Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year-end overview

The final quarter of the year. A good one for Mary Wollstonecraft, and not a bad one for this blog.

From October to December, we saw talks about Mary delivered (to the Women's Institute, once called "the acceptable face of feminism", and the Fawcett Society, no doubt likewise) and promised (to the London Socialist Historians). Another talkfest to look forward to is a conference in Florida, complementing the philosophers' confab in Sweden, both on the same day in February, to commemorate the 220th anniversary of the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Books have grown more expensive over the centuries: two academic ones I found were eye-wateringly so, indeed kidney-sellingly so.

More cheeringly, in the autumn we've covered artistic projects, upside down in New York and right way up in Bradford. A substantial triumph was the broadcasting of the Dutch Humanist TV programme which devoted an episode to Mary's philosophy and her impact on our times. Here's an overview with a bit about me, the amusing animated biography with translation (and great comments), and the entire half-hour episode. We had a surprise hit with the paper doll dress-up (plus image, later), and we are not short of fun distractions such as Fakebook and more zombies. I've staked my claim on Tumblr, though if I ever use it, 'twill only be with the help of that Chicago anarchist Voltairine de Cleyre (a Lost Daughter of whom I wrote half a year ago). I closed 2011 by sharing a lovingly created resource, London Remembers, which lists some of the memorials to Mary.

Of course, it cannot list the statue to her on Newington Green, because that is still in the planning stages. It has been a good few months for Mary on the Green.  I wrote up an overview early on in the autumn, but soon this had to be updated, with the big splash of the projection of her image onto the Houses of Parliament and the welcome announcement of winning more than £6000.

As for actual blogstuff:

Over October, November, and December there have been 26 posts, including this one; perhaps an average of two updates a week is sustainable. 

The pageviews in the last month are 6862; those from all time are 18 449. So a little over a third of all views have been in the last quarter. If we assume that each page is viewed for a minute (and yes, that is a number plucked from the air; I'd welcome any better analytics), then this blog is providing an hour and a quarter of amusement and edification each day. Perhaps the balance has tipped, and it is now giving as much to the world as I am giving to it, purely in terms of time. On the one hand these seem like large numbers; the vast majority of my readers are unknown to me; comments are few. (Please say hello! At the foot of a post, or by email, or on Twitter @RobertaWedge.)  On the other hand, the numbers look puny. My only real outreach is on Twitter, where @1759MaryWol1797 has over a thousand followers; I haven't tackled the blogosphere with any strategy. To do, to do. 

Top ten posts, overall:
  1. Mary's story, for those new to her - nearly 1000 views
  2. A first attempt at translation (of the Vindication) - over 500
  3. Mary on the Houses of Parliament
  4. Written on the body; or, wearing one's heart on one's epidermis - the tattoo
  5. Mary and the Slutwalk
  6. Mary in St Pancras
  7. Formal Fawcetts fall for first feminist
  8. Statues in Canada
  9. Mary on the Green
  10. Mary, molls, and modesty
Some of the search terms that people typed into Google (these are not the common ones, but they made me smile):
  • did jane austen read mary wollstonecraft 
  • statues with hats
and my favourite
  • gay cruising spots in somers town, st. pancras, uk 
To which Google responds:
Tip: These results include the word "sex". Show results that include only "cruising".
(It can only be because I described the site of Mary's first grave as holding a memorial to another Famous Dead Bisexual Woman. "Bisexual" plus "cemetery" probably triggers the algorithm.)

As for new skills, I learned how to embed video. It's tricky, because mean ol' Google-owned Blogger only allows Google-owned YouTube videos, not even uploads from files one holds, and certainly not from rival video hosting site Vimeo. Twitter provided helpful advice, and the unabridged 30 minutes was somehow transferred by the Humanists onto YT, and thus I got to embed the whole thing. I think this is a small step forward.

And a big step into the new year. What will 2012 hold for this blog, and for Mary Wollstonecraft's legacy around the world?  Her spirit stirs, and projects perculate!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

London remembers, with modesty

There's an excellent site I have not yet written about: London Remembers, with the broad brave ambition, touchingly modestly worded, of "aiming to capture all memorials in London". The page on Mary Wollstonecraft gives a brief biography, with dates, categories ("seriously famous" - love it!), a picture*, and a list of places where Our Lady is commemorated. Note: not places she is associated with, such as the church of her baptism, or, at a stretch of the imagination, the Women's Library. To populate the website with the associations of historical figures would cast the net unfeasibly wide; I quite see that. So only three memorial places appear: the newest plaque, at Newington Green; the oldest, at Somers Town; and the nearby mural on the school wall.  St Pancras Church and churchyard do not feature: graves per se don't fall within the project's purlieu, or it would become impossibly unwieldy. (It is plain gravestones that don't count as memorials: impressive memorials do, hence Soane's family tomb, and so does the St Pancras sundial-spire commemorating the churchyard's other Famous Dead Bisexual Woman, Angela Burdett-Coutts.)

The page has an embedded Google Map (another blogstuff thing I've been meaning to do for a year), and, perhaps the most intriguing box, "Related Subjects". It turns up both gems and puzzles -- alluring, distracting, a way to while away an hour very happily indeed. Frances Mary Buss, of Miss Beale and Miss Buss, the pioneering educators of girls, I can totally understand, but William Johnson Cory? Why -- because his name includes "Johnson"? The Royal College of Opthalmologists? Mary didn't even wear glasses. Call in the algorithm-tweaker! (Now *there's* a necromancer's modern trade!)

