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Help Chawton House raise £4000 for a copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Posthumous Works.

The North American Friends are helping to raise funds to purchase a set of Wollstonecraft’s Posthumous Works for Chawton House.  We asked Isobel Grundy, NAFCH Board member and scholar of early women writers, to write up “something about Mary,” to supplement what Deputy Director Kim Simpson has written on Chawton House’s own website. We are hoping you can assist in this fundraising effort for an extraordinary addition to the collection.

Update October 19, 2022 : We have now reached our target ~ many thanks to those who have given  generously.

“Something About Mary”

The wonderful library at Chawton House already has a fine collection of material by Mary Wollstonecraft. So it should. The “radical” Mary and “conservative” Jane were sisters under the skin, united in their insistence that women are rational creatures—with everything else following from that.

Wollstonecraft is a beacon in women’s literary history and a key philosophical thinker. Her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was a radical proto-feminist work that argued passionately for women’s right to equality and agency. She also published translations, pedagogy, novels, political history, and a travel book. Chawton House has (beside the modern, scholarly edition of her works and some later reprints) first editions of: Original Stories from Real Life (1788), written for children; A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790); A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792); An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution (1794); and Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796).


Mary Wollstonecraft, by John Opie, 1797 (Wikipedia)

But Chawton has no first edition of Wollstonecraft’s 4-volume Posthumous Works (1798), a collection born in anguish. 


This is the story of that work.  Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin were in love but would not marry.  They disbelieved in marriage on principle: they thought it a tool of women’s oppression. Then Mary got pregnant. They decided to marry for the sake of the coming baby, ignoring the laughter of their friends.


Mary bore her baby (who grew up -- in quite another story -- to be the writer Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein). But part of the placenta stayed behind and became infected. For eleven days she fought for her life, while appalled friends huddled in her kitchen. On 10 September 1797 she died. 


Godwin was heartbroken. But he turned at once to “perform[ing] an act of both love and homage,” scraping together her literary fragments for a public that he hoped would one day value her as it ought. It took him four months to gather and publish. One reviewer hailed Wollstonecraft as a “great genius”; others sputtered with disapproval. Jane Austen, then aged twenty-two, must have read some of the reviews.


We are that public, dear friends. The collected volumes contain, along with two fictional works [The Wrongs of Woman: or, Maria. A Fragment and an extract of ‘the Cave of Fancy, a Tale’], love-letters (not to Godwin), lessons for her elder daughter, essays and drafts. Now that Wollstonecraft is a big name, all these exist in many printed forms. But this first compilation, arranged by her widower as he looked around a world without her, is uniquely important.

Launching on 10 September*, to coincide with the 225th anniversary of Wollstonecraft’s death, Chawton House’s autumn campaign to acquire this work will include: 

  • The online launch event: postponed from Sept. 10*, date TBA ~“Life after Death: Mary Wollstonecraft, Reputation & Legacy”

  • Two more online events: “Wollstonecraft and the Trailblazers” exhibition; and “Wollstonecraft’s Use of the Gothic”

  • The creation of the first Chawton House audiobook: Wollstonecraft’s Maria

  • ​Exclusive limited-edition merchandise

  • A raffle

  • A crowdfunding initiative

Read more about it on the Chawton House website here, where you can book tickets for the online lecture events.


Courtesy of James Burmester, Bookseller

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