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Wollstonecraft, Mary) Paul, C.Kegan.

William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries. 2 vols.


Wollstonecraft's Husband:
His Life in Letters
(Wollstonecraft) Paul, C. Kegan. William Godwin: His Friends and Contemporaries. With portraits and illustrations. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876.
2 vols., 8vo.; with frontispiece illustrations of Godwin and Wollstonecraft on thicker cardstock and two other black-and-white illustrations in each volume; brown endpapers; magenta cloth, stamped in blind and gilt; spines faded.
First edition. As explained in the preface, Charles Kegan Paul compiled this work after being entrusted with correspondence files from Sir Percy Shelley, William Godwin's grandson. The letters reproduced in these two volumes are organized chronologically, which some chapters devoted to a single correspondent, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, who married Godwin in 1797 while pregnant with his child. The Wollstonecraft chapter in the first volume consists of previously unpublished letters exchanged between Mary and her sisters Everina and Eliza, in which she describes her failed affairs with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay, and the birth of her illegitimate daughter Fanny (Imlay was the father). Just prior to meeting Godwin, Wollstonecraft wrote a despondent letter to her friend Mr. Rowan about her separation from Imlay. The letter, dated January 26, 1796, reads in part:
I am unhappy. I have been treated with unkindness, and even cruelty, by the person from whom I had ever reason to expect affection. I write to you with an agitated hand…the heart on which I have leaned has pierced mine to the quick. I have not been used well and I live but for my child…for me, there is nothing good in store-my heart is broken! (pp. 229-230)
The next chapter, "Married Life," recounts Wollstonecraft and Godwin's courtship upon her return to London. Though both were philosophically opposed to the institution of marriage, they wed in secret after Mary learned she was going to have another baby. Their letters to one another are tender, especially the ones written during Mary's pregnancy. Referring to their unborn child as "Master Wiliam," Godwin and Wollstonecraft were obviously quite excited to become parents. Godwin was traveling frequently during this period, but only in one letter does Mary express irritation at his prolonged absence, writing, "Whatever tenderness you took away with you seems to have evaporated on the journey, and new objects, and the homage of vulgar minds restored you to your icy philosophy…unless you supposed me to be a stick or a stone, you must have forgot how to think, as well as how to feel, since you have been on the wing" (p. 267).
"Mary Godwin's Death" contains excerpts from Godwin's diary directly after his daughter was born and Mary died from complications in childbirth. Godwin's writing during the period is oddly stoic and Paul notes that his handwriting never wavers as he records the events of the days leading up to and following her death with his characteristic precision and attention to detail. However, Godwin was too upset to attend Mary's funeral and after her death, devoted himself to writing her biography (Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1798).
The second volume contains correspondence exchanged in the latter part of Godwin's life and includes letters written by Samuel Coleridge, and by Percy Bysshe Shelley, who married his daughter in 1816. Their marriage and the tragic suicide of Mary's first daughter, Fanny, are described in detail in the letters.    

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