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Customer Review

21 October 2011
Unlike the `popular' biographies of Wollstonecraft by Tomalin (The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft) and Gordon (Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft), Todd's is dense, deeply thoughtful, and at pains to tie her interpretation to Wollstonecraft's own letters and writings. It is referred to by some readers as the `academic' or `scholarly' biography and, while I would agree with this in terms of methodology, it's important to point out that it isn't, in any sense, dry, dull or dusty.

What I like best about Todd's work is the fact that she makes no attempt to smooth out Mary Wollstonecraft, to gloss her up or make her less prickly and awkward than she seems from her own letters and other writings. Despite her importance in political and gender terms, she wasn't always a nice woman: she's needy, sometimes stoops to emotional blackmail with her friends, is whining and self-pitying at times, and suffers from deep depression - and Todd allows her to be all these things.

Todd, in particular, gives us the detail of Wollstonecraft's sexual relationships: the eroticised friendship with Fuseli, the first consummation with Imlay which leads to the birth of Fanny Wollstonecraft, her eventual marriage to William Godwin.

Wollstonecraft is a woman of her times, however much she defies some of the social conventions. For a real sense of the woman behind the so-called `feminist icon', this is the biography I would recommend.
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