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That Satirical Way of Nipping

Fara Dabhoiwala: Learning to Laugh, 16 December 2021

Uncivil Mirth: Ridicule in Enlightenment Britain 
by Ross Carroll.
Princeton, 255 pp., £28, April, 978 0 691 18255 1
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... coarsen public discourse, especially when it failed to land. An awkward balancing act ensued. Mary Wollstonecraft, for instance, condemned her opponents for speaking and writing contemptuously at the same time as mocking them herself. In her Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), she attacked Edmund Burke for mean-spirited ridicule, while making ...

Marks of Inferiority

Freya Johnston: Wollstonecraft’s Distinction, 4 February 2021

WollstonecraftPhilosophy, Passion and Politics 
by Sylvana Tomaselli.
Princeton, 230 pp., £25, December 2020, 978 0 691 16903 3
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... Mary Wollstonecraft​ is in many ways ill-suited to the role of the earliest advocate of women’s rights. The term ‘feminism’ and its tradition postdate her by at least half a century; she appears to have intensely disliked most women; and she celebrated qualities of mind that she tended to label ‘masculine’ or ‘manly ...

They Supped with the King

Bee Wilson: Mistresses, 6 January 2011

Mistresses: A History of the Other Woman 
by Elizabeth Abbott.
Duckworth, 510 pp., £20, 0 7156 3946 3
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... and painting her fingernails’. She referred to her liaison with Shawn simply as ‘our life’. Mary Wollstonecraft had mistresses in mind when she wrote of the ‘passions’ of men placing women ‘on thrones’. In Wollstonecraft’s view, such passions gave women a power of sorts, but they were adored rather than ...


Alan Ryan, 9 November 1989

Burke and the Fall of Language: The French Revolution as Linguistic Event 
by Steven Blakemore.
University Press of New England, 115 pp., £10, April 1989, 0 87451 452 5
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The Impact of the French Revolution on European Consciousness 
edited by H.T. Mason and William Doyle.
Sutton, 205 pp., £17.95, June 1989, 0 86299 483 7
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The French Revolution and the Enlightenment in England 1789-1832 
by Seamus Deane.
Harvard, 212 pp., £19.95, November 1988, 0 674 32240 1
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... self-consciously to attain a rhetorical pitch appropriate to their commitment. Burke, Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft, as much as Brissot, Danton and Robespierre, tried to seize the stylistic initiative as much as the political initiative, or more accurately as part of seizing the political initiative. This wasn’t simply a matter of the struggles among ...

Sublimely Bad

Terry Castle, 23 February 1995

Secresy; or, The Ruin on the Rock 
by Eliza Fenwick, edited by Isobel Grundy.
Broadview, 359 pp., £9.99, May 1994, 1 55111 014 8
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... patriot and member of the London Corresponding Society, became friends with William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft around the time of the French Revolution. One of the few – haunting – pieces of biographical information we have about Fenwick, indeed, is that she was present at the birth of Wollstonecraft’s ...

At Free Love Corner

Jenny Diski, 30 March 2000

Literary Seductions: Compulsive Writers and Diverted Readers 
by Frances Wilson.
Faber, 258 pp., £12.99, October 1999, 0 571 19288 2
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... compilation chapter Caroline Lamb falls for Byron, and Elizabeth Smart for George Barker, while Mary Godwin and Shelley shadow the literary love of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, Robert Graves and Laura Riding, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam, W.B. and Georgie Yeats all get chapters ...


Anne Barton: Mary Shelley, 8 February 2001

Mary Shelley 
by Miranda Seymour.
Murray, 665 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 7195 5711 9
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Mary Shelley in Her Times 
edited by Betty Bennett and Stuart Curran.
Johns Hopkins, 311 pp., £33, September 2000, 0 8018 6334 1
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Mary Shelley's Fictions 
edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra.
Palgrave, 250 pp., £40, August 2000, 0 333 77106 0
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... were drowned off Leghorn in July 1822. Shortly thereafter, Byron and Trelawny embarked for Greece, Mary Shelley’s troubled and troubling step-sister Claire Clairmont departed to become a governess in Russia, and in 1823 Mary and her last surviving child returned to the England she had not seen since 1818. ‘The ...

