Mary Wollstonecraft’s Birthday
April 27, 1759. Strangely enough, today — April 27, 2015 — is also the day before the publication of Romantic Outlaws, the book in which I tell the story of Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley. People look at me blankly when I tell them what my books is about. Mary Wollstonecraft? They know who Mary Shelley is, or think they do, because of Frankenstein. But no one seems to have heard of Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, or any of Wollstonecraft’s pioneering escapades.
So, in honor of her birthday: Mary Wollstonecraft was the first to articulate the rights of women. She was a foreign war correspondent, an active journalist, a political philosopher, and a novelist. She argued against the inherent injustice of eighteenth century marriage laws: wives were not allowed to own their own property or initiate a divorce. Husbands were allowed to whip and rape their wives. Wollstonecraft had grown up watching her mother be abused by her alcoholic father; she rescued her younger sister from an unhappy marriage. As a result, she did not believe in marriage and had her first child out of wedlock. Ultimately, she would relent and marry Mary Shelley’s father, but she saw this as a compromise, a necessary evil in an imperfect world.
For me, Mary Wollstonecraft is an inspiration. When I am afraid to say something I think people may not like, I remember Wollstonecraft and how brave she was. She endured social exile and terrible cruelty for the sake of her ideas. If she could speak her mind, then I can speak my mind. If she could live up to her ideals, then I can live up to mine.