Radicalism and a Family Legacy

  On 10th September 1797 Mary Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever.[1] In his grief her husband William Godwin published the biography Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women.[2] Godwin was a man of optimism, believing that in telling the truth justice would be gained. For Godwin this was not the case as the truths behind Wollstonecraft’s suicide attempts and illegitimate pregnancies were not well received. Still, Wollstonecraft’s work was revisited and used to shape modern feminism from the early twentieth century.[3] Godwin’s legacy in contemporary culture, however, lies alongside the works of their daughter Mary Shelley (nee Godwin) who captivated the world of literature with her novel Frankenstein.

  Shelley followed in her parents’ footsteps by pursuing a literary career and continued on their thoughts and ideas. Godwin, like Wollstonecraft, was an influential radical writer during the 1790’s and his political views on society can be seen in Shelley’s writing, especially Frankenstein.[4]  Shelley portrays the evils within human society as Victor’s Creature is abandoned by his creator, abused and outcast because of his differences.[5] Such ideas had influenced Shelley from a young age and played a significant role in the literary partnership between herself and Godwin which crossed gender boundaries and focused on a need for social change. The ongoing cultural stigma behind radicalism leaves Godwin’s legacy overshadowed, however, the legacy of Shelley and her persistence to have his works published, before and after his death, keeps his passionate works iconic and inviting to a modern perspective.[6]

[1] C. Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Penguin Random House UK (London, 2015) p2

[2] W. Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, J. Johnson (London, 1798)

[3]  C. Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. p22

[4] F. McIntosh-Varjebedian, ‘Radical Thought and History in Britain and France: The 1789 Aftermath’ Prose Studies, 35:2 (2013) p155

[5] M. Shelley, Frankenstein, Penguin Classics, (London, 1992)

[6] P. Clemit, ‘Mary Shelley and William Godwin: A literary-political partnership, 1823-1836’, Women’s Writing, 6:3 (1999) pp228, 293

Image: Samuel John Stump, Unknown woman, formerly known as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1831, National Portrait Gallery Primary Collection: NPG 1719


2 thoughts on “Radicalism and a Family Legacy

  1. I love the parallel this blog gives between Wollstonecraft and her equally famous daughter, Mary Shelley; they both fight social inequality, despite never really knowing each other due to Wollstonecraft’s unfortunate passing.The blog cleverly embeds relevant footnotes, which ultimately support Charlotte’s argument further that Wollstonecraft’s legacy does live on through her talented and remarkable daughter. The blog writer clearly has deep knowledge about Shelly’s literary works (Frankenstein) and Wollstonecraft’s work as arguably the first feminist political writer, which can be obviously noted when reading the post. Great read, tone was very engaging and informative.


  2. Your first blog post is nicely written and excellently referenced. This said, it struck me that readers would need to have considerable prior knowledge about MW, Godwin and their daughter to grasp the significance of the topic. You give tantalizing hints about Shelley’s “literary partnership” with her father but you don’t elaborate and it left me a little disappointed.

    Overall your blog site is coming along well. I feel that the image on the home page could be reduced in size in order that your excellent message to visitors to your blog is instantly viewable (at the moment you have to scroll down to see it). I found your blog site easy to navigate and think the separate blog page works well. Do complete the “about” page when you get a chance. Your use of tags is excellent.


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