Thursday, July 14, 2011

Breaking news

Ironically, it is on Bastille Day that we break the week's series on Mary and France to bring you exciting news of an Oxford study day next spring featuring Mary Wollstonecraft. Ironic, also, that she does not really appear in the title -- Revolutionary Lives: the Godwins and the Shelleys. Biographer Lyndall Gordon, whose talk on Mary and the Unitarians I attended in May, will be presenting 75 minutes of "A New Genus". The day, Saturday 28 April 2012, recapitulates the quadrille played out in the exhibition at the Bodleian, Shelley's Ghost (aka Our Mary, Her Husband, Their Daughter, and the Tousle-hair'd Poet), which I visited with Chihiro Umegaki.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

City of Darkness, City of Light

Mary Wollstonecraft is entirely absent from Marge Piercy's novel of the French Revolution, City of Darkness, City of Light. (This review comes to you courtesy of the week remembering Mary and France.) I had hoped to see Mary through the poet's prose; after all, her friend the saloniere Madame Roland is one of the six principal characters whose interleaved stories structure the book. But no, the more than 150 member supporting cast does not have room for her.  A walk-on speaking part I did earnestly desire, but 'twas not to be. Not even the whisk of a petticoat as the hyena left the room: "Sir, had you attended the salon last week, you would have profited from the opportunity to meet Mrs Imlay." No. Nor Gilbert either: not a whisker of him. (Widow is to widower as whisk is to whisker. Hmm.) I sort of thought MP might have included him, her, or them, not least for the American connection for her predominantly American audience, but there perhaps I grow too publisher-marketing cynical. There is every chance the scenes were left on the cutting-room floor, in one of the jumps between rewrites. Aside from this disappointing omission, it is a very good book, vivid and enjoyable to read, and dense with networks of policy and of friendship

Marge Piercy says about the book:
CITY OF DARKNESS, CITY OF LIGHT is my take on the French revolution. Why be interested? First of all, modern politics began there, even the notions of "left" and "right." Second, modern feminism began right there, and many of the demands those women fought for are not yet achieved - although some have been. Third, late 18th century France was a society that had some of the same characteristics as ours - the top was becoming ever richer, the poor were getting poorer, and the middle class were being squeezed with taxes the rich did not have to pay. Fourth, the people who made the revolution and those who fought against it were lively, colorful, intelligent, willful and sometime sexy individuals. It was an extremely dramatic time and you might enjoy visiting it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mary in the Paris Library

Mary Wollstonecraft spent some of her most exciting and life-transforming years in Paris, and a little while ago I went there in quest of her ghost. Today's post will cover one aspect of that pilgrimage, in the week when we mark the connection of Mary and France.

It is too apt that the Eurostar journey begins from St Pancras Station, passing a few metres from her (first) grave, in Old St Pancras Churchyard. That church, where she was married scant months before she was buried, is twinned with the one in Paris closest to the Gare du Nord, so I popped in to the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul to see if anyone there remembered Mary. The priest reached beneath his soutane and confounded my outdated expectations by pulling out the last thing I expected to see, a Blackberry, on which he called a parishioner who had been instrumental in setting up the twinning. So later that day I had a coffee with this Englishwoman, long resident in Paris, who confessed she knew little of Mary and nothing of her sojourn in France. She had a wealth of other information, though, the most useful of which was alerting me to the possibilities of the reference library.

Eventually I made it to the eye-catching inside-out Centre Pompidou, and found my way to the library, tucked away behind it. It proved to be one of the best city libraries I've ever been in, and I highly recommend it to any bookish visitor.  (One small touch: this was during the early flowering of the Arab Spring, and the librarians had arranged a little display of books and periodicals from the Magreb and elsewhere in the Arab world. The next day I was in the Institut du monde arabe, which has many excellent features, but nowhere in the building could I see any indication of the revolutions going on across North Africa, a shocking omission.) 

I looked up Mary Wollstonecraft every way I could think of, and came up with a modest haul. From this I conclude that she didn't make much of a mark in France, partly because there were times during her sojourn when she had to lie low (Imlay registering her at the American Embassy as his wife would only protect her so far, given that British citizens were personae non gratae once war was declared, and the couple had never been through a ceremony of marriage), and partly because there were so many momentous events going on, and so many distinguished foreign visitors, that her presence was of small interest. 
Following the publication of her second Vindication, Wollstonecraft was introduced to the French statesman and diplomat, Charles Talleyrand, on his mission to London on the part of the Constituent Assembly in February 1792. She dedicated the second edition of the A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to him. In December 1792, she travelled to France...

