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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Charlotte Gordon,

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

Why 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.


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

By Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin,

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

Why 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.


Lincoln in the Bardo

By George Saunders,

Book cover of Lincoln in the Bardo

Why 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.   


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

By Virginia Woolf,

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

Why 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. 


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

By Geoff Dyer,

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

Why 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.


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