London Remembers has its lacunae (not all the MW plaques, for instance -- Southwark is missing) and some teething problems limitations (why are comments restricted to Facebook and Hotmail users?), but it can only grow in strength. It's another great resource for exploring one of the world's greatest cities, even if you are in the Kenyan rainforest or the Vietnamese snow, both places pulling me in this grey dim winter.

*Opie, credited only to Spartacus, which is weird.
Update, mid-January. The more I nose around this site, the more I find to fascinate. I love its sense of humour! "Caveat: Be aware that London actually has more cars, more rain and less sun than our photos show." And, as above, its humility: "we don't think we will ever achieve but we will enjoy the attempt" of trying to find all the memorials. I've tweaked the entry above, to reflect changes made, and to correct my own ignorance. London Remembers is deliberately a work in progress, "doomed to remain incomplete (where does London stop?) but certainly will grow and grow", and "so far we have found 9,744 subjects (people, events, etc.) on 2,321 memorials, at 1,815 sites." The site is not new at all, as I had originally thought, but about ten years old, with a wealth of data collected. It is newly relaunched, and I have only just discovered it.

From the page "Do we need your help?":
By now you either think we are crazy to be doing this or you're fascinated and would love to help. In the past we have thought we’d like an army of volunteers doing all the desk research, leaving us free to get out on the streets and do what we really enjoy – finding the memorials and in the process getting to know this cranky old city. But organising people, teaching the system, the house style, etc, it all takes time, and we’ve come to the conclusion that it's best for us to do the whole job. But if you can provide information for any of the war dead about whom we know nothing then we would be delighted. Pictures especially welcome.

Who are these crazy people anyway?
It probably doesn't need stating, but this website is not a commercial concern; it is a hobby. We started collecting data about London memorials in 1999, because we enjoyed walking and cycling around the city, finding out about its history, geography and architecture. We plotted them on maps because we find maps endlessly fascinating and enjoy using them.
The team behind London Remembers is a mysterious "we", but bound to be small: I am utterly in favour of amateur endeavours, and Mary values modesty. They are so much not a commercial endeavour that the site is entirely free of ads. Charming, compelling, educational, visually appealing, easy to navigate... I could go on. I am reminded of what Robert Louis Stevenson said affectionately of Modestine at the end of  his Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes - "Her faults were those of her race and sex; her virtues were her own." The faults of London Remembers  are those quirky oddities we all recognise in a labour-of-love website; its virtues are its own.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Florida in February

23 February 2012 is the 220th anniversary of the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (translation for the curious). A Scandinavian collaboration has planned a one-day philosophical symposium to be held at Lund, although the event website does not mention why the date was chosen. More explicitly to mark the occasion, our American cousins are also hosting a conference, twice as long, entitled "Mary Wollstonecraft: Legacies". Janet Todd will be giving the keynote, but all the other speakers appear to be working in the USA, with half from the University of Florida itself.

I note that the conference will be taking place in the main building of the Center for Women's Studies & Gender Research. It was designed in 1919 as the Women's Gymnasium, and I find a fitting link to the mid-nineteenth century German Gymnasium around the corner from Mary's first grave, and equidistant from it and the British Library. Have a look at the strapping young lasses at the botom of this post of Old St Pancras, and think of the Wollstonecraft words: "I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body". I like to think she would be amused.

February is an excellent time to visit Florida. The last time I ventured there was around that season: I fled a bleak northern midwinter, on a quest for academe and apple trees, in another century.

[Correction, mid Feb 2012: The building was opened in 1919 as a men's sporting venue, according to Wikipedia, and only became the women's gymnasium in 1948, when UF became co-educational. Also, it now appears that Janet Todd will not be appearing. Oh well.]
Full blurb:
The Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research will host a conference on February 23-24, 2012 to commemorate the 220th anniversary of the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a text that has had profound influence on political modernity and on continuing discussions about feminist thought. This conference follows our inaugural conference on Simone de Beauvoir (February 10-11, 20111), and is the second in a series that will commemorate the re-reading of key feminist texts and the legacies of major feminist thinkers.
Professor Janet Todd of Cambridge University will deliver the keynote address. Other presenters include Anne Mellor, UCLA, Kari Lokke, UC-Davis, Wendy Gunther-Canada, UA-Birmingham, and Dan O’Neill, Sheryl Kroen, and Danaya Wright from UF.

