Thursday, 20 August 2015

Writing - Mother and daughter literary notables

I have often written about the need for writers to express feelings regarding current affairs but doing so in past times could be risky or lead to ridicule. For two outspoken writers of the Georgian era to be women and in fact mother and daughter was quite unusual to say the least.

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Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 - 1797)

In some respects the story of Wollstonecraft has a modern flavour. She was the daughter of an abusive father and learned to live according to her conscience rather than society's conventions. This ladies idiosyncrasies were quite extreme for the times. She shunned marriage, the trappings of wealth and had her first child out of wedlock. Neither was Wollstonecraft too ashamed to plead with the wife of her lover to be allowed to live with them. Unwilling to compromise on her ideals, she was an advocate of women's rights and remained a supporter of the French Revolution even through its bloodiest phase.
When she became pregnant again at the hands of William Godwin, this time they married. Mary gave birth to a daughter, Mary, contracted puerperal fever and died 10 days after having given birth. Her most notable work was A Vindication of the Rights of Women published in 1792.

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Mary Shelley (1797 - 1851)

So Mary Shelley never really knew her mother but her influence on the daughter was plain. Godwin, her father, wasn't particularly forthcoming with the affection that little Mary craved and described her as "singularly bold, somewhat imperious and active of mind", and yet was surprised when she took up with one of his political followers, the already married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Despite Godwin's efforts to shield his daughter from the social ostracism suffered by his wife, she too was made to face controversy and ridicule.
So to a degree 'like mother like daughter'.

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The full story is told by Charlotte Gordon in her book Romantic Outlaws and is not a criticism of the mother's book or of Frankenstein but a story of the plight of women in the Georgian era and succeeds in presenting a picture of the difficulties faced by those determined to make use of their intellects and idealism.

God Bless