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Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  292 ratings  ·  30 reviews
The founder of modern feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was the most famous woman of her era. A brilliant, unconventional rebel vilified for her strikingly modern notions of education, family, work, and personal relationships, she nevertheless strongly influenced political philosophy in Europe and a newborn America. Now acclaimed biographer Lyndall Gordon mounts a ...more
Paperback, 592 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published May 3rd 2005)
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Sep 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written, intensively researched biography of an often misunderstood and greatly underappreciated woman. Lyndall Gordon has the enviable position of being a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford, so she has both the time and the access to apparently every extant scrap of her subject's life. Considering the considerable false press that enveloped Mary Wollstonecraft's short but super-eventful life, both the access and the time are crucial to understanding her and how unfortunate i ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
There's no greater tragedy in the history of mankind than the suppression of womankind. Though there have been exceptions; some queens have ruled, some societies have been matrilineal, but for the most part women have been the captives of men.

This is still the case in large parts of the world. The proof of the complete subjugation of a woman is the idea in her head that there really is no role for her except that assigned by men. As this book attests, even in England, a country at the cutting ed
By now I have read several biographies on Mary Wollstonecraft, and none of them have predisposed me to like her. My raging dislike turned to muted pity but not interest. I did not enjoy A Vindication of the Rights of Women my first read through. Proceeding works left me convinced she was a seriously confused woman who fell prey to the emotions she dismissed. Her life was a tragedy, certainly, ironic even. But a vindication for womankind? Not really. I thus approached this particular work with a ...more
Mar 16, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Mary Wollstonecraft has always been this vague image in my mind of a strong feminist that is occasionally referenced in the historical fiction that I read. This book showed me that she was so much more. Yes, she was a feminist in the 1700s when that wasn't really a thing yet. But she was also an advocate for breast-feeding your own child in an age where sending your baby out to live with a wet nurse was the standard. She had strong opinions on childhood education. She was a translator and journa ...more
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For something that I picked up on a whim, this book was surprisingly moving. Gordon is a fierce admirer of Mary Wollstonecraft in a way that I found off-putting in the beginning, when she seems to defensively fixate on proving Wollingscraft's status as a "great". "Rarer creature", she calls her. A "germ of a new genus". "The great are ordinary as well as great" she reminds us at one point. But when she moves on to the meat of the biography, this fierceness turns into a worthy advocacy that seeks ...more
Matt McCormick
Dec 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's helpful to remember that ideas we hold as commonplace (but so inadequately put in practice ) are often very new from the perspective of human history. Few, more so than the basic equality of the genders. Three thousand years of patriarchal dominance has been slow to erode. Mary Wollstonecraft's life story exemplifies for the reader not only not only a demonstration of personal courage, determination and self-acquired intellect but also the effort and difficulty necessary to changing society ...more
As I expected (having really liked Gordon's bio of Charlotte Brontë), this was excellent. Gordon examines the truths and myths of Wollstonecraft's life in an illuminating way, with generally just the right level of detail. She does spend a little too much time on Gilbert Imlay (Wollstonecraft's lover and father of her daughter Fanny) and his business partners and intrigues, but other than that, I found this a very compelling biography (and now I want to reread Claire Tomalin's, when I have a cha ...more
Feb 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
Mary Wollstonecraft is in many ways the mother of the women's movement. At the end of the 18th century, she wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which set forth the idea that women are equal to men and should be treated in that way. This treatise served as the basis for much that followed. This fascinating biography details the life of this complicated woman, who indeed suffered from much of the prejudices of her time. She is known to many as the mother of Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), but ...more
Judy Gray
It got off to a slow start, depressing, even. Almost quit; glad I stuck with it.
Now finished, I will keep it in my collection.
A New York Times Notable Book, nominated for the NationalBook Critics Circle Award
Publishers Weekly named it one of the twenty best novels of 1993
"A sexy, irreverant romp of a novel ... [Vindication] is an exuberant ride through a heady and experimental time." Harper's Bazaar
"Amazing .. [an] intellectually zealous, narratively packed novel."
"A brushfire of nerves, longin
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To say that this version of Mary Wollstonecraft's life is comprehensive would be a grave understatement. This is not so much a biography of the 18th-century feminist as it is a biography of everyone that ever came in contact with her. The historical accounts of lovers, colleagues, benefactors,etc.. are absolutely exhaustive. None-the-less, I enjoyed this palaverous opus because I learned so much about 18th-century politics and renegade literary/political figures. I wasn't disappointed in the lea ...more
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an excellent, extremely in-depth biography of one of the earlier writers regarding the rights of women. The book obviously details Wollstonecraft's life, but also extends beyond that to show her lasting influence over those immediately following her and later writers. At some points, it seems almost too in-depth when detailing the lives of seemingly minor people in Wollstonecraft's life, but it is definitely an important and thorough biography. ...more
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I wanted to learn more about this remarkable woman. This book supplied me with all I could ask for. But the author was extremely difficult to decipher at times. Her writing style was confused. Also, she went off on tangents so frequently that the book could have been 35% shorter. Still, I am glad I know more about Mary Wollstonecraft.