Mary arrived in Paris an intellectual celebrity in her own country, and her Vindication had been translated into French, but that did not mean that her ideas would be taken up in the circles that mattered. 

Here is an annotated list of the more relevant items that I found in the reference library collections:

Price: Political Writings. Editor, D. D. Thomas. 
Chronology. 1758 appointed morning and afternoon preacher, Meeting house, Newington Green. 1770 becomes morning preacher at Gravel Pit, Hackney. 1783 Relinquishes afternoon service at NG too. (Yes, I do see the implications of this. More another time.)

The correspondence of Richard Price, 3 vols. No mention of Mary.

Une anglaise defend la Revolution francaise. Reponse a Edmund Burke par Mary Wollstonecraft. Introduction de Marie-Odile Bernez. Note the change of title - not a direct translation of A Vindication of the Rights of Men. The 2003 introduction is good; perhaps one day I'll do a round-up of all the introductions to the many and various editions of Mary's main works.

And, because I was aware of this lost daughter, I went looking for her in the catalogue: Flora Tristan, your time has come! (Or it will, on Thursday.)

La Vie de Flora Tristan: Socialisme et feminisme au C19. Jean Baelan.
In London in 1839,  Flora Tristan meets Mrs Wheeler, "the only socialist woman I met in London". This must be Anna Doyle Wheeler, of whom Wikipedia says, "A staunch advocate of political rights for women and equal opportunities in education, she was friendly with French feminists and socialists."

Femmes philosophes, femmes d'action. Michael Paraire. 2004. Le Temps des Cerises. 
Brief biographic sketches of eight female philosophers, mostly French. Flora Tristan is second. The section on her legacy (Posterite des idees, page 35) states:
Par le projet qu'elle a imagine dans L'Union ouvriere, la philosopher a influence la redaction du Manifeste du parti communiste (1848) de Marx et Engels. Des phrases comme "proletaires unissez-vous", "L'homme le plus opprime peut opprimer un autre, qui est sa femme. Elle est le proletaire du proletaire meme", "L'emancipation des travailleurs sera l'oeuvre des travailleurs eux-memes" appartiennent a l'oeuvre de FT. Par ailleurs en liant le probleme de la femme au probleme social, elle a indisuctablement influence des femmes comme Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952), Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) mais aussi le feminisme tout entier.

I also learned that there was a hotel (re?)named the Maison de Grande-Bretagne, on the rue Jacob, where Colonel Blackden and Joel Barlow lodged. More on places in Paris on Wednesday; before that, a review of Marge Piercy's City of Darkness, City of Light.

Photo by Jean-Alexis AUFAUVRE (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mary and France

Today we begin a series on Mary Wollstonecraft and her associations with France. (Last week, Independence Day and the USA; this week, Britain's nearest neighbour, leading up to Bastille Day.) Mary spent significant years in France, as the Revolution ripened into Terror, and met Gilbert Imlay and bore him baby Frances, in between documenting the unfolding dramas. But before she ever set foot there, she had made her name in London as a commentator and political theorist with a long essay about the French Revolution, A Vindication of the Rights of Men. This pamphlet was published mere weeks after Edmund Burke's attack on the revolutionary reverend, Richard Price of Newington Green Unitarian Church.

In order that liberty should have a firm foundation, an acquaintance with the world would naturally lead cool men to conclude that it must be laid, knowing the weakness of the human heart, and the ‘deceitfulness of riches,’ either by poor men, or philosophers, if a sufficient number of men, disinterested from principle, or truly wise, could be found. Was it natural to expect that sensual prejudices should give way to reason, or present feelings to enlarged views?–No; I am afraid that human nature is still in such a weak state, that the abolition of titles, the corner-stone of despotism, could only have been the work of men who had no titles to sacrifice. The National Assembly, it is true, contains some honourable exceptions; but the majority had not such powerful feelings to struggle with, when reason led them to respect the naked dignity of virtue. 
Weak minds are always timid. And what can equal the weakness of mind produced by servile flattery, and the vapid pleasures that neither hope nor fear seasoned? Had the constitution of France been new modelled, or more cautiously repaired, by the lovers of elegance and beauty, it is natural to suppose that the imagination would have erected a fragile temporary building; or the power of one tyrant, divided amongst a hundred, might have rendered the struggle for liberty only a choice of masters. And the glorious chance that is now given to human nature of attaining more virtue and happiness than has hitherto blessed our globe, might have been sacrificed to a meteor of the imagination, a bubble of passion.
 Mary Wollstonecraft was not alone in her high hopes for the birth of a new chapter in the story of humanity.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Does Hollywood have room for Mary?

