The best books if you’re writing a novel of Wollstonecraft’s life

Samantha Silva Author Of Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft
By Samantha Silva

Who am I?

After 15 years as a screenwriter (and some heartbreaking near misses with the big screen), I turned my pen to novel writing, with an adaptation of a script I’d sold four times. My new book, Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft, is hot off the press this year and tells the story of one of the great writers and thinkers of the late 18th century, mother of Mary Shelley, and widely regarded as the mother of feminism. I’m drawn to larger-than-life, brilliant, charismatic, complicated figures whose own trajectories have altered our own. I’m now at work on a collection of short stories and an adaptation of Mr. Dickens and His Carol for the stage.

I wrote...

Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft

By Samantha Silva,

Book cover of Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft

What is my book about?

Midwife Parthenia Blenkinsop has delivered countless babies, but nothing prepares her for the experience that unfolds when she arrives at Mary Wollstonecraft’s door. Over the eleven harrowing days that follow, as Mrs. Blenkinsop fights for the survival of both mother and daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft recounts the life she dared to live amid the impossible constraints and prejudices of the late eighteenth century, rejecting the tyranny of kings, men, and marriage, risking everything to demand equality for herself and all women. She weaves her riveting tale to give her fragile daughter a reason to live, even as her own strength wanes. Wollstonecraft’s urgent story of loss and triumph forms the heartbreakingly brief intersection between the lives of a mother and daughter who will change the arc of history and thought.

In radiant prose, Silva delivers an ode to the dazzling life of Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the world’s most influential thinkers.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley

Why did I love this book?

The giants of English biography (Janet Todd, Claire Tomalin, Lyndall Gordon) have written brilliant books about Wollstonecraft, but the one I went back to time and again (most dog-eared, underlined, annotated) was this dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley. An absolute page-turner, it reads like a novel, bringing this extraordinary mother and daughter to vivid life in alternating chapters that reveal parallels in who they were, what they believed, and how they lived.

By Charlotte Gordon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Romantic Outlaws as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A gripping account of the heartbreaks and triumphs of two of history's most formidable female intellectuals, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. Gordon has reunited mother and daughter through biography, beautifully weaving their narratives for the first time.' Amanda Foreman

English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and author Mary Shelley were mother and daughter, yet these two extraordinary women never knew one another. Nevertheless, their passionate and pioneering lives remained closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies eerily similar.

Both women became famous writers and wrote books that changed literary history,…

Book cover of A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark and Memoirs of the Author of the Rights of Women

Why did I love this book?

I’m often asked by Americans who aren’t familiar with Wollstonecraft (or confuse mother and daughter), which of her books to read first. Vindication of the Rights of Woman is her most famous, but I always answer that if you only read one, this book is it. It’s her most modern and personal work, and the last thing she wrote before dying of puerperal fever at age 38, after giving birth to the future Mary Shelley. It’s part travelogue, love letter, philosophical treatise, cultural history, and (I would argue) suicide note, bookended by her two attempts after a shattering affair with American speculator Gilbert Imlay. It’s short and accessible, beautifully written, and a glimpse into a magnificent mind.

By Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark and Memoirs of the Author of the Rights of Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In these two closely linked works - a travel book and a biography of its author - we witness a moving encounter between two of the most daring and original minds of the late eighteenth century: A Short Residence in Sweden is the record of Wollstonecraft's last journey in search of happiness, into the remote and beautiful backwoods of Scandinavia. The quest for a lost treasure ship, the pain of a wrecked love affair, memories of the French Revolution, and the longing for some Golden Age, all shape this vivid narrative, which Richard Holmes argues is one of the neglected…

Lincoln in the Bardo

By George Saunders,

Book cover of Lincoln in the Bardo

Why did I love this book?

Writing historical fiction, I tend to stick pretty faithfully to the period I’m thinking about, trying for an immersive experience, but then other books come along, beckoning with their unexpected gifts. In this deeply moving meditation on grief, the loss of a child, and the liminal space between life and letting go of it, I found so much rich ground for thinking about the eleven days between the birth of Mary Shelley and the death of Mary Wollstonecraft—a mother and child having to say hello and goodbye all at once. Come for Saunders’ prodigious imagination, stay for his extraordinary humanity.   

By George Saunders,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Lincoln in the Bardo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 A STORY OF LOVE AFTER DEATH 'A masterpiece' Zadie Smith 'Extraordinary' Daily Mail 'Breathtaking' Observer 'A tour de force' The Sunday Times The extraordinary first novel by the bestselling, Folio Prize-winning, National Book Award-shortlisted George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns…

Book cover of A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf

Why did I love this book?

This book became a kind of hymnal for me during the writing of Love and Fury. It was Virginia Woolf who in 1929 resurrected Mary Wollstonecraft’s reputation and legacy, buried for a century because a tell-all memoir written by her widower, William Godwin, scandalized the world. It seemed natural to turn to Woolf, who found inspiration in Wollstonecraft’s “experiments in living”. I read a section of the diary every day before I started to write. Woolf’s profound creative visions, her anguish, and passions, her voice, helped me locate Wollstonecraft and my own voice in hers. 

By Virginia Woolf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Writer's Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An invaluable guide to the art and mind of Virginia Woolf, drawn from the personal record she kept over a period of twenty-seven years.

Included are entries that refer to her own writing, and those that are relevant to the raw material of her work, and, finally, comments on the books she was reading. The first entry included here is dated 1918 and the last, three weeks before her death in 1941. Between these points of time unfolds the private world—the anguish, the triumph, the creative vision—of one of the great writers of the twentieth century.

“A Writer’s Diary .…

Book cover of Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence

Why did I love this book?

In the middle of writing Love and Fury, feeling slightly stuck and unsure, I stumbled on this deliciously funny, self-deprecating, and exhilarating portrait of the artist struggling to write a book. Dyer recounts his somewhat desperate attempt, and failure, to “locate” the elusive D. H. Lawrence, but he ends up instead writing a kind of anti-biography and memoir that illuminates both writer and subject. We writers are always looking for other writers to commiserate with on how hard writing is. I’m not sure how that magic works, but it can be just the push to keep going.

By Geoff Dyer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Out of Sheer Rage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts the author's experiences visiting the places D.H. Lawrence lived while actively not working on a book about Lawrence and not writing his own novel.

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