Originally published in 1993, the re-issue of Vindication in paperback is a welcome addition to any bedside table reading collection. This fictionalized version of the life of Mary Wollstonecraft provides a view of the mid- to late-eighteenth century world through the eyes of a remarkable woman.
Born into a troubled family where drunkenness and sexual and physical abuse are the norm, Mary learns early on to escape into her own mind, a tactic she uses throughout her life. The story follows Mary from her traumatic youth in Wales to her attempts to help her sisters and her best friend, Fanny, be self-sufficient as teachers in England, her downfall as a governess in Ireland, and her first intellectual breakthroughs in London, thanks to the publisher Joseph Johnson. Her travels later include forays to Paris during the French Revolution, as well as brief stays in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Throughout it all, Mary engages in a fierce inner struggle to reconcile her feelings about women’s rights and abilities, marriage, and education with the harsh reality of her day. In addition, her consistently bad taste in men leaves her physically and mentally ill, further than ever from her ideal world of freedom and equality.
The novel is broken into chronological sections, each named for the person who had the greatest influence on Mary during that time, including her childhood friend Fanny Blood, the publisher Joseph Johnson, artist and essayist Henry Fuseli, American speculator Gilbert Imlay, and lastly, Mary’s husband and fellow free-thinker, William Godwin. Although most readers will already know how Mary’s story ends, Sherwood keeps the story strong and interesting throughout, which may well inspire further reading (fiction or otherwise) on the lives of eighteenth-century women. This edition also includes a reading group guide, prepared by Sherwood.