Pre-Raphaelites in The City: Mary Wollstonecraft: Vindicated

Dinah Roe

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)


  1. Thank you so much for featuring our campaign! I am on the Mary on the Green team, and this is a big push forward for us. Thank you also for your donation—Americans have a good tradition of visible giving. Philanthropy can exist on a small scale as well as the Bill Gates model. As you are in London, perhaps you’d like to come to a little party being thrown for us at the Snooty Fox, in Newington Green? All welcome, 5pm till closing. It was the pub’s idea to call the evening the Girlie Show, and book all female DJs. If you have any questions about Mary on the Green, feel free to contact me. And I love the poem: I might use it n my Wollstonecraft blog, A Vindication of the Rights of Mary, where you would also be very welcome.

    Roberta Wedge responded at 02:23am on 11/24/2011
  2. You’re very welcome! When the Wollstonecraft statue goes up (after what I’m sure will be a successful campaign), I will be there with bells on.Thanks for the invite - though sadly for me, I’m otherwise engaged for Sat. night. But I would love to drop by on your blog. I am always looking for any excuse to bang on about William Rossetti’s feminism…Your event sounds like a good night out, and I hope the joint is jumping. What would Wollstonecraft make of it all I wonder?

    Dinah responded at 11:21am on 11/26/2011

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.