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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
A superb biography of a truly extraordinary pioneer. Examining the available source material with a perceptive imagination and presenting in a sympathetic though far from uncritical light Woolstonecrafts heroic struggles to be consistent in her inner and outer life, Gordon succeeds in bringing alive a real flesh and blood woman; one who if she walked the streets of London...
Published on 22 Jan. 2009 by Graham Timmins

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I will not marry, for I don't want to be tied to this nasty world" (Mary Wollstonecraft, 1782)
The noughties have seen a second generation of modern biographies emerge on the British feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), following the six published in the 1970s. Janet Todd's A Revolutionary Life came out in 2000 and this, Lyndall Gordon's briefer, more populist account, in 2005.

In contrast to Todd's academic doorstopper, Gordon takes a...
Published on 23 July 2010 by cathy earnshaw


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "I will not marry, for I don't want to be tied to this nasty world" (Mary Wollstonecraft, 1782), 23 July 2010
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This review is from: Vindication: A Life Of Mary Wollstonecraft (Paperback)
The noughties have seen a second generation of modern biographies emerge on the British feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), following the six published in the 1970s. Janet Todd's A Revolutionary Life came out in 2000 and this, Lyndall Gordon's briefer, more populist account, in 2005.

In contrast to Todd's academic doorstopper, Gordon takes a more sweeping, speculative approach. The father of Wollstonecraft's first daughter, Gilbert Imlay, for example, has always been hidden in the shadows: Who was he exactly? What did he do in the three decades after he knew the famous feminist? Why was he so secretive and avoidant whilst he did know her? Gordon, letting her literary imagination loose, imagines he was a spy, a double agent even: "At a guess, he played a double game, posing as a Spanish spy [as well as an American one]" (198). Wil Verhoeven, Imlay's recent biographer, has refuted these speculations as too fanciful and lacking any evidence whatsoever. Although Verhoeven doesn't completely rule out the possibility that Imlay may, at some point in his life, have engaged in some sort of spying activity, it's likely that Imlay may have been little more than a common conman. He also corrects Gordon's assertion that Imlay planned to import grain, alum and potash into Scandinavia for silver bullion (233) and that he was still selling American land in 1789-91 (260) - he wasn't. Having read Verhoeven's fastidious research, I got the feeling too that Gordon overstates Mary Wollstonecraft's dislike of commerce; he shows the true extent to which she was involved in the silver ship mission, for example, even before it began.

Gordon is keen to show (or romanticise?) the impact that Wollstonecraft may have had on later female writers; she labours comparisons to Jane Austen's fiction and family, and draws somewhat tenuous lines to others who took up "the great problem of the true nature of woman" such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte Brontė, Emily Dickinson (447-452). These analogies come across as too neat and simplistic. And Gordon seems too wistful, too sweeping, when she writes that we are all Wollstonecraft scions now: "Present-day generations, in the choices and opportunities open to us, are Wollstonecraft's heirs" (447).

For those looking for a non-scholarly read, I'd recommend Claire Tomalin's The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft over Gordon's biography (although Tomalin is too dismissive of the Imlay love affair and - annoyingly - doesn't translate the French passages she quotes). For scholarly readers, Todd's is a meticulously researched, if dryly written, work. As with Wollstonecraft's second daughter Mary Shelley, we're still waiting for a definitive biography of this fascinating, complex woman. At a push, I'd rank the Mary Wollstonecraft bios that are currently available as follows: 1. Todd, 2. Tomalin, 3. Gordon. (3 stars)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read but perhaps overly romanticised and hagiographical, 16 Oct. 2011
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Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vindication: A Life Of Mary Wollstonecraft (Paperback)
This is an interesting read but is fairly light, and certainly not particularly scholarly. Mary Wollstonecraft, author of The Vindication of the Rights of Man and, more famously, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, as well as mother to Mary Shelley, is smoothed out here, and glossed over I felt, so that her more prickly and awkward sides are played down. Ironically, this makes Wollstonecraft far more `feminine' than I suspect, from her writings, she actually was - something which she herself would probably have hated.

Gordon tackles Wollstonecraft's childhood but makes less of her difficult relationship with her mother than the Tomalin biography. It also seems to erode some of her more tempestuous relationships: those with women as well as with the various lovers she had. The social and political context around the French Revolution is done well as the setting for Wollstonecraft's most famous writings, however.

The last part of the book moves from Wollstonecraft to her so-called `legacy': her daughters, and rather randomly, a list of writers who were `influenced' by her to write about women - questionable on all kinds of counts.

So this is an enjoyable read if you're looking for a good story about an interesting woman. I disagree with Gordon's premise, however, that Wollstonecraft (or anyone else) can be `ahead of their time', and some of the more hagiographical elements are irritating. This is probably of greater value to the general reader rather than the Wollstonecraft student.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 22 Jan. 2009
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Graham Timmins (Gothenburg, Sweden) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Vindication: A Life Of Mary Wollstonecraft (Paperback)
A superb biography of a truly extraordinary pioneer. Examining the available source material with a perceptive imagination and presenting in a sympathetic though far from uncritical light Woolstonecrafts heroic struggles to be consistent in her inner and outer life, Gordon succeeds in bringing alive a real flesh and blood woman; one who if she walked the streets of London or Paris today would appear as radical and unconventional as she did 200 years ago, it seems to me.
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Vindication: A Life Of Mary Wollstonecraft
Vindication: A Life Of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon (Paperback - 19 Jan. 2006)
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