Mary Wollstonecraft deserves a movie. I've said as much before, in fact it is a dream of mine, and I can wax lyrical (or not, depending on  your taste) on the subjects of its blockbuster potential, in particular the audience it would appeal to, as well as the characters the script would demand and locations suitable for filming. I've found images for some of the vignettes, and have even sketched out a trailer.

But one question worth considering is the readiness of Hollywood for Mary, or for any film about a woman.  (I use the term "Hollywood" loosely, as short-hand for the established big-time film industries, those that are in a position to finance a  full-length feature film.) There are exceptions: in recent years, The Young Victoria, Marie Antoinette, Coco before Chanel, Frida (about Kahlo), Sylvia (about Plath), Becoming Jane (about Austen) Here's someone's list of the 50 best movies for women's history month, with an American slant. [Dead link removed, June 2013.] The sad thing is that many or most of them won't pass the Bechdel Rule: two female characters, having a conversation together, that isn't about men. Mind you, it's quite possible that the final cut of Mary: the Movie might not pass the test either, if the passionate friendship with Frances is left on the cutting room floor.

I had been looking forward for years to Agora, the big-budget bio-pic about the ancient astronomer and philosopher Hypatia. It was made by Alejandro Amenábar and starred Rachel Weisz, neither of whom is short of awards and accolades. It was gorgeously filmed, with Spanish money but, sensibly for international release, in English. It became the highest grossing film of the year in Spain -- and then the distributors forgot to release it in the USA. (I lie: IMDB says it was released on two screens that first crucial Memorial Day weekend.) It was on in London for all of a week, I think, so I went to see it twice.

Where better to view the sacking of the Great Library of Alexandria than in the hedonistic comfort of a deep sofa and the big screen of the Hampstead Cinema? And that is where I want to see Mary: the Movie. (Note for historical exactists: I know it was the Serapeum, not the Library, but narrative wins the day. This is historical drama, not history documentary. Films are about telling a story; if two characters need to be compressed into one, or a location switched for another, that's OK by me.)

Agora just didn't get the support from the studio for distribution, and without that, it hadn't a chance.  You know how little support? I can't even find its website. It used to have one, but is dead. How much does it cost to pay the server hosting fees? About as much as a round of coffee for a production meeting. Fortunately there is still - enjoy it while you can. And while you are enjoying it, imagine the images transposed to the streets of revolutionary Paris, circa 1792: raving mobs, and our calm-eyed beautiful philosopher.

(Thus concludes our week with the US theme for the Fourth of July: Mary and the USAthe reverend and the revolutiondreams of the frontierwomen's rights advocates, and statues to inspire. Tomorrow, we jump to France, getting warmed up for Storming the Bastille.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Statues in Women's Rights National Historical Park, Seneca Falls, New York

By DevinCook [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
There are some incredible statues of women's rights campaigners in the United States. All this week, in honour of Independence Day, we have been looking at Mary Wollstonecraft and early America. Today, as part of a Friday series designed to feed in to the Mary on the Green project, we showcase sculptural representatives of those who took A Vindication of the Rights of Woman seriously.

The largest grouping of statues is called The First Wave, and is by Lloyd Lillie, Professor Emeritus at Boston University College of Fine Arts. The dozen bronzes are part of the entry into the Women's Rights National Historical Park in upstate New York, commemorating the site of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. At this event, some of the women we introduced yesterday got to meet in the flesh, namely co-organiser Lucrecia Mott and guest speaker Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Much to my dismay, Wikimedia Commons holds no images of The First Wave, and only one inadequate one of the park itself. The following are provided by the National Parks Service for download (link to gallery):

James and Lucrecia Mott:

Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton:

Also in the visitor centre is a terracotta statue of Sojourner Truth.

Most of these images can be found as a Flickr gallery, which I created for those who prefer slideshows.