Ashley H.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Overall an interesting read, however there was a TON of information provided about other people and some of it felt like unnecessary filer text.
May 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: incredible-women
It is a shame that Mary Shelly, Wollstonecraft's daughter, is the more remembered of the two. Though Mary Shelley did (arguably, according to the deconstruction in Shelly Unbound ) contribute significantly to English-language literature, it was her mother whose social progressiveness and teachings made waves still being felt. Mary Wollstonecraft was ahead of her time--even, in some ways, ahead of our time, given that the world still struggles with issues of female equality, the treatment of c ...more
A fairly solid biography of a fascinating figure surrounded by other fascinating people in an amazing era. The strength of the book is it's ability to tie MW's biography to global affairs. I also enjoyed how it's speculations were on what has been overlooked by previous biographies rather than the overdone focus on MW's sex life. This made the chapters dealing with Imlay gripping. My main gripe may actual be considered an asset by other readers: comparisons to Jane Austen's life and works are a ...more
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
So this was awesome! Not just because most of my context for Wollstonecraft before this book was as Mary Shelley's mother and the author of "A Vindication of the Rights of Women," but because Wollstonecraft was kind of amazing! Despite knowing what I know about the 18th and 19th centuries, I do sometimes forget how much a determined woman can do and the difference between things that are impossible and things that just aren't easy.
Gordon is a very sympathetic biographer and sees herself as enga
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A truly outstanding biography of Mary Woolstonecraft. I had read a bio years ago. OK, it's been a long time, but I don't remember much from that that is in this one. Her relationship with Gilbert Imlay was fascinating to me. Even brilliant, literate women can sometimes be fooled, but Implay was such a complex person, he probably fooled himself, too. I had no idea (or at least memory) that she had written so much and I'm getting ready to start her "letters" from Norway. That Woolstonecraft sought ...more
Jan 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: england, history
This more than a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft. At least a third covers the legacy of her influences. I read this as an ebook from the library, which did not have the illustrations that would have increased my interest. Instead, I relied on Wikipedia for pictures as well as context for certain deficiencies in my knowledge of that period of history (such as Enclosure laws, and much more). An impressive amount of research is displayed, but I found the writing to be a bit tedious. And there was ...more
Jan 25, 2013 rated it liked it
A biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, best known for being the mother of Mary Shelley. But she was an early feminist and lived an unconventional life that was misunderstood in her time. Gordon delves into letters and documents to correct the contemporary biography written by Wollstonecraft's husband. Starts kind of slow but gets very interesting. A little slow in the beginning but became very interesting as Wollstonecraft realized her genius and began to live her life in unorthodox ways. A good vi ...more
Brittany Miller
Oct 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Heartbreaking biography. Mary is an incredibly strong, determined and stubborn woman who is breaking social boundaries even after so many hardships in life. Mary advocates for women to be rational, intelligent and equal to men, a revolutionary thought of her time. Her father was awful, her mother mean, her sisters always asking for money, a trip to a mental asylum, unfaithful partners, attempted suicide...her life was ROUGH. Mary is an emotional roller coaster, and all I could do was sympathize. ...more
Sep 28, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: honestly: no one
Really disappointing, especially because Wollstonecraft was such an amazing and fascinating figure, and then because I'd heard good things about Lyndall Gordon. But this book has a weak voice, dips too often into academic quarrels, and most importantly lacks a center -- too often I found myself asking why LG was going into such depth on this or that after glossing over items of greater interest. Ah well. Wollstonecraft deserves a better biography. ...more
Jane Walker
Oct 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is as well-researched and detailed biography as one could wish. Naturally Gordon has used the copious correspondence which survives. But that's where it comes slightly unstuck. We hear Mary only through her writings and letters, and it never sounds like a speaking voice. Somehow I still didn't know this woman. Why did she find such favour with the cultural elites of the time so quickly? This is rather churlish, but the book left me disappointed. ...more
Karen Powell
Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon (2006)
Craig Bolton
Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon (2005)
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Mary Wollstonecraft is my hero. such an amazing story.
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is such an excellent biography. Highly recommended.
Madeleine McLaughlin
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Mary Wollstonecraft was a totally unique woman and this is a good book about her life and the women and men she influenced.
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Great biography of Mary Wollstonecraft. One I used for many references in my novel, The Last Daughter of Elizabeth Light.
Audrey Saltarelli
Sep 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
A little dry but overall decent book
Amy Christine Lesher
Normally, I love biographies, but I have a pet peeve: getting mini biographies on people who pop into the subject's life. Sometimes the mini biographies are interesting, other times I wish we could get back to the subject. Often through this biography I wanted to get back to Mary Wollstonecraft's life. At times the book bogged me down. I wasn't excited about getting back to the book, and my reading was very slow. Well researched and a wonderful biography on Wollstonecraft. ...more
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Lyndall Gordon (born 4 November 1941) is a British-based writer and academic, known for her literary biographies. She is a Senior Research Fellow at St Hilda's College, Oxford.

Born in Cape Town, she was an undergraduate at the University of Cape Town, then a doctoral student at Columbia University in New York City. She married the pathologist Siamon Gordon; they have two daughters.

Gordon is the au

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