This event is sponsored by the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere (Rothman Endowment), the Office of Research, the Levin College of Law, the Office of the Dean (CLAS), the Albert Brick Chair, and the Department of Political Science.
And a reminder of the binational co-sponsors of the Lund event: from Sweden, Understanding Agency (Conceptions of Action, Human Nature and Value in the Western Philosophic Tradition); and from Finland, the Philosophical Psychology, Morality and Politics Research Unit at the Universities of Helsinki and Jyväskylä. (And speakers from Birmingham - the British one - and Bilkent.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Life grows more animated

Recently I was able to share with you the two-minute animation of Mary Wollstonecraft's life that begins the Dutch humanist TV programme on her philosophy and legacy. Only this brief clip was available, because Blogger restricts video uploads to YouTube, and YourTube restricts uploads to 15 minutes - or so we thought. Twitter sprang to the rescue with a work-around, and now the whole thing can be viewed here:

I am delighted to report that Dutch humanists are so egalitarian that they do not fob off the petty tasks by job rank. Instead, I have it on excellent authority that the head of the whole "Dare to Think" endeavour,  Eveline van Dijck, took upon herself the tedium of uploading the episode to YouTube. So yes, dear reader, the entire half hour of Mary Wollstonecraft can now be seen on the web's favourite video-sharing site: the charming animated biography, my Twitter conversation with Leon Heuts the philosopher-journalist, the animated-in-the-other-sense studio discussion, the day-in-the-life-of  two contemporary feminists,  Marieke Bax, a high-powered executive in a chauffeured car,  and Maruja Remijn Bobo, a gender studies lecturer on a classic bicycle with toddler accessories.  

The video is also available on Vimeo, where I can see captions (kindly explained in Marjorie's comments on my blogpost). And in case you'd forgotten, we've tracked the progress of this project from April's first contact to June's Twitter conversation, from September's press release to October's broadcast, from November's partial translation to December's partial animation. So count today's post, and the successful upload, as a winter solstice present to us all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Portraits & quotes on Tumblr

In trying to get to grips with Tumblr, I came across a compilation of images of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter. If you like portraiture, have a look. That is one person's curation. Another place offers a list of posts, mostly quotes, tagged with "Mary Wollstonecraft". Someone else has written about the Mary on the Green Parliamentary projection. And oh look, now I have a Tumblr too. But do I really want one? What is it all for? That is the question.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Touch Mary, virtually

The Shelley-Godwin Archive, which we looked at six months ago when they won $300 000 from the US National Endowment for the Humanities, is now hiring two part-time text encoders to get to grips with all that lovely raw text, some of it presumably Mary Wollstonecraft's. The money has been channelled via the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities ("an applied think tank for the digital humanities"), and the work can be done virtually, according to the job description:
The Text Encoders will be responsible for producing XML-encoded transcription of materials from The New York Public Library (NYPL), the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, the Houghton Library of Harvard University, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, and the British Library according to the widely-adopted Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standard.
David Brookshire writes on the MITH blog:
As we continue to think through the kinds of features we want to incorporate into the Archive, we would welcome your thoughts about what you would find most useful when working with manuscript sources in a digital environment.
(Thanks to Marjorie Burghart for bringing this to my attention; she is up to her paleographic elbows in the TEI: more here.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Life grows animated

Hurray! Here at last is the charming animated biography, just a couple of minutes long, prepared by the Humanist TV station for their episode on Mary Wollstonecraft, part of a series of twelve great philosophers from Socrates to Sartre. An unofficial translation is available, but trust me, you don't need any Dutch to understand and enjoy the whiz through Our Lady's life from abusive childhood to literary triumph, from Newington Green to Paris and always back to London. All the crucial names are there: Fanny Blood, Joseph Johnson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Gilbert Imlay, William Godwin, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.

(Blogstuff: I mentioned that the episode was available on Vimeo, but as Blogger only allows YouTube videos -- not even uploads from one's own computer -- I thought I would not be able to provide the clip. Trusty researcher Josephine Krikke came to the rescue, emailing me the link to the YouTube version. So far only this short segment of the broadcast is on YT, but if the production team does decide to put the whole episode there, I'll be happy to host it here, and hope to pull in a few more viewers to their excellent project. If TV in your country isn't doing thought-provoking programmes like this, ask the powers that be why not.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Journalist or socialist? A talk

I have been invited by Keith Flett, of the Beard Liberation Front, to address the London Socialist Historians Group, and have chosen as my subject "Mary Wollstonecraft: Journalist, socialist, or somewhere else on the political spectrum?" This is based on a hand-written commendation solicited from Melvyn Bragg: it took some cryptography to crack the inky code, and we got stuck on the phrase "she was an inspirational <squiggle>". One faction held to the view that <squiggle> was a journalist, whilst the other maintained it was a socialist. Meanwhile, on Twitter I have people telling me they see her as a libertarian.  It seems a good opportunity to explore the issues.

So, a date for your diary: Monday 19 March 2012 at 5.30pm. The talk is at the Institute of Historical Research, in Senate House on Malet Street WC1. It's all part of the University of London.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A very zombie love affair

I have written before of the zombie-fighting adventures of Mary Wollstonecraft (here), and also of the strange attention paid to some  Undead republicans by state forces on the day of the Royal Wedding (here). Now, thanks to the kind permission of Sandrine Berges -- philosopher-queen by day, but by night, masked crusader against the Undead, not to mention discoverer of the lost manuscript of A Vindiciton of the Rights of Zombies -- we can see our heroine's brave face at the time of another pan-European crisis, one that renders today's financial collapse of but little weight in comparison. Closer to home, "A Very Zombie Love Affair" clears up the mystery of the Fuseli menage a trois:

I am sitting down to write this half-way between Paris and Lille which I hope to reach before tomorrow night. I am tired from the journey, and being with child has affected my capacity to reminisce – nonetheless, dear loyal reader, I will now attempt to bring back with words some of the painful events that have plagued me since I last wrote here.
'Tis two years now since I fled infected London for Paris – two wonderful, peaceful years, when the only upsetting events were the occasional loss of a dear friend to the guillotine. 'Tis in Paris that I met my dear beloved Imlay, adored companion and father of my child to be. France is mercifully free of zombies. I believe the revolutionary practice of using the guillotine often and plenty has so far prevented a general infection of the country: the blade that slices through the neck is democratic enough in that it kills zombies and royalists alike. M. Guillotine, I should note, was one of the early proponents of the view to which I fully subscribe that in order to destroy a zombie and prevent it from rising again, one should separate its head from its body.
Back in London, my experience with educating zombies so that they may claim their rights having failed rather than succeeded, I retreated for a while to my own affairs. After a spell in Ireland, where I was put in charge of protecting six children from their zombified mother, I came home to start a school with my beloved Fanny. Such happiness, however, would not last. Fanny was bitten, by one of my own sisters (a story I shall tell on a later occasion). I entreated her to leave England for Portugal, where I hoped the weather would be more favourable to her condition.
I soon received reports that she was worsening, and still in hope that I might assist a recovery, I decided to join her. I lost no time in setting out and endured a tolerable passage in a ship ridden with zombies. My days were spent cutting through necks and limbs, and my nights locked away in a tiny, rank smelling cabin. As soon as I set foot in Portugal, I realised that there could be no hope. Not a single living soul remained: all had been zombified, which should have come as no surprised had I reflected on the extreme catholicism of the natives. My dear Fanny expired in my arms, after I had decapitated her. 
Desolate, I returned to London, whatever small lust for life I had left all but used up in slaying my way through the journey back. Fortunately, my good friend Johnson approached me and offered me work in which I was able to lose my sorrowful self. I reviewed, edited, translated, even wrote book, which, I am not afraid to say, gathered a little success of their own. Twas then also I met the treacherous Fuseli. Straightaway I was charmed by his wit, and his worldliness, and I do not flatter myself I believe when I say that he did not find my company unpleasant, at least at first. But as s oon as I had persuaded myself that he returned my affections, Fuseli found himself obliged to marry a relation whose sole capital were looks and an income.

Soon after the wedding – to which I was not invited – it became apparent to me that the young Mrs Fuseli was in fact entirely devoid of brains – except for the ones it was her practice to devour at breakfast. Yes, Fuseli had succeeded where I had so spectacularly failed: he had tamed a zombie and taken her for his wife. Full of admiration for him and pity for her, I immediately offered myself as complement to their household. I argued in a convincing enough manner that whereas he had apparently succeeded in training his dead wife so that he could use her body as he pleased without risk of infection, he must sorely miss the intellectual company of a real woman. I put myself entirely at their mercy, humbly requesting that they should take me into their home. To my great horror, Fuseli laughed in my face, and his wife growled at me in such a way that I came to fear for my life. 
'Twas then I decided to leave for Paris where I have at last found bliss, in the person of Imlay, a tall handsome American (Fuseli is Swiss and Short), with whom I am expecting to start a family in a short few weeks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Mary Wollstonecraft has a page on Fakebook, a site which "allows teachers and students to create imaginary profile pages for study purposes". (It comes with its own disclaimerThis tool is for educational purposes. It is NOT affiliated with Facebook or any other social networking site.)  It links her to most of the usual suspects, i.e. those she socialised, lived, and worked with: Joseph Johnson, Imlay and Godwin, Price (erroneously twice) and Godwin. Aside from that, it is curiously bare. It's a wiki: you can edit it, if you like.
Use "Fakebook" to chart the plot of a book, the development of a character, a series of historical events, the debates and relationships between people, and so on! Get started by entering a name at the top of the page. Then proceed to add friends, posts, comments and profile information. You can save your work and edit it again later.
P.S. Oh look -- she has another Fakebook page as well. I wonder which one is the real Mary Wollstonecraft? This one gives her more friends, including King George III, Joseph Johnson (image: a black man), and Lord Kingsborough (image: a document).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mother of feminism, mother of Parliaments

Mary Wollstonecraft illuminated the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday evening, and London didn't know what had hit it. Mary on the Green, the campaign to raise a fitting memorial to the foremother of English feminism, was out in force, leafletting on Westminster Bridge.

I think I'll let the pictures tell the tale. NB there were two images, which the projectionists cycled between. Is the caption clear enough? That's

Photos by Neil Wissink, who says he's "happy for anyone to use the photos with due credit". 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mary on the Houses of Parliament

This is a mock-up! Reality will be even better.
There is so much going on that I hardly know where to start. Mary Wollstonecraft will be beamed across the Thames onto the Houses of Parliament in the early dusk of November 16. The rumour that I quashed about the abseiling lesbians and the whisky chocolate cake is as nothing to the glorious truth: a giantic projection will wow the crowds from 4-6pm on Wednesday, and will pop up all over the media in the days to come. This is the kick-off to serious fundraising for the Mary on the Green campaign I wrote of last month.

Another piece of good news is that the NatWest CommunityForce scheme has, as a result of your support, awarded £6275 to the campaign to raise a memorial to Our Lady. That is a serious kick-start.

My address to the Fawcett Society last week went well, and next week will be adapted for the Newington Green Action Group's annual Friends Evening. All welcome! As indeed all are welcome to the Girlie Show, a Mary on the Green fundraiser to be held at Snooty Fox, a pub in Newington Green. Somehow I think the overlap between the two events will be ... choice. Possibly only me. That's OK.