Mary and the USA

By DevinCook [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
[This was posted a few days ago, to begin the week with a focus on the United States. Somehow it disappeared. Probably my fault; grr, blogstuff.]

Of all the countries that Mary Wollstonecraft never travelled to, the United States was the closest to her. She was shaped by her multiple abodes around England, and she was formed by teaching in Ireland, observing in Portugal, writing in France, and travelling through Scandinavia. But the United States, and especially its frontier, represented the hope of a better world, literally the re-making of human nature.

Lyndall Gordon, in an essay on MW's America, says:

Mary Wollstonecraft never came to America, but she did imagine it in the 1780s and 1790s, and did plan to emigrate with her American partner, Gilbert Imlay. They intended to farm on the frontier, and she would have done so had not Imlay withdrawn. Her youngest brother, Charles Wollstonecraft, had already settled in the territory of Ohio, and Mary had sold family property to buy land there. She wished to join him, and to bring along her two sisters, Eliza and Everina. 
She had met Imlay with a prepared mind, a pro-American ideology. ... the prime importance of America for Wollstonecraft was not personal but political, and preceded her attachment to Imlay by nearly ten years.
This is because, Gordon posits, MW's interest in the USA dates back to her early days as a schoolmistress at Newington Green, hanging out with Unitarians and radical political thinkers. She reminds us that Rev Dr Richard price, minister of that congregation, considered the American Revolution "the fairest experiment ever tried in human affairs."

This week, given the season, we will celebrate Mary's connection to the still nascent nation.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lost daughters in the young United States

By DevinCook [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
One of the contentions of this blog is that Mary Wollstonecraft had a significant effect between her death and her rediscovery in the 1970s, and that she has some unexpected friends now. To that end, I am digging up the bones of her lost daughters and sons: so far we have looked at Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, eternal reinventor Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Victorian prime minister William Gladstone, American anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre, Mary's ghostly almost-stepdaughter Claire Clairmont, and Irish radical Margaret King. Today, as part of the week in the shadow of the Fourth of July, we look at early American activists for women's rights, many of whom drew on her work explicitly. "Without the revolutionary thoughts of Mary Wollstonecraft, who knows upon which philosophy these women... would have based their movement?" Or so says Megan Winkler

She bases her assertion on the paper I alluded to earlier, Botting and Carey's “Wollstonecraft’s Philosophical Impact on Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Rights’ Advocates”.  They remind their readers that A Vndication of the Rights of Woman was "reprinted many times in America between 1792 and 1891". They give a plethora of women who drew on Mary.

Hannah Mather Crocker, (born 1752, Boston – died 1829, Boston) was an American essayist and one of the first advocates of women's rights in America. She was born into the illustrious Mather family of Boston, and heir to its long history of Puritan activism.... Before her marriage, she set up a school for women to show that they had the same intellectual capabilities as men, if they had the same educational opportunities. After raising her children, she took up a career in writing. Her most important contribution was Observations on the Real Rights of Women, with Their Appropriate Duties, Agreeable to Scripture, Reason and Common Sense (1818), in which she argued that education was crucial to the advancement of women. This included a courageous defense of Mary Wollstonecraft, who, in Boston society, was viewed as a libertine.

Lucrecia Coffin Mott (January 3, 1793 – November 11, 1880) was a Quaker,abolitionist, social reformer, and proponent of women's rights. [She co-organised the Seneca Falls gathering of women's rights activists, of which more tomorrow.]

Sarah Moore Grimké (November 26, 1792 – December 23, 1873) was an abolitionist, writer, and suffragist. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says cautiously, "Throughout Sarah’s and Angelina’s writing, their arguments for women’s rights is based on the moral authority of the reasoning person – similar to the arguments that they both made for natural rights for African Americans. In this they may also be reflecting some of the arguments that they had read in Mary Wollstonecraft’s 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Women [sic]." [Grimké and her sister grew up as the children of a slave-owning plantation, but "ran away" to become Quaker leaders and speakers.]

Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, commonly known as Margaret Fuller, (May 23, 1810 – July 19, 1850) was an American journalist, critic, and women's rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement. She was the first full-time American female book reviewer in journalism. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. [George Eliot compared her to Mary in an essay in 1855.]

