Mary Wollstonecraft: Vindicated
London commuters were surprised during yesterday’s evening rush hour to see an image of Mary Wollstonecraft projected onto the Houses of Parliament. The author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and mother of Mary Shelley, Wollstonecraft was far ahead of her time in promoting women’s civil and political rights, espousing radical ideas such as: ‘Women ought to have representatives, instead of being arbitrarily governed without any direct share allowed them in the deliberations of government.’ Her appearance on the Houses of Parliament on 16th November 2011 is a timely reminder, both of how far women have come, and how far they have to go to achieve true equality.
William Rossetti would have been thrilled to see this display, and almost certainly would have contributed to the Mary on the Green campaign to raise funds for a statue of the Mother of British Feminism. As a tribute both to William Rossetti and to Wollstonecraft, I’m making a donation, and I hope you will too. Click here to donate.
The only Pre-Raphaelite Brother to declare himself a feminist, William Rossetti was a great admirer of Wollstonecraft, and a vocal supporter of female suffrage and women’s rights in general. His wife Lucy wrote a biography of Mary Shelley which made plain her respect for Wollstonecraft’s principles. She called her ‘one of the most remarkable and misunderstood women of even her remarkable day’, and wrote about how ‘she early learnt to feel fierce indignation at the injustice to, and the wrongs of women.’
William Rossetti’s sonnet, ‘Mary Shelley’, begins with an approving nod to Wollstonecraft, ‘who never quailing led / In the forlorn hope of the women’s cause’:
Mary Shelley, 1851
Daughter of her who never quailing led
In the forlorn hope of the women’s cause;
Daughter of him who reasoned out the laws
Of Justice in the State’s firm balance weighed;
Heart-mate and wife of one who, burning red
With world-embracing love, for ever draws
Into his orbit the thrilled globe, and awes
With visioned poesy each highest head
Of song for aye; — White Mary, with the voice
The sweetest ever heard, rejoin him now,
In the long thirtieth year of severance.
With drowning Harriet’s and drowned Shelley’s brow.
Thine own has passed the gate of deathly trance
He dies not, neither diest thou, his choice.
(from Democratic Sonnets, 1907)