Biography Review: Wollstonecraft Women

*originally published on 11/09/2016

cover59416-mediumROMANTIC OUTLAWS: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIVES OF MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT AND HER DAUGHTER MARY SHELLEY By Charlotte Gordon

2015; 672 Pages (Random House)
Genre: history, literature, authors, feminist, biography

(I received an ARC from the NETGALLEY in exchange for an honest review.)

 
Rating: ★★★★
I was in my first year of college taking my second English course, the Romantic Period, that I first heard of Wollstonecraft and Shelley.  For me, this was a difficult course but yet one of the most interesting classes.  I read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and immensely enjoyed the Gothic tale.  It was amazing to know that a women wrote such a brilliant horror tale.  Then I learned that Mary Shelley was the daughter of writer, Mary Wollstonecraft.  Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman which I inhaled for a class assignment.  Since reading some of their works, I have added everything else to my tbr list. And, then I saw this biography and knew I had to get my hands on it.
Although mother and daughter, these two brilliant women never knew one another – Wollstonecraft died of an infection in 1797 at the age of thirty-eight, a week after giving birth. Nevertheless their lives were so closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other.

Both women became famous writers; fell in love with brilliant but impossible men; and were single mothers who had children out of wedlock; both lived in exile; fought for their position in society; and thought deeply about how we should live. And both women broke almost every rigid convention there was to break: Wollstonecraft chased pirates in Scandinavia. Shelley faced down bandits in Naples. Wollstonecraft sailed to Paris to witness the Revolution. Shelley eloped in a fishing boat with a married man. Wollstonecraft proclaimed that women’s liberty should matter to everyone.

Not only did Wollstonecraft declare the rights of women, her work ignited Romanticism. She inspired Coleridge, Wordsworth and a whole new generation of writers, including her own daughter, who – with her young lover Percy Shelley – read Wollstonecraft’s work aloud by her graveside. At just nineteen years old and a new mother herself, Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein whilst travelling around Italy with Percy and roguish Lord Byron (who promptly fathered a child by Mary’s stepsister). It is a seminal novel, exploring the limitations of human nature and the power of invention at a time of great religious and scientific upheaval. Moreover, Mary Shelley would become the editor of her husband’s poetry after his early death – a feat of scholarship that did nothing less than establish his literary reputation.” (From publisher)

I actually read this book April 2015, before the published date, but I could not write a review. Every time I sat down to write something I felt like it wasn’t good enough. How do I review two women I admire so greatly- as a reader, writer and feminist? It’s daunting but I would rather give it a try and let people know how much loved this book. This book is 600+ pages and I read this in 3 days! There is a lot of information but it reads like a novel. Gordon does a great job combining storytelling and facts. This is what I would want to read when I was in history classes. She is able to bring both women to life and made me even more thirsty for information. Next year I want to read more about and from mother and daughter. I also would love to read something else by Charlotte Gordon as her writing skills are remarkable.
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