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was a social activist and leading figure of the early woman's movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the first women's rights convention held in 1848 in Seneca FallsNew York, is often credited with initiating the first organized woman's rights and woman's suffrage movements in the United States. Before Stanton narrowed her political focus almost exclusively to women's rights, she had been an active abolitionist. Unlike many of those involved in the woman's rights movement, Stanton addressed various issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights. Her concerns included women's parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce laws, the economic health of the family, and birth control. She was also an outspoken supporter of the temperance movement.

Susan Brownell Anthony (February 15, 1820 – March 13, 1906) was a prominent civil rights leader who played a pivotal role in the 19th century women's rights movement to introduce women's suffrage into the United States. She was co-founder of the first Women's Temperance Movement with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as President. She also co-founded the women's rights journal, The Revolution. She traveled the United States and Europe, and averaged 75 to 100 speeches per year. She was an important advocate, leading the way for women's rights to be acknowledged and instituted in the American government.

All quotes in Courier font  are from each individual's Wikipedia biography, unless otherwise stated. Tweaked for brevity.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On the frontier of the United States

By DevinCook [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Wollstonecraft travelled widely for an unmarried woman of modest means, but she never made it to the United States. She lived in many parts of England as a child and young woman; she visited Lisbon, under unhappy circumstances, and found its earthquaked cityscape matched her heart; she worked in Ireland, as a governess to the aristocracy, with whom she had little patience; she moved to France to document the ongoing revolution, and returned a mother; she (and her babe) wandered through Scandinavia, searching for a missing silver ship.

from Open Library
The first man she called husband was Gilbert Imlay, soldier, writer, businessman, diplomat, possibly spy. They met in Paris, but he had made a name for himself by publishing A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America in London in 1792. It was based on his time in Kentucky, speculating in land among other things. (When he left, it was suddenly and with debts undischarged.) 

This book about the frontier was intended to encourage other settlers, and with these visions he wooed Mary. She was quite willing to begin a new life, far from the strife of Europe; her youngest brother was already over there. In France the Revolution had become the Terror; in England the state was repressive. Far better to risk it all in some new, clean, unspoiled land! What she thought of the indigenous inhabitants, I do not know.

Imagining Mary Wollstonecraft on the frontiers of American wilderness, I think of Susannah Moodie, a gently brought up Englishwoman who found herself Roughing It in the Bush. How would Mary have coped?
George Caleb Bingham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book reviews - a beginning

Thanks again to the Happy Historian
There are so many fantastic resources about Mary Wollstonecraft. Some read like PhD theses turned into monographs (Gladstone and Women); some raise amateurism to new heights (Mary Jane's Daughter and indeed the Featured Articles of Wikipedia); some bring Mary's philosophy to a new audience (Early Modern Texts); some touch on her life (Godwin's Diary). Many are web-only resources (the first Vindication is less readily available than you might expect) but many are books. Here is a list, in no particular order, of those on my writing-up list, most of which I have already read. I will report on them one by one. Tuesdays are for resources, and this should take me well into the autumn, given inevitable interruptions and delights:

Gladstone and Women - Anne Isba (touched on, in the post referred to above, but there is more to be extracted)
City of Darkness, City of Light - Marge Piercy (a novel set in Paris during the Revolution and Terror)
Ladies of the Grand Tour - Brian Dolan (a poor index)
Rebel Daughters: Ireland in conflict 1798 - Janet Todd (touched on in the post about Margaret King)
A Passionate Sisterhood: The sisters, wives and daughters of the Lake Poets - Kathleen Jones
A Voice of Discontent: A Woman's Journey through the Long Eighteenth Century - Jennifer C. Kelsey
Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft - Lyndall Gordon
Sheila Rowbotham presents A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Empire des Nairs
and the one by the Indian missionary
The Sisters of Nansfield: A Tale for Young Women - Mrs Mason

(No American angle today, unlike the previous two days' musings on Mary and the USA and Rev Price and the Revolution. Tomorrow, American places; Thursday, lost daughters leading up to Seneca Falls; Friday, statues to rival those in Canada; Saturday, perhaps a return to Hollywood.)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Rev Dr Richard Price and the American Revolution

By DevinCook [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Happy United States Day! Mary Wollstonecraft never made it to the unshackled colonies, but for some time she yearned for the frontier, her heart full of Gilbert Imlay, her faithless lover, and her head full of Richard Price, "whose talents and modest virtues place him high in the scale of moral excellence". We looked before at A Vindication of the Rights of MEN, her swift response to Edmund Burke's attack on Price, and the respect in which she held the minister of the Dissenting community where she had settled. Yesterday, at the beginning of this week with a focus on the USA, we looked at Lyndall Gordon's explanation of why Mary was so drawn to that country. In brief: because the birth of this nation in the New World represented a fresh beginning, not merely personal, but political in all possible senses. In fact, I might say "one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind". For womankind, it remained to be seen, but the optimists saw reason for hope. 

