Book 61 of my 2016 Reading Challenge
read from July 04 - August 01
Romantic Outlaws: the Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon
Summary (via the book jacket)
This groundbreaking dual biography brings to life a pioneering English feminist and the daughter she never knew. Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley have each been the subject of numerous biographies, yet no one has ever examined their lives in one book - until now. In Romantic Outlaws, Charlotte Gordon reunites the trailblazing author who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women and the Romantic visionary who gave the world Frankenstein - two courageous women who should have shared their lives, but instead shared a powerful literary and feminist legacy.
In 1797, less than two weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died, and a remarkable life spent pushing against the boundaries of society's expectations for women came to an end. But another was just beginning. Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary was to follow a similarly audacious path. Both women had passionate relationships with several men, bore children out of wedlock, and chose to live in exile outside their native country. Each in her own time fought against the injustices women faced and wrote books that changed literary history.
The private lives of both Mary were nothing less than the stuff of great Romantic drama, providing fabulous material for Charlotte Gordon, an accomplished historian and a gifted storyteller. Taking readers on a vivid journey across revolutionary France and Victorian England, she seamlessly interweaves the lives of her two protagonists in alternating chapters, creating a book that reads like a richly textured historical novel. Gordon also paints unforgettable portraits of the men in their lives, including the mercurial genius Percy Shelley, the unbridled libertine Lord Byron, and the brilliant radical William Godwin.
"Brave, passionate, and visionary, they broke almost every rule there was to break," Charlotte Gordon writes of Wollstonecraft and Shelley. A truly revelatory biography, Romantic Outlaws reveals the defiant, creative lives of this daring mother-daughter pair who refused to be confined by the rigid conventions of their era.
I previously read a book about the publication of Frankenstein and how both Mary Shelley's father and husband tried to take the credit of writing it away from her, but I was not familiar with Mary Wollstonecraft at all.
In general, I found Mary Godwin Shelley more interesting than Mary Wollstonecraft. Since every other chapter alternated between the two it was very helpful that each chapter began with the dates covered so I could orient myself a bit.
One thing I learned that surprised me (in an unpleasant way) was that rape within marriage wasn't a crime in Great Britain until 1991.
I also learned one birth control method during the late 1700s was to abstain for the three days after menstruation but have lots of sex during the rest of the month (everyone believed frequent sex lowered the chances of getting pregnant).
I had never heard of "puppy nurses" either. Apparently it was an eighteenth century custom to bring puppies in for women to nurse if they were unable to nurse their own children through illness or death and needed to find relief from their engorgement.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"Both mother and daughter attempted to free themselves from the stranglehold of polite society, and both struggled to balance their need for love and companionship with their need for independence. They braved the criticism of their peers to write works that took on the most volatile issues of the day."
"Wollstonecraft and Shelley weathered poverty, hatred, loneliness, and exile, as well as the slights of everyday life - the insults and gossip, the silences and turned backs - in order to write words they were not supposed to write and live lives they were not supposed to live."
"Caught as [Mary Shelley] was between life and death, between losing a child and gaining a child, looking forward was as dangerous as looking back. Anything was better than hope. Nothing was worse than memory."