'The personal is the political.’ We all remember this 1970s feminist call to consciousness. But it is perhaps Mary Wollstonecraft – eighteenth-century author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, wife of William Godwin, mother of Mary Shelley – who most embodies this mantra. She put the home at the centre of her doctrines, and her life was governed by the feminist struggle as much as her work was. But public knowledge of her lovers, of the two (rejected) offers she made to live in a ménage à trois, of her single motherhood and of her suicide attempts destroyed her reputation, and it was not until the 1970s that she re-emerged as the mother of feminism.
For Lyndall Gordon, biographer of Charlotte Brontë and Virginia Woolf, Wollstonecraft’s genius lies in her life. It was, according to Virginia Woolf, ‘an experiment from the start’. The daughter of a drunken bully, this self-educated companion,