If you recognise Mary Wollstonecraft's contribution to the life you lead now, I invite you to consider whether and how you might wish to get involved in the campaign to create a sculpture in her honour.  Remember, there is no substantial memorial to her, anywhere in the world.  (There is a lecture, a lecture hall, a hidden house, and several plaques, but nothing really big and tangible.) Your contributions would be valuable. If you can, please donate. Aside from money, there is much else to do: we need lots of people to spread the word, for example. (On Twitter, look out for and use the hashtag #marybigben.)  If you have other ideas of how you might help, please let me know, in the comments or by email.

Image from 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's all Dutch to me

This was kindly sent to me by Josephine Krikke, the researcher on the Dutch Humanist TV programme about Mary Wollstonecraft, her philosophy, life, and effect on our times. The half-hour episode aired in the Netherlands two weeks ago, which I wrote about then, and is available on Vimeo. This text is their translation of the animation, which takes up the first couple of minutes of the programme in telling Mary's life quite charmingly. It is easy enough to understand, even without these English words. 
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the first feminist publications. In her time, females were mainly seen as a possession, but Wollstonecraft claimed that they had the same rights as males. She wrote much more than this, novels and travel journals, for example. She was one of the first women who could earn her living from writing. She called herself "the first of a new genus". 

Wollstonecraft has a difficult childhood. Her family relocates often because her father gets into debt. In addition, he beats his wife. Mary (Wollstonecraft) often lies in front of her mother’s bedroom door, in order to protect her. At age 18, she leaves home. 

With her best friend, Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft sets up a school in Newington Green but Blood passes away not long after. Wollstonecraft leaves the school and settles in London. Here she can often be found at the publishing house of Joseph Johnson, where she meets progressive intellectuals, such as Thomas Paine and her future husband, William Godwin. She learns French and German, translates texts and starts to publish her own works. 

The French Revolution touches the hearts of progressive intellectuals. Wollstonecraft receives praise for her A Vindication of the Rights of Man, wherein she defends the principles of the revolution – the freedom and equality of every human being. But especially, the later published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is still well known today. 

In this, Wollstonecraft claims that the ideas of the revolution are also applicable for females. The male revolutionaries had not stopped to think about this. Even the revolutionary philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that education for females was not necessary, because they are superficial and weak. Nonsense, says Wollstonecraft. It is exactly because of the lack of education that females are superficial. Girls are taught to behave themselves like obedient dogs, like spaniels. 

Wollstonecraft leaves for post-revolution France and begins a fateful relationship with the American adventurer, Gilbert Imlay. After the birth of their child, Fanny, he leaves her. Once back in London, Wollstonecraft tries to end her own life by jumping in the Thames, but a passerby rescues her. 

Later she marries the renowned liberal philosopher, William Godwin. She passes away during the birth of their second child, Mary. Godwin writes to a friend that he is certain he shall never again know happiness. Daughter Mary later marries English poet, Percy Shelly; at age 19 she writes Frankenstein.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Formal Fawcetts fall for first feminist

The Fawcett Society wishes to find out more about Mary Wollstonecraft, and you are all invited: a week today, Tuesday 8 November, 7pm at Newington Green Unitarian Church, where Mary was radicalised. Dress warmly. The official announcement of this free, open, public meeting is here.

Technically, it is not Fawcett itself that will be soaking up the Wollstonecraft atmosphere that evening, but the East London branch, possibly with their North London sisters. (No doubt they will all take turns, sitting in Mary's pew.) Why do I call the Fawcetts "formal", aside from my woeful weakness for alliteration and allied alphabetical amusements? (And MW wasn't strictly speaking the first feminist.) Because they are the respectable face of British feminism, so much so that they don't even use the f-word. "Fawcett is the UK’s leading campaign for equality between women and men. Where there's an inequality gap between women and men we're working to close it." They lobby Parliament -- effectively. They wear suits and ballgowns, metaphorically and for all I know literally, and they Get Things Done. All power to them. 

As consummate campaigner and secular saint (enough already! - Ed.) Peter Tatchell pointed out, street activists recognise the value of committed negotiators who can get inside the establishment and talk to the power brokers in language they understand. What those who risk arrest don't like is when the besuited intermediaries ignore or belittle their contribution. Without OutRage! noisily and creatively demonstrating, Stonewall wouldn't have had its phone calls to MPs returned, or so went his argument. OutRage! acknowledged this interdependence but Stonewall didn't, or so he said, way back when. See Animal Liberation Front and RSPCA; see Black Power and the civil rights movement; see toffee-hammer-wielding suffragettes and patriotic patient persistent (I said stop! -Ed.) suffragists. I don't know the precise parallel to gender issues -- Riot Grrrls got co-opted into commercial music*, Guerrilla Girls never made it to the National Gallery -- but at any rate, Fawcett is the Stonewall of feminism, and they do what they do very well. "We make real differences in women’s lives by creating awareness, leading debate and driving change. Our lobbying power means we have real influence right at the top of UK politics and among those who make decisions."

