The best Mary Wollstonecraft books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Mary Wollstonecraft and why they recommend each book.

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

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

By Charlotte Gordon,

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.

From the list:

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

Book cover of Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

By Mary Wollstonecraft,

Why this book?

The eighteenth-century writer Mary Wollstonecraft is one of my literary heroines. This may not seem like the best book to pick as she died before she could finish it, but there’s enough here to make her personality – intelligent, trenchant, independent – shine through. It tells the story of upper-class Maria, imprisoned by her husband in a lunatic asylum; and working-class Jemima, an asylum attendant. Jemima was born out of wedlock and into poverty, and has suffered economic exploitation, sexual violence, hunger, and destitution. Jemima’s story forms only part of the novel, but the bond formed across the class divide…

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Book cover of She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

By Lynn Fulton, Felicita Sala (illustrator),

Why this book?

Everyone’s heard of Frankenstein, but a lot of people may not know that this legendary monster was created by a woman named Mary Shelley. In this fascinating picture book biography, Fulton doesn’t cover Mary Shelley’s entire life from beginning to end. Instead, she hones in on the most fascinating part—Lake Geneva, a stormy night, and a ghost-story challenge—that prompted Shelley to explore her imagination and write what has become one of the most famous monster stories of all time-- Frankenstein.
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Book cover of A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf

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

By 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. 

From the list:

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

Book cover of Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein

Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein

By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Bernie Wrightson (illustrator),

Why this book?

The late great Bernie Wrightson was a comic book genius of my childhood whose artistic merits were probably overlooked due to the media he chose to work in. This volume, illustrating the classic gothic masterpiece of horror, hopefully went some way towards righting that wrong. The glorious and intricate black and white illustrations are a marriage between the horror comic books of my youth and the woodcuts of Gustav Doré a hundred years earlier. I remember being staggered by them in my teens and making my own poor attempts at replicating them in college life drawing. Sorry, Bernie.

From the list:

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Book cover of Passion

Passion

By Jude Morgan,

Why this book?

Passion features major artists and poets from a long-past yet oddly familiar period: the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a time in some ways like our 1960s and 70s: free love, revolutionary acts, creative and sexual freedom, and advances in art, science, politics, and literature. The novel stars riveting, romantic, larger-than-life literary figures: Mary Wollstonecraft, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Lady Caroline Lamb, and Augusta Byron. Why can’t I time travel and inhabit such bygone eras – for a while, anyhow! But a good historical novel is the next best thing.

If it’s full of intrigue,…

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Book cover of The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present

The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present

By Christine Stansell,

Why this book?

I am recommending this book because it is a beautifully written, originally argued overview of women’s rights long history. Stansell organizes her compelling history of women’s rights around the shift from mothers’ perspectives (nineteenth-century feminism) to daughters’ perspectives (twentieth century). She writes beautifully and sweeps over this long tradition without minimizing the disagreements, shifts, and changes, all the while emphasizing the consistent theme of women’s individual freedom and collective struggle.
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