Mary Wollstonecraft: A Literary Life
Mary Wollstonecraft was an extraordinary individual, yet her literary life exemplifies how many women of her time used print culture to bring about change. This study argues that Protestant society had traditionally sanctioned women's role in spreading literacy, but this became politicized in the 1790s. Wollstonecraft's literary vocation was shaped by the high expectations in both the radical circles of Unitarian publisher Joseph Johnson, and the Girondins in revolutionary Paris, of the power of print to educate and reform individuals and society.
work that is, is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of
Wollstonecraft the Author-Educator 43 they progress to actually meeting Jack (who tells his own story) and whose loss of an eye and a leg presumably repelled them like the deformed woman at whom they had stared on the way. The shocking catalogue of deaths and horrors derives from Wollstonecraft’s attempt to avoid the clichés of sensibility in contemporary literature where the poor are merely picturesque bit-players brought on to induce middle-class emotionalism. Saba Bahar has drawn a useful
1796 as well as works by ‘Viet Weber’ (G.P.L.L. Wachter).13 Goethe, Herder, Schiller, Kotzebue and Kant were also reviewed in the Analytical. Of all these diverse and exciting publications published by Joesph Johnson, many would have passed across Wollstonecraft’s desk in the publishing process. She sometimes acted as a ‘reader’ of prospective publications, 14 sometimes she reviewed new works herself, as we shall see, or sent out them to experts in the field. This immersion in the white-hot
male property-holders. McDowell makes the point that this was in order to distance the Whiggish discourse oppositional to absolutism from the radicalism and sectarianism that had flourished during and after the Civil War period. So after the days of Tory polemicist Mary de la Rivière Manley, who took Swift’s place as editor of the Examiner in 1711, and the anonymous publication of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s Whig paper, The Nonsense of Commonsense (1737), we hear nothing for the next fifty years
that looked back to the 1688 settlement as an ideal balance bedevilled by an overweening monarchy was gone. Those who continued to support the French or to argue for reform at home were isolated: seen as extremist democrats by the majority whose new fear was ‘mobocracy’. Letter introductory to a series of letters on the present character of the French nation The only other surviving letter which Wollstonecraft seems to have sent to Johnson for the projected publication was one dated 15 February