The Fawcett ethos is one of liberal reform: "Our vision is of a society where women and our rights and freedoms are equally valued and respected and where we have equal power and influence in shaping our own lives and our wider world." I like to think its members would sit well with the Rational Dissenters of Newington Green, the ones who opened a young schoolteacher's eyes not to the injustices of the world -- she was well acquainted with them already - but with the political dimensions to these injustices. "We campaign on women’s representation in politics and public life; on equal pay, on pensions and poverty; valuing caring work; and the treatment of women in the justice system."

I'll do my show and tell (as I did a year ago at Ignite -- so sad to be missing this autumn's version! -- but if you haven't got tickets by now, you have no chance anyway, so might as well come along to Newington Green). We'll certainly cover the latest developments with Mary on the Green, and perhaps trade campaigning tips. The quiz on Mary (and democracy, and wonderful women worldwide) which I devised for my visit to the neighbouring Stoke Newington WI will not, after all, be reprised -- or not on this night. There is another event coming up, however...stay tuned.

The final reason for my fondness for the Fawcett Society is historical: "We trace our roots back to 1866, when Millicent Garrett Fawcett began her lifetime’s work leading the peaceful campaign for women’s votes."  This was the woman who wrote the introduction to the centenary edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, cleansing Mary's memory and claiming her as a forerunner of the suffrage movement:
The remarkable degree in which she was ahead of her time is shown on almost every page of "The Vindication." She claims for women the right to share in the advantages of representation in Parliament, nearly seventy years before women's suffrage was heard of in the House of Commons. She knows that few, if any, at that time would be found to sympathise with her, but that does not prevent her from claiming for women what she felt was simple justice. She also perceives the enormous importance of the economic independence of women, and its bearing on social health and disease.
I claim MGF as a Lost Daughter.

*Oh. Oh no. Riot Grrrls has had its domain squatted by a lifestyle brand, with stockists. Don't look. Oh if you really have to look. Whereas the Guerrilla Girls were media savvy from 1985, and keep a firm hold of their brand name.

The 1891 intro is here. This version (held by Keele) seems to start mid-essay, 
and I can't find anything better at the moment.  Images from the Fawcett Society , 
One War Art for the Riot Grrrl Manifesto, John Gray's blog for the stamp, 
and Guerrilla Girls for the satirical movie poster.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dutch Humanist TV

The day has finally arrived! Mary Wollstonecraft is getting an hour half an hour on national TV. OK, not my nation (or Mary's), but you've got to admit it is a commendable country that supports a whole network (TV, radio, website) with the slogan "Dare to think". What nation? The Netherlands. The Humanist Network has produced a dozen hour-long programmes, each about a different philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft is one of them. Their researcher Josephine Krikke approached me in April, and philosopher-journalist Leon Heuts interviewed me in June on Twitter, and gradually the production progressed. Today is the day! But fear not, if you are distant by time or geography. Here it is on Vimeo, the non-YouTube video host. (Am I capable of embedding it, or a clip, on this blog...hmm...another stretch for my blogging skills. Another day.) 

The programme page on their website is a neat summary. Josephine has just told me about another page, which (via Google Translate) appears to be a longer summary, or possibly a transcript, of the section involving this blog and our UK activities. Here's a flavour of it, with a bit of tidying up and creative editing and reverse translation, to produce something readable:

Women do not need power over men, but over themselves. Thus said Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first feminists, who lived in the eighteenth century. In the eighth episode of Dare to Think this meaning is central....
The Canadian-British former university professor Roberta Wedge was impressed by the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft. She even has a Twitter account that she uses as if she were Mary. ... In her hometown of London, where Wollstonecraft was born, Wedge's fascination with this woman was fueled. "I'm irreligious, but one day I decided to visit a church, where they announced that they would be celebrating the 250th birthday of Mary Wollstonecraft. This was the only organized public activity in the world surrounding this event." Wedge realized that how much Wollstonecraft has meant for the emancipation of women (and men). She was surprised that the woman still aroused such little interest.... 
She is also on a committee fighting for a statue of Wollstonecraft. She wrote to all the members of the British Parliament and on November 16 launches a campaign to make this dream into reality. "Mary deserves it. She was not only a champion of women's rights, but of human rights in general and the republican philosophy."
... according to Wedge there are issues that Wollstonecraft raised that are relevant in our time. "There are still women who believe that a marriage with a man means access to a new and better life, the ideal end point for the woman. Think of countries where not all the girls go to school. There is no reason for them to study, says the general opinion, as they will just disappear into motherhood. It was Wollstonecraft who was one of the first to dare to raise these issues."
I don't remember saying all that, but it seems likely enough. We did have a very long conversation back in the spring, and I am sure Josephine was taking much better notes than I was. And it makes it sound as if I am launching the campaign all by myself - far from the case. There is lots more about about Mary on the Green if you are interested. Yes, there's going to be a splash on November 16, but no abseiling lesbians.

One of the people behind this project is Dorothée Forma, who made an hour-long radio documentary about Mary in 1989 (more info). I've not had any direct contact with her, but I bet she is an intriguing woman too.

[PS And the presenter is Farid Tabarki. He interviews Leon Heuts, and facilitates the discussion with the studio audience.]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Follow up on dress up

The recent post about Paper Doll Dress-Up got some attention on Twitter. The concept of a 2D representation of Mary Wollstonecraft and her wardrobe seems to have sparked controversy: Oxford Classics called it an "absolute gem / atrocity of a find", which about sums it up. Lots of people have retweeted the link; I can't judge the proportion amused or horrified.

