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Wollstonecraft, Mary) Godwin, William.

Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft


(Wollstonecraft, Mary) (Godwin, William). Memoirs Of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Author Of "A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman." Philadelphia: James Carey, 1799.
8vo.; occasional light foxing; full calf, red spine label stamped in gilt; discreet ownership label pasted on the front endpaper; author's name docketed on the title page. In a specially made quarter morocco slipcase.
Scarce first American edition of Godwin's memoir of his wife, both a touching account of their relationship and a rigorous appraisal of her work. Godwin (1756-1836) met Wollstonecraft in 1791-fittingly, at a dinner party at which Thomas Paine was also present. Radical politics was their shared passion long before they became lovers and husband and wife. Godwin later claimed that his love for Wollstonecraft began when he read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. In this memoir, however, he said "It was friendship melting into love" in the months following the final dissolution of Wollstonecraft's long, disastrous affair with Gilbert Imlay. "The partiality we conceived for each other was in that mode which I have always regarded as the purest and most refined style of love," Godwin wrote. "It grew with equal advances in the mind of each. It would have been impossible for the most minute observer to have said who was before, and who was after. One sex did not take the priority which long established custom has awarded it, nor the other overstep that delicacy which is so severely imposed." Godwin's time with Wollstonecraft was cut short cut short in 1797 when she died 11 days after giving birth to their daughter, Mary-the future Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
Godwin also offers an objective, at times unsparing account of Wollstonecraft's life before their marriage. He unflinchingly records Mary's "injudicious" conduct with Imlay, including her letter offering to be his mistress and share him with another woman. Of his wife's greatest work, A Vindication, Godwin said it was "undoubtedly a very unequal performance, and eminently deficient in method and arrangement. When tried by the hoary and long-established laws of literary composition, it can scarcely maintain its claim to be placed in the first class of human productions. But when we consider the importance of its doctrines, and the eminence of genius it displays, it seems not very improbable that it will be read as long as the English language endures."
The year that he published this memoir, Godwin also anonymously edited a four volume collection of the Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which contained the unfinished Maria, or the Wrongs of a Woman, and various manuscripts on pediatrics and female pedagogy. The publication of Godwin's frank memoir scandalized many English readers at the time. Wollstonecraft's out-of-wedlock pregnancies, her suicide attempts, and-not least-her radical, assertive politics, shocked the conservative literary establishment. But her husband's prediction proved prophetic: her reputation only grew with time and A Vindication has become one of the most enduring political texts in the English language. Godwin was buried beside Wollstonecraft in the Old St. Pancras churchyard in Middlesex when he died in 1836. In 1851, both of their bodies were removed to Bournemouth Churchyard and laid next to their daughter.

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