Benevolent Mr Godwin

E.P. Thompson, 8 July 1993

Political Justice 
by William Godwin, introduced by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Woodstock, £150, November 1992, 1 85196 019 8
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The Political and Philosophical Writings of William Godwin 
edited by Mark Philp.
Pickering & Chatto, £395, March 1993, 1 85196 026 0
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Political Writings 
by Mary Wollstonecraft, edited by Janet Todd.
Pickering & Chatto, 411 pp., £39.95, March 1993, 1 85196 019 8
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Memoirs of Wollstonecraft 
by William Godwin, introduced by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Woodstock, 199 pp., £8.95, April 1993, 1 85477 125 6
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... found, belatedly, space for imagination and even for the domestic affections; as he gave in, with Wollstonecraft, to the Gothic institution of marriage, it was difficult for contemporaries to feel that he was aloft in the same constellation. One star in that constellation might merit closer attention: ‘benevolence’. Hazlitt also saw its central ...

Mary Swann’s Way

Danny Karlin, 27 September 1990

Jane Fairfax 
by Joan Aiken.
Gollancz, 252 pp., £12.95, September 1990, 0 575 04889 1
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Lady’s Maid 
by Margaret Forster.
Chatto, 536 pp., £13.95, July 1990, 0 7011 3574 3
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Mary Swann 
by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 313 pp., £12.99, August 1990, 1 872180 02 7
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... bad writing can say little. Jane Fairfax does indeed, I think, step into Emma out of the pages of Mary Wollstonecraft: but the protest which her presence in Highbury registers against the prevailing social order is defused by the fairy-tale plot which takes care to avert her grim social destiny as impoverished governess. She is clearly an intellectual ...

Scribbling Rascal

Leslie Mitchell, 1 August 1996

John Wilkes 
by Peter D.G. Thomas.
Oxford, 280 pp., £25, March 1996, 0 19 820544 9
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... Macaulay’s and the authority of the natural rights theories that attracted Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. One is left with the feeling that Wilkes sincerely believed in the liberties of Old England because they allowed scribbling rascals like him to cut a figure. What his career brings forcibly to light is how limited the options were when ...

Ode on a Dishclout

Joanna Innes: Domestic Servants, 14 April 2011

Labours Lost: Domestic Service and the Making of Modern England 
by Carolyn Steedman.
Cambridge, 410 pp., £21.99, November 2009, 978 0 521 73623 7
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... humiliated state of mind of its tenant.’ Steedman notes that he was then about to set up with Mary Wollstonecraft in neighbouring houses, and had reasons of his own to ponder the effect that servants – perhaps abject and depressed – might have on a household’s children. Another device Steedman uses to keep the practical, experiential context in ...

Short Cuts

Joanna Biggs: The Manifesto Instinct, 18 June 2020

... about the feminist movement is that what women want hasn’t been that much of a mystery at all. (Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Simone de Beauvoir: century after century, girls just wanna be human, not other.) But finding the moment to speak and the words to use? Reading Breanne Fahs’s collection of feminist manifestos, Burn It ...

No Fear of Fanny

Marilyn Butler, 20 November 1980

by Erica Jong.
Granada, 496 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 246 11427 4
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The Heroine’s Text 
by Nancy Miller.
Columbia, 185 pp., £10, July 1980, 0 231 04910 2
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... the medical detail is authentic enough to bear comparison with the well-documented last days of Mary Wollstonecraft. In no time the baby is kidnapped by her deranged wetnurse, and Fanny’s pursuit across the ocean to the New World provides a pretext for colourful digressions about life on shipboard, the slave trade, and the conventions observed by ...


Ian Campbell Ross: ‘provincial genius’, 23 October 2003

Hermsprong; or Man as He Is Not 
by Robert Bage, edited by Pamela Perkins.
Broadview, 387 pp., £8.99, March 2002, 1 55111 279 5
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... Godwin asked Darwin’s wife for a letter of introduction to Robert Bage instead. To his surprise, Mary Darwin said she could not properly provide one since, though Bage was her husband’s ‘very particular friend’, she wasn’t sure she had ever set eyes on him. Undeterred, Godwin determined to introduce himself to ‘the author of ...

Rotten as Touchwood

Loraine Fletcher, 21 September 1995

The Poems of Charlotte Smith 
edited by Stuart Curran.
Oxford, 335 pp., £35.50, March 1994, 9780195078732
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... history, motherhood, family quarrels, debts and lawsuits. Like other Jacobin writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Hays and Elizabeth Inchbald, she was defining for herself attitudes which were just starting to be termed ‘radical’: beliefs connecting the private with the national life and so politicising ...

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