Wollstonecraft, Mary (1759–1797)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L116-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved November 28, 2023, from

1. Life and influences

Mary Wollstonecraft was born into a declining middle-class family. Her father became a heavy drinker who beat his wife, and possibly his daughter too. Wollstonecraft had little formal education and early sought independence as a lady’s companion, a schoolkeeper, and a governess, before rejecting such conventionally female occupations for the usually male one of translator and reviewer for The Analytical Review, a periodical founded by the dissenting publisher Joseph Johnson. She achieved fame with two political tracts: A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), attacking Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) andA Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), her most substantial work (see Burke, E.). She also published educational works, a novel, an account of the French Revolution, and a travel book; a second novel was unfinished at her death. All the work published in her lifetime was written for money, the two Vindications extremely rapidly, without revision. While living in France to study the Revolution of 1789 at first hand she had an illegitimate daughter; after return to London and rejection by the child’s father she made two attempts at suicide. She then resumed her journalistic career and formed a liaison with the political philosopher William Godwin, whom she married on becoming pregnant with a second daughter (later to become Mary Shelley). She died of complications following childbirth. Wollstonecraft seems to have been influenced chiefly by the eighteenth-century culture of sensibility, the educational theories of Locke and Catherine Macaulay, the dissenting, ‘enlightened’, politically radical circles round Joseph Johnson and Richard Price, who lived near the school she kept in Newington Green, and by wide and miscellaneous reading, particularly of Rousseau and Burke, opposition to whom formed her understanding of her own experience.

Citing this article:
Zaw, Susan Khin. Life and influences. Wollstonecraft, Mary (1759–1797), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L116-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.

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