BIOGRAPHY//Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley- Charlotte Gordon

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I’m ashamed to admit that before I read this book, I didn’t know much about these women, other than the obvious details: that Wollstonecraft was a founding thinker of what became modern feminism and that her daughter wrote Frankenstein at the age of 19 (I still have never read it. The shame of an ex-English teacher!)

Imagine my delight at discovering how fascinating mother and daughter were! Wollstonecraft travelled extensively for a woman in the late-18th century (often with her small daughter Fanny in tow- she would die shortly after giving birth to Mary, her daughter with the irascible philosopher William Godwin) and witnessed the French Revolution first-hand. Her daughter grew up in the shadow of being the daughter of two of the greatest thinkers- and then lived her adult life being thought of as Percy Shelley’s cold wife and widow.

What this biography does, though, is explore the lives of these extraordinary women and how they compare and contrast. Gordon is a sympathetic biographer and she alternates chapters on each of her subjects, meaning that as a reader we understand how each woman was shaped by the world around her, as well as seeing their differences. Both had tragedy in their lives- and it’s hard not to wonder what each”s life would have been like had Wollstonecraft survived. Her legacy is all over her daughter’s life, just as her desire to make the world a better place for future women is all over Wollstonecraft’s. Both of these women left their mark on the modern world, in philosophy and literature, and this biography does them justice.

2 Comments

  1. If you like this book, I have to recommend Bee Rowlatt’s ‘In search of Mary: The mother of all journeys’.

    Bee follows Mary Wollstonecraft’s footsteps across Paris and Scandanavia with her newborn son in the same way Wollstonecraft herself carried her baby around Europe… you know, that baby that would one day write Frankenstein. Such a good book! Cannot fail to disapoint!​

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