By Di Sherlock for her role as Mary Wollstonecraft
in Di’s Midsummer Night Party, 2000,
Stoke Newington Midsummer Festival
18th century Feminist writer and mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, Wollstonecraft was born Spitalfields, London, but her father turned to drink after losing the family fortunes, scraping a living as a farmer in Essex, Yorkshire and Wales. Together with Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft ran a school for girls on Newington Green where she was soon welcomed by Dr Price into the local circle of dissenters. The school folded when Fanny got married. After a spell as a Governess in Ireland, Wollstonecraft was befriended by publisher Joseph Johnson who set her up with a job and lodgings. She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), was a fiery feminist polemic railing against the ‘bitter bread of dependence’ which kept women either ‘domestic slaves’ or ‘alluring mistresses’ in a time when they were denied civil, political and sexual rights. She demanded ‘JUSTICE for one half of the human race’. Her demands that women be restored ‘to their lost dignity and … labour’ prompted Walpole to call her ‘a hyena in petticoats’. In her private life she opted for ‘tumultuous passions’ as opposed to ‘the cold dictates of prudence’ which led to a disastrous relationship with American Gilbert Imlay, the birth of their daughter, Fanny, while alone in Paris during the revolution ( which she also documented, her account forming the basis of Carlyle’s French Revolution 40 years later) and a suicide attempt off Putney Bridge. She later married philosopher William Godwin and died a few days after giving birth to Mary (Shelley).