on to marry Percy Bysshe Shelley, write
FRANKENSTEIN and continue her mother's fight for women's equality.
Quite a life, to be sure.
Biographer Jacobs manages to shed some new light on
Wollstonecraft's life by using the letters of her dedicated
publisher, Joseph Johnson, and rare letters in which Mary discussed
her American lover and father of her first child, Gilbert Imlay, a
love story that had not been discussed in detail before this book
was being researched. Jacobs delves into all the aspects of the
communities, traditions, and social mores that attempted to hold
down Wollstonecraft, and which she eventually succeeded in
overcoming. It gives excellent context for her stellar
achievements, helping contemporary readers to understand why what
she accomplished was so remarkable given the limited resources
available to her. The salons of Louis XVI's France and the dark
days of the French Revolution and its aftermath are all aptly
described, so that the historical context of Mary's days helps shed
even greater light on what she was up against.
Wollstonecraft was an important and premier writer and thinker who
must never be forgotten. HER OWN WOMAN is a successfully rendered
picture of this great woman and all that she stood for.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 22, 2011