Mary Wollstonecraft


1759

27 April: Born to Elizabeth Dickson and Edward John Wollstonecraft. She is the second child, a brother Edward having been born a few years earlier. Four additional children will follow.

Her grandfather was well-to-do, having established oneof the early mills in England. But MW's father quit his job at the mill as soon as he received his inheritance and lived the life of the "gentleman", drinking and gambling the money away. Slowly the family began a descent through the economic scale.

MW takes on the role of "dutiful daughter," often attempting to protect her mother and brothers and sisters from the wrath of her father, who became combative after drinking too much.

1770

The family moves to Beverly. MW becomes friends with Jane Arden. John Arden, Jane's father, is a well-known teacher and philosopher of the day, and he takes some interest in MW's intellectual growth.

1774

The Wollstonecraft family moves again, now to Huxton. Here MW becomes acquainted with and works for the Clares, who have a well-stocked library and who introduce Mary to Fanny Blood, who becomes "her dearest friend" until her untimely death in childbirth.

The Clares encourage and help with introductions as MW sets out to become independent - working as a companion, governess and later as founder of a day school.

1783

MW helps her sister Eliza escape an oppressive and brutal marriage. This is an illegal action and the two have to "hide out" until a legal separation can be worked out. Then with the help of the Clares and other Dissenters at Newington Green, MW establishes a school at Newington Green, employing her sister and others. (The school eventually failed due to poor finances.)

1785

She begins writing at the suggestion of John Hewett.

1786

Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: with Reflections on Female conduct in the More Important Duties of Life is published by Joseph Johnson, who happens to be Hewett's publisher. This begins a long association with Johnson. He teaches MW a great deal about writing, offering sound and careful criticism of her work. She soon becomes a prolific reviewer of books and does translations of foreign works into English.

1787

Her Original Stories from Real Life: with Conversations, Calculated to Regulate the Affections and form the Mind to Truth and Goodness is published.

1788

She begins doing book reviews for Johnson & Christie's journal, The Analytical Review.

1789

Her translation of Necker's De L'Importance des Opins Religieuses is published, followed by a translation of Young Grandison, and she compiles a collection of poetry and prose, Female Reader.

1790

Her translation of Salzman's Elements of Morality is published as well as A Vindicationof the Rights of Men, a work penned in haste and great heat after Edmund Burke published Reflections on the Revolution, in which he defended the monarchy and argued that only the aristocracy should vote and rule. Wollstonecraft's impassioned defense of universal suffrage is an immediate best seller both in England and the Americas.

1792

She publishes another best-seller, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. This is done in response to Talleyrand's apparent willingness to adopt Rousseau's educational plan, which advocated separate and unequal education for girls and boys.

She sets out for Paris. There, she collects materials for An Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution: and the effect it has Produced in Europe (vol I, 1794) and is critical of the Reign of Terror.

She meets Captain Gilbert Imlay, an American timber-merchant and author of The Western Territory of North America. She agrees to become Imlay's common-law wife and in May 1794, she gives birth to a daughter whom she names, Fanny.

1794

Birth of her daughter, Fanny.

Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution is published.

1795

After a four-month visit to Scandinavia as Imlay's "wife," he deserts her. Mary tries to kill herself by drowning.

1796

Publishes Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Political philosopher William Godwin reads this, and later wrote that "If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration."

1797

She publishes, in the Monthly Review, an article "On Poetry and Our Relish of the Beauties of Nature."

Marries Godwin. They live in proximate but separate apartments, coming together for dinner each evening.

30 August: gives birth to her second daughter, Mary. Although the delivery seemed to go well initially, the placenta broke apart during the birth and became infected, a common occurrence in the 18c. After several days of agony, Wollstonecraft died of septicemia on 10 September.

1798

The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria, The Cave of Fancy, Letter on the Present Character of the French Nation, Fragment of Letters on the Management of Infants, Lessons, Hints are all published posthumously.



Contending for the rights of women, my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice.

Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives;   that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.


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