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Women today are in debt to Mary.

Byline: By Anthony Looch

Mary Wollstonecraft ( A New Genius by Lyndall Gordon (Virago, pounds 25)

Even male chauvinists should be impressed by the story of Mary Wollstonecraft, who is regarded as the mother of modern feminism.

This biography, packed with social history, paints a compassionate picture of a highly-strung, intelligent and courageous visionary.

She had the misfortune to possess 1970s attitudes on education, women's rights and class, while living in the 1780s and 90s. At that time, what she preached was regarded as anarchic heresy by most people.

Her father had ended up in the impecunious middle-class and, when very young, Mary had to earn a living at a time when there were few decent work opportunities for women.

Ladies of the middle and upper classes were expected to play the role of helpless, dizzy creatures dominated by men. A subservient role within marriage was their destiny.

Mary educated herself and struck up friendships with many radical thinkers of the day, including Thomas Paine. She wrote books; the most famous, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published in 1792.

Her relationship with a dubious American, Gilbert Imlay, by whom she had a daughter out of wedlock, caused a public scandal and came to an unhappy end.

This was followed by a successful marriage to the philosopher William Godwin, but when Mary was only 38 she died from complications after giving birth to another daughter. This child grew up to be Mary Shelley, the author of the classic novel, Frankenstein.

Women have long since gained the rights ( and more ( that Mary sought. What her verdict would have been on the undisciplined, self-indulgent, Britain of today is open to speculation.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 25, 2005
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