Self, Social Conflict and Writing

  • Gary Kelly


Mary Wollstonecraft’s family background and upbringing gave her sharp experience of the regional, class, gender, and cultural divisions of late eighteenth-century Britain. She was born in 1759, the second of seven children, into a middle-class urban family that had been rising for several generations.1 The Wollstonecrafts were in the London silk manufacture but by mid-century moved up from trade to become rentiers; her mother’s family were mercantile middle-class Irish Protestants. Her father decided to move the family further up socially by becoming a gentleman-farmer just outside London. But like so many other chasers after gentility, he soon succumbed to the proverbial evils of social emulation: bad management, personal excesses and eventually social downfall. The family kept moving from one place to another in search of financial stability and social advancement, and by 1768 they were at Beverley in Yorkshire.


Critical Thought Lower Class Social Conflict Critical Consciousness Social Critique 
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  1. 1.
    Modern biographies of Wollstonecraft to which I am indebted here include Ralph M. Wardle, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Critical Biography (1951; repr. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press, 1966)Google Scholar
  2. Eleanor Flexner, Mary Wollstonecraft (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1972)Google Scholar
  3. Claire Tomalin, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974)Google Scholar
  4. Emily Sunstein, A Different Face: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft (New York: Harper and Row, 1975)Google Scholar
  5. Margaret Tims, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Social Pioneer (London: Millington, 1976)Google Scholar
  6. William St Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys: The Biography of a Family (London: Faber and Faber, 1989).Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1798), with Mary Wollstonecraft, A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, ed. Richard Holmes (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1987) pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    Roy Porter, Mind-Forg’d Manacles: A History of Madness in England from the Restoration to the Regency (1987; Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin Books, 1990) pp. 105–7.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    See D. O. Thomas, The Honest Mind: The Thought and Work of Richard Price (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Hester Chapone, Letters on the Improvement of the Mind, Addressed to a Young Lady, 2 vols (London, 1773) vol. 2, p. 5.Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    See Mitzi Myers, ‘“Servants as They are Now Educated”: Women Writers and Georgian Pedagogy’, Essays in Literature, vol. 16 (Spring 1989) pp. 51–69.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (London: J. Johnson, 1787) pp. 5Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    See Mitzi Myers, ‘Pedagogy as Self-Expression in Mary Wollstonecraft: Exorcising the Past, Finding a Voice’, in The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women’s Autobiographical Writings, ed. Shari Benstock (Chapel Hill, and N.C., London: University of North Carolina Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    See R. F. Brissenden, Virtue in Distress: Studies in the Novel of Sentiment from Richardson to Sade (London: Macmillan, 1974) pp. 56–64Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, Posthumous Works of the Author of ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’, 4 vols (London, 1798) vol. 4, pp. 97–155.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and The Wrongs of Woman, edited by Gary Kelly (London: Oxford University Press, 1976) p. xxxi.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    See Janet Sayers, Biological Politics: Feminist and Anti-Feminist Perspectives (London and New York: Tavistock Publications, 1982).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Patricia Meyer Spacks The Adolescent Idea: Myths of Youth and the Adult Imagination (New York: Basic Books, 1981) p. 120.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Graeme Tytler, Physiognomy in the European Novel: Faces and Fortunes (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    See Nicholas Hudson, Samuel Johnson and Eighteenth-Century Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988)Google Scholar
  21. Richard B. Schwartz, Samuel Johnson and the Problem of Evil (Madison, Wis., and London: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Gary Donald Kelly 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary Kelly
    • 1
  1. 1.University of AlbertaCanada

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