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Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman....

The second edition, corrected.

Availability: In stock

Published: London printed for J. Johnson, 1798

Stock Code: 129669

OR On display in 43 Dover Street


Second edition, corrected, first published earlier the same year. Godwin's touching and frank account of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft's life marks an important step in the development of the art of biography. The details of her sexual liaison with Imlay, the birth of her illegitimate daughter, and her suicide attempts all scandalised contemporary readers for whom biographies were expected to be glowing accounts of admirable qualities. Godwin, the grieving widower, was determined that the public deserved to know the whole truth about this remarkable woman. The revisions which appear in the second edition were intended to address some of the more vitriolic criticism directed at the first.
This copy has appealing evidence of early female readership, with two early ownership signatures to the half-title: the first of Martha Matilda Mott, dated 8 November 1810, and the second of Susan Grece?, undated but from the first half of the 19th century. Two early hands, likely the same individuals, have engaged with and annotated the text, one in pencil and one in pen, with extensive marginal lines and frequent comments. The pencil annotator seems ultimately hostile to Wollstonecraft, writing of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman that it "is calculated to lead the imagination astray but not to improve the understanding or character!" (p. 80), that her affairs in the hope of marriage with Henry Fuseli was "weakness" (p. 100), and writing on her residing unmarried with Gilbert Imlay in Paris "Mistaken woman! 'Virtue alone is happiness below!'" (p. 111). The ink annotator seems more sympathetic to Wollstonecraft, and less sympathetic to the men of her life. They agree with Godwin on the difficulty of a lover accepting the worthlessness of the beloved ("true, very true", p. 125), and write that her suspense in whether Imlay loved her was "worse than the most cruel certainty" (p. 135). They cannot accept however Mary's ultimate loyalty to Imlay, writing "oh Mary how weak" (p. 143), and they simply write "wrong!" (p. 179) next to Wollstonecraft's belief that childbirth was easy. The copy overall presents a fine example of contemporary reactions to Wollstonecraft's extraordinary life and ideas.

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Octavo (165 x 95 mm). Contemporary calf, red morocco spine label.


Engraved frontispiece portrait by Heath after Opie.


Half-title present. Rubbed, a couple of early gatherings standing slightly proud, but in all an excellent copy without wear, joints and hinges firm.


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