"Remember the ladies," Abigail Adams had written to her husband John in 1776, when he was assisting in the drafting of the constitution. (Then he had been a congressman; they moved to London when he was appointed ambassador; by the time Mary was in Paris, Adams was vice-president, and from 1797, president.) The Adamses, and many others associated with the United States, went to hear Price preach. People flocked to the sermons of "this respectable old man, in his pulpit, with hands clasped, and eyes devoutly fixed, praying with all the simple energy of unaffected piety; or, when more erect, inculcating the dignity of virtue, and enforcing the doctrines his life adorns" (as MW says as she begins her rebuttal to Burke). In his home and church she might have bumped into:
Founding Fathers of the United States such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine; other American politicians such as John Adams, who later became the second president of the United States, and his wife Abigail; British politicians such as Lord Lyttleton, the Earl of Shelburne, Earl Stanhope (known as "Citizen Stanhope"), and even the Prime Minister William Pitt ; philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith; agitators such as prison reformer John Howard, gadfly John Horne Tooke, and husband and wife John and Ann Jebb, who between them campaigned on expansion of the franchise, opposition to the war with America, support for the French Revolution, abolitionism, and an end to legal discrimination against Roman Catholics; writers such as poet and banker Samuel Rogers; and clergyman-mathematician Thomas Bayes, of Bayes' theorem.
(This is from the biography of Richard Price on Wikipedia, minus the profusion of distracting links; I have no embarrassment in sharing my passion for education and freedom.) We know that he influenced her thoughts on religion, and we can debate whether or not she was a Unitarian, but what is equally intriguing is her political development while at Newington Green. She was surrounded by stimulating thinkers who took women and education seriously; they lent her books; they included her in their social circles and conversations. Rev Price was particularly kind to her, but so was Mrs Burgh, and so were others. The whole atmosphere of the village was one of high-minded Dissent. During the decade before she arrived there:
Price turned his attention to the question of the American colonies. He had from the first been strongly opposed to the war, and in 1776 he published a pamphlet entitled Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. Sixty thousand copies of this work were sold within a few days; a cheap edition was soon issued which sold twice as many copies; the pamphlet was extolled by one set of politicians and abused by is said that his pamphlet had no inconsiderable share in determining the Americans to declare their independence.
A second pamphlet on the war with America, the debts of Great Britain, and kindred topics followed in the spring of 1777. His name thus became identified with the cause of American independence. He was the intimate friend of Franklin; he corresponded with Turgot; and in the winter of 1778 he was invited by Congress to go to America and assist in the financial administration of the states. This offer he refused from unwillingness to quit his own country and his family connections. In 1781 he, solely with George Washington, received the degree of Doctor of Laws from Yale College.
(Source, ditto; stripped, ditto.) So Mary Wollstonecraft was primed with these arguments when she met Gilbert Imlay. Lyndall Gordon wants to give him a more rounded portrait, to give us a better sense of why Mary fell so hard. He was
the writer of a respected book on the frontier and upholder of values Wollstonecraft shared: an abhorrence of slavery and militarism; a regard for native Americans; and sympathy for women trapped in a marriage contract that denied them basic human rights.
By the time Mary Wollstonecraft came to womanhood, the American Revolution was in full swing. In her 20s, political attention swung also to the fires in Ireland (which she had helped to stoke, in the tiniest way, via her pupil Margaret King); in her 30s, the 1790s, the eyes of those longing for liberty were on Haiti and France.  The righteousness of the cause of the American colonists was taken for granted in the circles in which Mary moved.  Had Imlay proved more steadfast, in all likelihood the couple would have moved to the United States, where she would have carved out a name and a future for herself on unploughed soil. But he was who he was, and so she jumped off the bridge and searched for treasure in Scandinavia and became the grandmother of Frankenstein, none of which would have happened otherwise. What if, what if. We are where we are.

So, poised somewhat halfway between our celebration of Canada Day and next week's French commemorations, once again: Happy Fourth of July!

Image: Betsy Ross 1777, By Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, July 3, 2011

An admirer returns from Norway

One of the highlights of the week was meeting Bee Rowlatt, who recently journeyed to Norway on a Mary Wollstonecraft pilgrimage. She is the one who I said had a baby under one arm and a book proposal under the other. Bee found Mary first through the Romantic letters rather than the rational essays, which is fitting, since her first book, Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad, was about an epistolary friendship with an Iraqi academic. (More here.)

Bee got to experience Scandinavia at Solstice, or near enough, and met a Cockney ship's captain, and stayed in the garden of a Communist mayor, and had a fortnight alone with her almost year-old son William (a good name!), who proved to be a great ice-breaker.

Bee has an article coming up for the travel section of the Telegraph [edit: here], and then, more ambitiously, a book! I referred before to Melissa Benn and her Madonna and Child: towards a new politics of motherhood. Another book that came up in discussion was the recent How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran: something zeitgeist-y. Bee uses the phrase "super lightweight" for what she has in mind, some sort of a meditation on Mary Wollstonecraft then and now, and being a woman and a mother, combined with a travel narrative. No book contract yet -- all offers considered.

Bee is a woman of many talents. For one thing, she had the determination necessary to get her new friend out of Iraq and to safety in England, and I know enough about the refugee process to know it is a long and spirit-sapping bureaucratic paper-chase. Bee works at the World Service, and rides a bicycle like many sensible Londoners, and is beautiful, in a healthy scrubbed effortless way, and can pronounce Tønsberg quite convincingly. Her children are charming -- at least, the 75% of them that I got to meet when she brought them to Mary's St Pancras graveside, where the kids ran around and she told me about her trip. What an adventure!

By Hesse1309 (Own work) [GFDL ( 
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, July 1, 2011

Statues in Canada

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
( or GFDL
(], via Wikimedia Commons
Happy Canada Day! Today we begin a series of weekly posts about statues and other outdoor public art that might serve as inspiration to Mary on the Green, the project to raise a memorial to Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green. The first item in this series is a tea party in Ottawa, which is not at all like the Tea Party in Washington D.C. (Will and Kate, that nice young couple whose recent nuptials were attended by a few zombies, happen to be in Canada for a few days. "The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger."

The Famous Five
By Eugene M. Finn / National Film Board of Canada [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Let us contemplate the example of the Famous Five. It should be noted that most of these activists had views on subjects other than women's rights, including the sort of views that make biographies multi-faceted and celebration problematic. Eugenics, anyone? Quite common at the time. But all of that strays too far from Mary Wollstonecraft, so we shall thankfully skate by, and focus on examples of stimulating public art commemorating remarkable women.

These Famous Five are not the protagonists of the children's adventure stories by Enid Blyton. These Five were activists for women's rights in the early part of the twentieth century. These women, also known as the Valiant Five, took the so-called Persons Case all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court in 1927, and then, when the ruling was not what they wanted, over the water to the British Privy Council. The Justices weighed the evidence and, in October 1929, decided that "women are persons" under the meaning of the relevant act, thus granting them the right to full participation in the political life of their country. It took only a decade for them to be recognised with the plaque depicted here.On the 80th anniversary of the ruling the Five were named Honourary Senators.

The statues in situ
A bronze sculpture of the Five was created by Barbara Paterson, showing them standing and sitting, talking and taking tea. Two 1 and 1/4 life-sized copies exist, one on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and one in downtown Calgary. Last year, a similar group of statues by Helen Granger was unveiled in Winnipeg, outside the Manitoba Legislature.

By Philip Tellis (originally posted to Flickr as Tea Party)  [CC-BY-SA-2.0 
(], via Wikimedia Commons. 
The wooden surface on which the figures stand is level; the seasickness is trick photography.
Here is what the MPs, Senators, researchers, assistants, advisors, lobbyists, librarians, security guards, caterers, cleaners, tour guides, other parliamentary staff, and reporters pass on their way to work in Ottawa. No doubt schoolchildren are taken on pilgrimage, and certainly many tourists make their way there, by accident or on purpose.

When I came upon the group on Parliament Hill for the first time, knowing of the landmark legal case but not of the existence of the statues, they were a lovely surprise. They were being polished by two of the park custodians, with their portable litter bins and hi-viz jackets. I found it poignant to see the two men giving such care and attention to these five women.

