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I love Mary Wollstonecraft

October 15, 2011

I am revising the chapter where Mary meets her future husband, William Godwin. They’ve been invited to their friend Johnson’s house to meet the celebrity Thomas Paine. She, as usual, is the only woman at a dinner table crowded with intellectuals. She can’t bear being quiet for even a minute. Godwin loathes her. And she loathes him.

An excerpt from Mary and Mary:

Mary . . . having been told to be silent all her life, had no patience with the sidelines, and on this evening, launched herself into the conversation with more than her usual vigor, eager to tell Paine her views on liberty, education, justice and anything else that occurred to her. Paine listened meekly, while the other guests swallowed their ale (and their own thoughts) and ate Johnson’s cod and beans. The louder she got, the more resentful Godwin grew. When he attempted to interject . . . Mary cut him off . . . moving on before he could respond. . . .

Godwin was at a disadvantage. He could not keep up with Mary’s rapid zigzag, and in fact disapproved of this way of proceeding both socially and intellectually. He preferred to set his ideas in order before he spoke (or wrote) and felt dinner parties should proceed the way he had organized his book, beginning with what he called a “Summary of Principles” – a long list of the premises on which “the author” would base his arguments. If people conversed like this, then they might get something accomplished, philosophically speaking, that is.

(Forgive all the ellipses. I wanted to keep this short!)

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 20, 2012 7:06 pm

    I love this! Will you be at the Wollstonecraft conference next month? I have tempted Nancy Means Wright, who has several novels centred on Mary. May I feature this excerpt on my blog, A Vindication of the Rights of Mary?

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