Nor do I know which side of the fence I come down on. But I have to remember that the paper dolls were not made for me; I am merely peering over the fence. "Think of the [intended] audience." Presumably, little girls. (And irony-clad hipsters?) So, it comes down to this: is it better that children be exposed to names and images that they otherwise would not experience, even if there's nothing but the bare name, and the images are dubious? We can hope that their curiosity might be tweaked, to find out more. And of course Wikipedia is only clicks away (and the Mary Wollstonecraft cycle is stuffed full of Featured Articles). Or is it essentially misleading, to provide impressionable young minds with a bland doll who doesn't look Mary, with clothes that I doubt she ever wore, and a bizarre context? I mean, a fan,of all possible items to carry? No books or writing implements? No biography, however sanitised? Visual representations of her do exist, after all.

Paper Doll Heaven got in touch and offered to let me use the image. I think that defines graciousness. (Or, you know, "no publicity is bad publicity". I can be so cynical. Sigh.) It is gracious to allow others to use one's work, when they have expressed less than adulation. So: tips to popularisers - with your pared-down info, include a way to find out more. And take some trouble over accuracy. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Even more expensive book

Well. My baffle has been gabbed. A couple of  Tuesdays ago we looked at a book to save up for (£150, 588 pages, April 2012).

Another has come to my attention, which is makes that look like small change. $925, 880 pages, May 2003. And for that money, do you get Folio Society illustrations?  Apparently not, if this boring cover is indicative. I am not judging its insides by its outsides, but oh my goodness I am judging the publishers. Price point ? Hello? Who exactly do they expect is going to buy this? Not even every university library would want to fork out that much, let alone municipal reference libraries.

Mary Wollstonecraft and the Critics, 1788-2001 (Vol 1 & 2). Routledge, how many copies have you sold? The editor is Harriet Devine Jump, presumably the same as this Dr Harriet Devine.

It has a page on Google Books, with QR code but no preview, not even the table of contents or index. (Such a mistake.) Amazon says the volumes are hardcover. Yes, well, I should hope so too.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Paper doll dress up

This is too weird. A ready-to-print Mary Wollstonecraft in underclothes, with a selection of dresses to cut out and try on. I don't recall any detailed description of her wardrobe, so presumably the inventive people at Paper Doll Heaven have just chosen  vaguely 1790s clothing. Having recently toured Sands Films, the costume makers, I must say I set my eyes higher when it comes to Mary: the Movie.

PS Follow up on dress up here, with an actual image, by kind permission.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Votes for women! Vote for Mary!

Friends, a request: please vote for the Mary on the Green project, to get a statue to Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green. If you haven't already done so, please visit, register, and vote for us. It is free, will only take a couple of minutes, and could net the project £6000. This will pay for several abseiling lesbians slices of whiskey cake.

It has been a good Wollstonecraft week:
  • an interview with another local journalist, in Mary's pew, no less (awaiting publication); 
  • a recce to Parliament, with Mary on the Green collaborators; 
  • a surprise seminar (the convenor said, "You were in the Islington Tribune!"); 
  • mutual-admiration-society coffee with the StokeyLitFest originator, Liz Vater; 
  • a random friendly photographer; 
  • several books (purchased: a solid 1976 edition of the Scandinavian Letters; borrowed: Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer; read: Ariel, last perused in deepest adolescence); 
  • too much time on Twitter....
And I also note that the Google Doodle for Friday was of the Disney animator Mary Blair, which I hope augurs well for her namesake.

Image: That is one of the logos for Natwest Communityforce. Yes, really, with 1970 decor. But we can imagine it as Mary, Fuseli, and Mrs F.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rumour quashing

The mixture of absinthe and HP sauce, in the presence of lesbian activists, does not automatically lead to abseiling. Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder*; if it leads you - alcoholicly and alliteratively - to abseiling, that is not my fault. If devoted best friends Mary and Frances, living and loving and working together, strike you as lesbians within the current remit of the term, well, that is a subject for a future essay. If abseiling and lesbians give you a frisson of radical nostalgia for protests of yore, then I congratulate you on your knowledge of recent Parliamentary history. But I can categorically assure you that Mary on the Green is not an abseiling type of organisation. The rumour is quashed here, as dead as those foxes Otis Ferry likes to hunt.

(If you dream tonight of Mary abseiling into the Commons, or of her as a suffragette smashing windows - "Votes for Women! Justice for one half of the human race!" - , or of her gigantic statue the size of both Buddhas of Bamiyan rolled into one, with pilgrims abseiling off her thoughtful nose, blame your dream on intellectual indigestion, literary late-night snacking on Ben Gunn's toasted cheese. Blame not this blog for your imaginings. I wash my hands of you.)

*If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit:
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Dorothy Parker, of course. Credit where credit is due, and cash when they really get anxious. (I said that.)

