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Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin

The relationship, writing and influence of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin

‘This light was lent to me for a very short period, and is now extinguished for ever!’

William Godwin’s memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft, 1798

Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were notable figures in the English Enlightenment. She was famous as the author of the radical and ground-breaking work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792. He was the most celebrated philosopher of the day. Their relationship was brief and intense. When they married in 1797 they had been lovers for about a year. Five months after the marriage their daughter Mary was born. It was a difficult birth, and Mary Wollstonecraft died just a few days later.

The months Godwin spent with Mary Wollstonecraft were the most memorable of his long life. They are recorded in the pages of his diary, and more fully in the many letters and notes which he and Mary exchanged. Godwin drew upon these, and on Mary’s other papers, for his edition of her posthumous works, and for his memoir of her. The frankness of this memoir, written immediately after her death, was unprecedented.

Although she never knew her remarkable mother, Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter Mary revered her memory, and her work. This reverence was shared by her future husband, the young Percy Bysshe Shelley. Much of their courtship took place by Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave in St Pancras churchyard, London.

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Bodleian Libraries

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