The image below is from Olympic Square in Calgary, unveiled in 1999. The young royals are going there too -- to the city, but I doubt if they will be shown the statues.

By User Thivierr on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Less well documented is the set of statues in Winnipeg. (There is an article and photo of its unveiling in the Winnipeg Free Press, 18 June 2010.)

The artistic process
Paterson's work is represented by Willock and Sax, the Banff National Park Gallery of Fine Art and Photography. If I understand correctly, the sculpture project was spear-headed by the Famous 5 Foundation, which exists to celebrate leadership in women, and runs events and programmes, many targeted at youth. It is based in Alberta, as were the Famous Five. A few words on the artistic and administrative process from the gallery website:
In order to secure the commission for the Famous 5 monuments, being one of nineteen people approached to submit a proposal, Barbara tendered drawings as well as recommendations (final size 1 1/4 lifesize, ground level, interactive), which were taken up by the jury. The three 'finalists' from the first round presented maquettes (in the wax stage) at 1/4 size of the final 1 1/4 lifesize monument. 
It was decided by the Monument Project Jury that Barbara's concept was the one that best encapsulated the idea of the five women who became known as the Famous 5. When Barbara's maquette secured her commission that work was cast in bronze, which travelled across Canada to generate interest in the Monument project.... 
In 1999 the first monument was installed in Calgary (Olympic Square) and in 2000 the second monument was installed east of the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Remember that the monuments are 1 1/4 lifesize, so when you sit on Emily's Chair think of Alice in Wonderland. 

The women themselves
The Five were Famous for good reasons individually as much as collectively. Three of the sculpted figures are standing, starting with the woman granted the central position in the artistic composition. The one holding the declaration, Nellie Mooney McClung, is probably the most famous Canadian suffragist, below:

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
or GFDL  (], via Wikimedia Commons

The figure with her hand on the (Alice in Wonderland) chair is Emily Murphy, the first female judge in the British Empire:

By en:User:Montrealais (Own work)
[GFDL (],
 via Wikimedia Commons

The woman with her arm outstretched and her other hand on her hip is Irene Parlby, a farm women's leader who became the first female cabinet minister in Alberta:

By User:Thivierr (Digital camera photo taken by uploader)
[GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons

Two of the women are sitting, taking tea together, either side of a small table.

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 ( or GFDL
(], via Wikimedia Commons

The one with her cup raised, gesturing towards the "Women are persons" declaration, is Henrietta Muir Edwards, founder of the Victorian Order of Nurses:

By D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
 ( or GFDL
(], via Wikimedia Commons

The other one, with her hands clasped, is Louise Crummy McKinney, the first woman elected to the legislature of Alberta (and Wikipedia says the first so elected anywhere in the British Empire -- but I thought New Zealand got there first?):

By User:Thivierr (Digital camera photo taken
by uploader) [GFDL (
 or CC-BY-SA-3.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Notice the clothes: some are in dresses, some in coats and furs; some with hats, some hatless, as if indoors. And the snow settles on them all...

I've collected (I refuse to say "curated") various images into Flickr galleries, gathered for those who like slideshows: the Calgary statuesthe Ottawa statues, and the Winnipeg statues.

In a later post, I'll show how people show their love for them. That will have to wait a while, though. It is national celebration month, so next week, celebratory memorial sculptures from the United States (I have two groups of activists in mind), and the week after that, Storm the Bastille with public outdoor art from France. Vive la revolution! 

June overview

This month has been a good one for blogging, and for Mary Wollstonecraft.

There is a conference underway, with her name in the title, and the Dutch Humanist TV programme moves ahead with its philosophical series. She made it onto the front page of Wikipedia for a 15 minute burst of fame, via via her pupil Margaret King. Another lost daughter is Voltairine de Cleyre, with whom we had a few words. I discovered the grand discovery by Vicki Parslow Stafford about Claire Clairmont. I also began to embed more content in the blog, and that has been a learning experience.

This is the 22nd post of the month, keeping up the average of just over five a week.

The pageviews in the last month are 2526; those from all time are 7678. So about a third of all views have been in the last month.

The five most popular posts this month are:
Mary and the Slutwalk
Mary, molls, and modesty
A first attempt at translation
Advanced Twitter for beginners
YouTube creativity