What the heck is that picture about, I hear you asking? When I did a Google Image search (I was going to write "when you do a Google search", but sadly (?) those impersonal days of stable shared search results are over, and without even knowing it, we wear the goggles of the Filter Bubble) on "abseiling lesbian", I got three categories of images: nothing NSFW; a few pictures of people abseiling, who on inspection of the source pages could not be guaranteed to be lesbians, and thus the use of these images might contaminate the carefully guarded honour of this blog; and a photo of some gingery-looking dark cake, sliced. So I went to Wikimedia Commons, was not surprised that "abseiling lesbian" turned up nothing, and looked for "cake slices" instead. This is how my mind works, slipping sideways by association. Some call it genius; some, madness. Frankly, I'd just like a slice of that chocolate-whisky concoction. By FotoosVanRobin, CC-BY-SA-2.0 (

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wine, Wollstonecraft, and Women's Institute

"Wine, women, and Mary Wollstonecraft" was the title that the Stoke Newington Women's Institute chose to bill me under, retrospectively. A good time was had by all, except possibly the WI hedgehogs (cheese & pineapple variety). The quiz that I'd spent ages devising was brutal. Four rounds: Mary; democracy; inspiring women worldwide; significant British women. When we got to the Nobel Prize winners, one woman said - in tones I interpreted as halfway between accusatory and plaintive - "We make jam, you know." I think that was a joke.

One fun thing today was writing a twelve-tweet love-life mini-bio of Mary, stimulated by an exchange with visionary Cory Doctorow. Who knows what may come of it.

This post is too short. The previous one, the update on Mary on the Green, was probably too long. Oh well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mary on the Green

It's time for an update on Mary on the Green, the campaign to get Mary Wollstonecraft a statue on Newington Green. We got an article in the Islington Tribune on Friday, the hook being that this hyperlocal campaign is soliciting funds from a big UK bank. Here's how it works: you go to Community Force Project 2478, register (hint: all they ask for is an email address; it doesn't have to be your main one), and vote. It's free, it takes less than a minute, and I see no sign that it geolocates. If Mary on the Green gets enough votes, NatWest will donate £6000, which would certainly boost the project. If you love Mary like I love Mary...isn't that a song? Go on, do the decent thing, wherever you live: express your support for the campaign by voting, and tell your friends about it too - Facebook, Twitter, blogs, you know the drill.

Other publicity is bubbling along nicely. Student radio wanted an interview the same day as the local paper; the promised .wav might yet show up. I'll be addressing the new-look and zeitgeisty Stoke Newington Women's Institute this evening, rattling the tin. Three questions to get out of the way first.

Why Mary Wollstonecraft? I hope readers of this blog can provide answers aplenty: England's first feminist (well, close enough) - and so much else besides - lacks any substantial memorial anywhere in the world.

John Betjeman, I love you .
Wikimedia Commons, ILYT.
Why a statue? If you care to argue for some other form of public art, go ahead, but I have my heart set on a representational and recognisable statue, not an abstract reference to her such as a pile of books. Don't get me wrong; I like some pieces of conceptual art very much, but not for this project. Mary on the Green, as a group, has no official view on this; we want to give the artists a free hand and see what they come up with. But I know where my campaigning energies, such as they are, lie.

And why Newington Green? True, there are many other locations associated with Mary, including quite a few in central London (her birthplace in Spitalfields, her garret on the South Bank, her publisher at St Paul's, her chipped teacup lodgings in Bloomsbury, her happy last months in Somers Town and St Pancras). Newington Green was where she lived as a young woman, with her beloved. She arrived an unknown and unpublished schoolteacher; she left a couple of years later, having had her world enlarged by hanging out with well-read, high-minded, hard-working neighbours. Most of them were Rational Dissenters, associated with the little chapel of which Richard Price was the minister. That great and gentle man was kind and generous to her, as was Mrs Burgh, widow of an educationalist, and truly a fairy godmother to Mary. The chapel still says Newington Green Unitarian Church, and is still radical - in fact, it has just rehung on the outside railings the banner that says Birthplace of Feminism (in Mary's honour, and in place of the previous one, 300 Years of Dissent). So Newington Green has a strong claim to Mary.

But the reason that this part of London, as opposed to any other, is going to become the world centre of pilgrimage to Our Lady (this is my blog; let me dream) is because some twenty-first century neighbours care enough to make it happen. I have written before of the formidable team of the Newington Green Action Group, who brought the green itself back to life within the last decade, and who now wish for a cherry atop their cake. NGAG has registered charity status, elected officers, a bank account, a track record, contacts across the borough, kosher paperwork, the whole lot. Mary on the Green had a soft launch of sorts on International Women's Day, with the unveiling of the council's un-blue plaque to Mary, high up on Newington Green Primary School, followed by a children's choir in the church, from that school. We got our letter in the Guardian, signed by all those peers and MPs. (Stop! I'm having flashbacks of those hundreds and hundreds of hideous handmade emails. I've been trying to block it out. More absinthe, please)  The Mary on the Green website went live: cannily and simply I appeared on Woman's Hour and Jenni Murray called me "besotted". That was half a year ago.

In the intervening months, Mary on the Green has been solidifying its structure and plotting its big splash of publicity to entice the money. The former is fairly dry and tedious, but of course necessary: laying the groundwork so that the best, i.e. most suitable, artist and art work will be chosen. What are the criteria for the sculpture? What needs to go into the brief? Who gets to choose the long list, the short list, and the successful candidate? Has anyone thought about pigeonshit and vandalism? (The art world isn't all canapes, I can tell you.) The attention-grabbing splash is rather more juicy. I can't say too much just yet, but think HP sauce, not ketchup!

Photo of Newington Green by Vicky Ayech. Photo of bottles by Jonathan Brodsky. 
Both CC-BY-2.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons