Mary Wollstonecraft and
Other Contemporaries of Jane Austen:
A Male Voices Web Page

April 21, 1998

Jane Austen (1775-1817) and the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) were alive and publishing at the same time. That startling observation makes us wonder about Jane Austen's intellectual environment. When you begin to study these things, you will be impressed. I mean, there was a great deal happening then - a great deal. This was a period more fertile than our own. I believe that you gain a much fuller appreciation of Jane Austen when you can place her in that context. In particular, it is useful to place her work and attitudes alongside those of the other female celebrities of her own times. All of that is the subject of this posting.

One of the most interesting facts for me is that Jane Austen was producing those elegantly drawn descriptions of mild events amid this period of intellectual storm and stress.

Fanny Austen-Knight

Cassandra's Portrait Of 
Niece Fanny Austen-Knight

I mean, face it, what really happens in Pride and Prejudice? Well, Darcy behaves poorly at a dance, Jane Bennet develops a really bad cold, and Lydia Bennet has premarital sex with her future husband, and - that's about it!

Meanwhile, de Sade was publishing his stuff just as Byron and Shelley were experimenting with drugs, innovative domestic arrangements, and radical chic. The propaganda of anarchy and class-revolution was everywhere, the feminists were out in full force, and the great founders of economic theory - including the proto-communists - were just beginning their publication. James Watt (1736-1819) was unwittingly inaugurating the Industrial Revolution. And, all the while, Francisco Goya was capturing some of the images of the period that was being set to music by Mozart (1756-1791) and Beethoven (1770-1827), and just as Blake's (1757-1827) "tyger" was burning bright. But no tiger blazed as bright as the one seated at her writing desk in the Chawton Cottage night.


Goya's Portrait of Curly Hair
above a Pair of Fine Eyes

I don't believe that it takes a remarkably wide range of interests to be an admirer of both Jane Austen and Francisco Goya. In fact, I think much the same things about both of them. Think about those sketches of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Sir Walter Elliot; surely those are paintings that could have been signed by Goya. Many will disagree. Some will point to Goya's greater passion, but only those who understand Jane Austen much differently than I. Also, I find that Francisco Goya's images are as finely drawn and are as subtly composed as those of Jane Austen.

In many ways, Jane Austen's times were very much like those of an American of my generation. I mean that the American Revolution had much the same impacts in England that the Vietnam War had in my own country. The British army was the best in the world, and they won nearly every battle in America. However, the southern loyalists were the worst kind of allies, under-educated men who had their own bitter scores to settle, and men who would commit one atrocity after another. It was not long before there were retaliations in kind. The British Army was militarily sophisticated and politically inept so it became guilty by association. As it became isolated and increasingly demoralized, this great army was then sunk to the level of its worst allies and into the same stupid habits. In this way, an initially indifferent American populace was converted into a fierce, innovative, and dedicated enemy. As these facts became known on the other side of the Atlantic, great divisions and rifts were created in the English society, divisions that were the main reason for the eventual victory of the opponent. Does any of this sound familiar?

Another similarity is that the England of Jane Austen's time feared the invasion of a foreign super-power, a reasonable fear that would last for nearly Jane Austen's entire life. This was the power of France that had, at times, the support of the liberal elements of many other nations. Even some dissident elements of England thought, at first, that Napoleon might bring democracy to the European continent.

Mary Wollstonecraft
and the English Jacobins

I first became aware of English feminism when I picked up what I thought was a purely American essay, Common Sense (1776). Thomas Paine published this essay in America about a month after Jane Austen's birth. The frequent feminist phrases and sentiments expressed in that essay were striking to me. Paine was a polemicist and not an original thinker, so I guessed that his feminism was derivative in some way. I was not surprised, therefore, when I learned that Paine was a native Englishman and, when in England, he was a member of an intellectual and radical coterie. A coterie which included William Blake (1757-1827), Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), and others. I have seen them referred to as the "English Jacobins". Although, feminism was not the main interest of the coterie, it was certainly a subsidiary focus. The main focus was on the abstract and radical political philosophies of the day, such as an "end to tyranny" and expanded "personal freedoms". The English Jacobins was a very interesting group, composed of radical persons of lower class backgrounds and superior minds.

Opie's Portrait of Our
Self-Described "Incendiary".

Wollstonecraft was the junior member of the group; however, in our times, she is the more-often quoted feminist because of gender bias and because of the respect earned by her tract A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. That appeared when Jane Austen was about 16 years old. Another junior member of the group was William Godwin (1756-1836), whom you will see described variously as an "anarchist" or as a "free-thinking" socialist. Godwin would become Wollstonecraft's husband and biographer, but was better known, in his day, as an influential radical philosopher. That couple will receive a great deal of attention in this posting.

Mary Wollstonecraft was raised in the home of a brutally abusive father, and that turned her attitudes and outlook - Godwin would say that the experience would "substitute the inflexibility of resistance for the confidence of affection". When only a child, Mary Wollstonecraft would sometimes sleep on the floor in front of her mother's bedroom in order to bar that entrance to the drunken father. Mary's grandfather had become very rich - a self-made man - but the father was profligate and the family was sinking back into its humble origins during Mary's lifetime. Mary was the second in the birth order of her family; there was one older brother, two younger brothers, and there were two younger sisters. She resented her older brother and they eventually became alienated. This was due, in part, to Mary's challenge to his inheritance, a part of which she claimed for herself. There was absolutely no legal basis for this claim, but we can recognize the justice in it. (In this way she gains our respect and, in this way, she began a life-long pattern.) Mary was also terribly jealous of her mother's special love and respect for her first-born son. Mary's younger sisters became very dependent upon Mary, Mary fostered that dependence, and then resented the sisters for it. In due course, they also became alienated from Mary and would fail one of Mary's daughters most sadly. Can you imagine the description of a family more unlike that of the Austens'?

The radicalization of an individual is an interesting thing to study. Every case has its unique features, but there may be some generalizations that can be made. Mary Wollstonecraft was certainly provided a receptive mind by what she experienced in her own family life. However, other preconditions always seem to be required; the fledgling radical also needs the right kind of external political conditions and, most important of all, the right kind of acquaintance. These elements were certainly present in Mary Wollstonecraft's development and you can read an account of those matters in the wonderfully detailed biography of Claire Tomalin [Tomalin-MW].

There were many, many important influences in Mary's life; perhaps the most important were Dr. Price, a Dissenter, and the publisher Joseph Johnson. A "Dissenter" was a religious person who rejected the doctrine of the Anglican Church, and criticized the influence and dominance of that state-sponsored religion. Needless to say, they were discriminated against. Price's kindness to Mary, as well as his considerable intellectual gifts, encouraged Mary and introduced in her a respect for the unconventional. After publication of her first philosophical work, and then her first novel, Johnson eliminated Mary Wollstonecraft's practical needs when he set her up in a house with a servant. (Tomalin believes that he was homosexual so that this arrangement could only have been a purely professional one.) Johnson also satisfied her intellectual needs as his home was the common meeting place for intellectual radicals, of lower class backgrounds, and Mary was a frequent and welcome visitor there. You will be deeply impressed when you learn the list of names of the people that Mary met at those evening meetings. Joseph Johnson seems to be one of those shadowy figures of history that can remain hidden, in plain sight, in spite of the tremendous influence he has upon historical or intellectual events.

I admire Wollstonecraft's bravery, her energy, her physical beauty, and her purposefulness. She was productive and adventuresome and I admire her for that as well, but I don't always admire her writing style. The Rights of Woman was composed in only six weeks and it certainly gives that impression. She would occasionally write in a forced and self-conscious way, and she was, at times, desperate that we think her lyrical. A number of female commentators of our day claim she succeeds, but that must be a political reaction and not an objective judgment. Here is an example of what I mean, this appears in a travelogue and is part of a description of Mary's reaction to a beautiful seascape.

"... - I pause, again breathless, to trace, with renewed delight, sentiments which entranced me, when, turning my humid eyes from the expanse below to the vault above, my sight pierced the fleecy clouds that softened the azure brightness; and, imperceptibly recalling the reveries of childhood, I bowed before the awful throne of my Creator, whilst I rested on its footstool."

Gads! And did she say "imperceptibly recalling"? Well, she wrote a number of sentences like that; but we know about her because of the way she lived and because she was also capable of writing other kinds of sentences. Mary Wollstonecraft was a novelist at times, but she was at her best when she wrote as a philosopher. Here are some examples of the good sentences, some of my favorites chosen at random.

"Intoxication is the pleasure of savages, and of all those whose employments rather exhaust their animal spirits, than exercise their faculties. Is not this, in fact, the vice, both in England and the northern states of Europe, which appears to be the greatest impediment to general improvement?"

Here is one of my very favorites from Chapter 12 of Rights of Woman.

"Humanity to animals should be particularly inculcated as a part of national education, for it is not at present one of our national virtues. ... This habitual cruelty is first taught at school, where it is one of the rare sports of the boys to torment the miserable brutes that fall in their way. The transition, as they grow up, from brutality to brutes to domestic tyranny over wives, children, and servants, is very easy. Justice, or even benevolence, will not be a powerful spring of action unless it extend to the whole of creation; nay, I believe that it may be delivered as an axiom, that those who can see pain, unmoved, will soon learn to inflict it."

This next bit is damn near prescient! Mary was watching some young German soldiers being taught their drills and mused about the matter in this way.

"I view, with a mixture of pity and horror, these beings training to be sold to slaughter, or be slaughtered, and fell into reflections, on an old opinion of mine, that it is the preservations of the species, not of individuals, which appears to be the design of the Deity throughout the whole of nature. Blossoms come forth only to be blighted; fish lay their spawn where it will be devoured; and what a large part of the human race are born merely to be swept prematurely away. Does not this waste of budding life emphatically assert, that it is not men, but man, whose preservation is so necessary to the completion of the grand plan of the universe? ..."

Remember, Mary Wollstonecraft was writing nearly fifty years before Darwin. All this reminds me of an argument currently raging over the nature of altruism. One side argues that altruism cannot be the result of evolution because the individual who sacrifices himself for others cannot survive to produce children; ergo, it must be culture and not biology that produces this quality in men. The opponents argue that no individual survives, only a chromosome can survive, and the survival of the fittest chromosome might well require that some of its manifestations sacrifice for the benefit of the others. Do you agree that Wollstonecraft hit upon the latter argument over two hundred years ago?

Before Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", she wrote "A Vindication of the Rights of Man"! So, those last four words would appear in one of her titles before they appeared in the more famous title of Thomas Paine. Feminist ideas were in the air (primarily in the French air), and Joseph Johnson convinced a somewhat reluctant Mary to publish her own thoughts on this matter being discussed by so many others. In this way, The Rights of Woman was conceived and produced.

In our times, feminist theory is too often about men, who are stereotyped and categorized. And the feminists of our generation talk about something they call a "male-dominated society" (it sounds ideal but I have never seen such a thing and would place the concept alongside those of the "philosopher's stone" and the "competitive marketplace"). These theorists go on to describe all women as powerless and virtuous victims in this cruel environment. Mary Wollstonecraft had anticipated all of the modern theories and issues; she understood all the ways that men exclude women and complained bitterly about them. However, Mary's picture is far more realistic, more balanced, and agrees better with that of most male readers. Also, Mary's feminism was mostly about women, and about how they should be educated to fulfill their aspirations and potentials. To her, there was a context in which the male and female roles are complementary rather than synonymous. Also, she believed that the male-female relationship could be improved upon and that was an important goal. Most say that Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the first feminists, but I am not so sure - maybe she was the last.

Mary Wollstonecraft understood that some women are, indeed, victims; however, as many other women gain complete control through manipulation, badgering, or with the aid of other "artful" female ways including a rationing of affection. Mary describes even worse attributes of such wives. Jane Austen understood all this as well and illustrated that kind of woman in the characters of the younger Mrs. Dashwood, Mrs. Bennet, Charlotte Lucas, Aunt Norris, Isabella Thorpe, Lucy Steele, Mary Crawford, Mary Musgrove, and, most clearly of all, in the character of Lady Susan. Mary Wollstonecraft's tack was to accuse men of creating this monster and to continually ask male readers if this was the kind of companion they intended. She argues, successfully, that the way to eliminate this kind of wife was to include and to respect women more, and to educate them better. This is not an argument to be ignored.

Mary saw women, first and foremost, as mothers and scolded the gentlewomen of her generation for employing wet nurses (a practice followed, for example, in Jane Austen's family). She also took a stand against the boarding schools then becoming popular in England (and remaining popular among the upper classes to this day). Mary argued that children should be educated in day schools so that they could return to their familiar homes and family affection at night. All that is only a small part of Chapter 12 of The Rights of Woman, an excellent chapter and one of the very high points of her tract. However, this Chapter also illustrates my main complaint about The Rights of Woman, it is not always perfectly coherent. I mean, what class of persons is Mary writing about? It would have been the upper classes that sent their sons to boarding school, but if they were to have kept the boys at home, then they would have brought in tutors. It is the lower classes that might make use of day schools, but surely they were not, at that time, employing wet nurses and educating their sons at boarding school. Things might be perfectly coherent if Mary had assumed that some great leveling was imminent; that certainly would have been to that philosopher's liking, but she states no such assumption.

I don't want to paint Mary Wollstonecraft as a "family values" advocate because she was not; her link to the feminists of our day becomes clearer where she discusses the male-female relationship. Those are the places that we can see the complete evaporation to Mary Wollstonecraft's feminist core; there we can see her bitter resentment of - and alienation from the other sex.

I recommend the thin essay, William Godwin's Memoirs of the Author of the Rights of Woman [MW-memoir]. I have seen this essay referred to as a "biography", but that is an exaggeration; it is merely the recollections of a grieving husband for a recently departed wife. Godwin dutifully recounts Mary's side of every story and, since Mary tended to be egotistical, the accounts may have been very one-sided indeed.

Both Wollstonecraft and Paine went to France during the revolution and both met personal difficulties there. Paine became persona non grata for political reasons (he wouldn't applaud the lopping of so many heads) and Wollstonecraft was impregnated and then abandoned by an American, Gilbert Imlay. The child was to be known as Fanny Imlay (the given name chosen to commemorate Mary's youthful infatuation with a Miss Fanny Blood). Mary published an essay on her travels in Scandinavia [Travels]. This essay takes the form of a series of letters and one has the impression that they are addressed to Gilbert Imlay; at places, the writing seems intended to provoke and to taunt him. People, who study these matters, tell us that they were probably kept in a journal and never actually shown to Imlay; except, of course, when he could read them after publication.

Mary Wollstonecraft thought hard and well but she did not think consistently because her mind was too conflicted and constrained. The cost of not thinking consistently is always the same - a life lived in contradictions. Wollstonecraft was flirtatious and confrontational; idealistic and morally obtuse; and she was lustful and philosophical - she was all over the map. In the Rights of Woman, she tells us that an attenuation of the passion between the sexes is desirable and a sign of a perfecting society; yet, her own husband would refer to her as "a female Werter" because she so often imposed upon marriages or upon committed relationships. She advocated free love, but attempted suicide when her lover demonstrated that he knew how to live that way as well. She insisted on the dignity and independence of women but degraded herself when she begged Imlay to allow her to live with him and his new girl friend. She eschewed marriage as a "selfish" anachronism, and extolled the "independent" life of the unwed mother, but when faced with the prospect of a second daughter born out of wedlock, she convinced Godwin to marry her. Mary Wollstonecraft could go on and on about the terrible way that the upper classes treated the lower, but when she mingled with the common folks she could become their severest critic. She traveled throughout Sweden and Denmark, dependent upon the good will and hospitality of the commoners, and her gratuity would be a sneer. She committed these elitist and condescending views to paper, which she sold as an essay in order to bring herself profit and distinction [Travels]. Godwin's contradictions were greater in number and were more profound, but were born of the same lack of intellectual rigor.

And contradiction begets irony. This brave and brilliant woman was in Scandinavia on a wild-goose chase; sent there by Fanny's father while he bedded some actress in London. And Godwin would say that Mary's essay was the thing that made him love her!

After Mary Wollstonecraft became the wife of William Godwin, she died from complications due to childbirth - that child was to become Mary Shelley. In his own time, Godwin was criticized for the candor shown in his Memoirs of Mary. That can still be one's impression to this day; all the love affairs are carefully recounted, and we read all the technical details of Mary's suicide attempts and of her decline and death after the birth of their child. Godwin did not show much delicacy, but the account does show he had a complete intimacy with his wife that many men of today will envy. I find that, if you read between the lines, the account can often be amusing in an unintended way. For example, Godwin goes to great lengths to inform us about how loving and close his relationship with Mary was, but then we learn that they never actually lived together after the marriage - oh sure, they were "close neighbors". Godwin assures us that Mary also wanted things that way - a surprise given the extraordinary effort Mary made in order to be allowed to live with Fanny Imlay's father. There are a number of things like that; but, if you do chuckle, be careful of where you admit it. Don't get me wrong, the Memoir is also sad, poignant and sweet, and very interesting.

Living in contradiction is not exactly the same thing as hypocrisy - there is a boundary between the two - you will judge for yourself on which side of the line Wollstonecraft and Godwin set themselves. To me, Mary Wollstonecraft is a tragic, sweet, and heroic person and I truly admire her - what man did not? could not? I know what it is like to come from a dysfunctional family; what it is to struggle to survive in spirit and sanity. It's a life that usually breaks a person, but for some, like Mary Wollstonecraft, the experience first strengthens and then makes one fiercely independent - too independent. The distrust you learn for your family elders then extends to the community and then beyond. The feeling is made mutual, in part by the reputation of your family and, in part, by your own extravagant behavior. There is no opportunity to learn the basic social graces and you become cynical and uncooperative - and you want to have it your own way. There is no escape and you become locked in a struggle with society. There must have been many times that Mary tried to surrender her struggle, but it would only have taken a single remark or even a certain kind of glance and she would have been ready to resume the fight.

There are those among us who know that one cannot attempt to completely re-invent society and then expect a good result - or even a passable result. They know that innovations must be made carefully and incrementally, and that the "proprieties" are the encoding of vast experience and painfully won knowledge, and must ever be referenced. Honor and grace come from a life well lived and can never be acquired by the mere arm-chair invention of a whole new set of philosophical rules for society. But then, the individual who can remember using his body to shield his mother is not the same person who can compose such a calm, wise philosophy. Individuals in Mary Wollstoncraft's situation become convinced that they can - must - re-invent the world and that they will be absolved in this way; however, they are doomed to become the sometimes tragic, sometimes comic, but always charismatic figures of history.

Mary Wollstonecraft may have expressed these things best when she was writing about one of her personal tragic heroines, Princess Matilda.

"Disgusted with many customs which pass for virtues, though they are nothing more than observances of forms, often at the expense of truth, she probably ran into an error common to innovators, in wishing to do immediately what can only be done by time."
Mary Shelley

When faced with the impending birth of a child, the prudent person will ask to be attended upon by the most experienced and the most competent person available. Mary Wollstonecraft insisted upon the most experienced and the most competent woman available, and, ten days later, Mary was dead of an infection. Perhaps there is a cause and an effect here and, more likely, there is not - there is no way to prove either possibility at this late date. However there is this horrible, ironic event at the end of her life, and we can imagine her second-guessing herself in those last, pain-filled hours. After the midwife admitted that Mary was in trouble, a man was sent for - and then another man - and then other men still. It is not clear which attendant was the most to blame; perhaps it was the first man who tried to remove the placenta and who may have introduced the infection.

The child, a daughter, lived and became Mary Shelley, the author of two of my most favorite novels Frankenstein and The Last Man.

The worst was to come after the death of Mary Wollstonecraft. The ever-clueless Godwin persisted in railing against the institution of marriage, even after he had married for the second time. He had the responsibility for the infant Mary Wollstonecraft (some say "Mary Godwin") and Fanny Imlay, and that prospect compelled him into a marriage with his neighbor who had some children of her own to raise. It is one thing to eschew the institution of marriage, but quite another to turn down some much-needed assistance. The new stepdaughter was Jane Clairmont (she would call herself "Claire" Clairmont). Daughter Mary was sixteen when disaster struck; Godwin received an admiring letter from another atheist and political radical who wished, very much, to meet the great man. The letter writer had something that Godwin did not - money. In fact, the writer was to become a baronet someday - at six thousand a year! Before that though, the writer would become a famous poet - some say the greatest English poet - Percy Shelley. Shelley and his young wife, Harriet, would dine often with the Godwins, and Shelley would bring some money with him. Godwin must have enjoyed those meals, the meals where he would expound his philosophies to an enraptured audience and then there was that gratuity.

Shelley had married Harriet when she was sixteen, but now she had aged three years and so could not compare with the sixteen year old seated at the Godwin table. Shelley was in his early twenties at the time. There was a ridiculous tradition in the Godwin family in which Mary was sent every day to the tomb of the mother she had never known. Shelley would often accompany her there while chaperoned by Claire Clairmont. Chaperoned at sufficient distance to allow Shelley to seduce the daughter near the mother's grave. Meanwhile Fanny Imlay had also fallen in love with Shelley - he had a very beautiful countenance, he was a wonderful poet, and he was to be very rich someday. Even a Godwin can figure things out eventually, so Shelley absconded to the Continent with Mary and Claire. He was a generous man, so he wrote to both Fanny and wife Harriet with permission for each to join his party if she so chose. Why do you not love him? Neither woman accepted his invitation; in fact, both Fanny and Harriet were a bit inconvenient - inconvenient in everything except their suicides which occurred soon and only a couple of months apart. Shelley's good friend, the married but lordly Byron impregnated Claire, and he was gracious enough about that: "I suppose the brat is mine".

It all ended horribly [Tomalin-MS]. Everyone who knew Percy Shelley tells us that he had a sweet nature and, of course, his superb poetic vision is there for all of us to discover. In his biography, however, we can discover that he was also an angel of death. Following the suicides of his wife and Mary's half sister, there would be the deaths of Mary's children from illness and Mary would hold him responsible because of his carelessness. Mary withdrew from Percy sexually and emotionally in the months just prior to his own death from accidental drowning. There is a strong possibility that he had a child by Claire, a child that was abandoned and who would also die in infancy. Byron wouldn't send his child by Claire to her for a visit because of the "poor record" of the Shelley household in the matter of children's health. That child died soon after as well. Don't bother posting to me to explain the high mortality rates "of those times" - I have heard all that - things didn't have to be like that. For example, eight children were born to the Austen family and all survived well into adulthood. I don't recall that Jane Austen ever suffered the loss of a single niece or nephew. Jane and her sister were once sent away to a school where they both almost died; Jane's parents responded by putting an end to their daughters' schooling outside the home. (I admit that one child did die in the Austen home - Mr. Austen's first pupil, the seven-year old George Hastings, of diphtheria in 1764.)

After Percy's death, Mary expected the support and affections of Byron for whom she had an attraction and with whom she may have had a previous liaison. He was too busy helping the Greeks win their independence and, subsequently, dying of malaria. Mary's only surviving child was Percy; when he was being sent away to school, Mary was asked how the boy was to be educated so that "he might learn to think for himself". Mary's famous reply was "Oh no, for God's sake, teach him to think like everybody else!".

What is it to be?
The Ivory or the Drums?

Jane Austen once described her own writing as "... the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush...". Mary Wollstonecraft beat the war drum. Jane Austen almost defined what we mean with the phrase "a strong sense of irony". Mary Wollstonecraft was humorless. Jane Austen was shy and silent in the presence of strangers and was no more regarded by them than was a poker or candlestick or any other thin, mute object. Mary Wollstonecraft's presence was so strong that it was said "her mood preceded her into a room"; and when Mary herself arrived, she was the center of attention. Jane Austen published anonymously and died largely unknown in this world. At the moment of her death, Mary Wollstonecraft was a celebrity from North America to Western Europe. When members of the Austen family received news of Jane's death, they wept and grieved, and resolved to declare her honor and to secure her fame. I imagine that when members of the Wollstonecraft family learned of Mary's death, they grew sad and contemplative and resolved to remember only the good things. I ask you now - which woman is the better known today?

Jane Austen ranged from Portsmouth to London to Kent and everywhere she went, she moved under the protection of a brother or a nephew. Mary Wollstonecraft ranged from Britain to Sweden to Portugal and everywhere she went she traveled alone. Jane Austen may have visited the lake country in the north of England, but Mary Wollstonecraft certainly stood before the falls and cataracts at Frederikstad. And yet, within the sphere of the human mind, heart, and soul, Jane was the far traveler and Mary the blinded prisoner - blinded by her father and imprisoned by her American lover. If you think that Mary achieved the greater freedom, then you must acknowledge that she gained the "freedom" to walk that half-hour in the rain upon Putney Bridge. She walked in this way to soak her clothing through in order to weigh herself down. But when she jumped into the Thames, she did not sink and she would remember struggling to pull her clothes more closely about her, to make herself more compact so that she would sink. Mary failed in this suicide attempt and so she failed in a way her daughter Fanny - her first born - her beloved "babe" - would succeed. (Fanny would choose the more certain method, an overdose of opiates.) I think you should let Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin supply your warnings and let the American culture and experience provide your updated examples; I suspect that if you want personal fulfillment, then you should pick up the pieces of ivory and ignore the excitement and spectacle of the drums.

That's enough! really quite enough of those English Jacobins. This is the point to turn to a more general discussion of women in Jane Austen's times.

Do you want to continue to the next page of this posting? "Women in Jane Austen's Time"