About the Book
‘Now, daughter, I’m to tell you a story to coax you into the world…’
London, 1797. Mary Wollstonecraft awaits the arrival of the midwife who will help bring her child into the world, and support her through the testing eleven days that follow.
After the birth, both mother and daughter fight for survival. Even as Mary’s strength wanes, she urgently weaves the tale of her life to bind her frail Little Bird close.
Wollstonecraft’s journey to vindicate the rights of women spanned Europe and broke the conventions of the time. Amid the triumph and loss, she blazed a trail and passed that legacy on to her child, the future Mary Shelley.
Love and Fury reclaims the all too brief moment when the stories of mother and daughter overlapped. It is a lyrical and moving tribute to an influential thinker and a remarkable woman.
Format: Hardcover (320 pages) Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 17th June 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft on Goodreads
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I thoroughly enjoyed Samantha Silva’s previous book Mr Dickens and His Carol and she puts another literary figure, Mary Wollstonecraft, at the heart of her latest book. The author sets the novel in the perilous days following the birth of Mary’s second daughter, whom she refers to as “little bird”. Encouraged by her midwife, Mrs Blenkinsop, Mary Wollstonecraft relates the story of her life to her sickly child. It’s a story of her fight for the education of women, for personal independence and for equality.
The author provides a parallel narrative from the point of view of Mrs Blenkinsop. Not only does this allow the reader to witness the days during which both mother and daughter struggle for life, but it reveals the discrimination Mrs Blenkinsop herself has experienced at the hands of men. In this case, it’s from doctors who believe themselves more knowledgeable in medical matters than she is despite her vast practical experience.
I confess that, although I had heard of Mary Wollstonecraft, I knew little about her life. It turns out to be a life full of struggle from the beginning, growing up in a family with a violent father who sees no value in educating his daughters. Fortunately, the young Mary encounters a few men with more enlightened attitudes. The first is John Arden, father of her childhood friend Jane, who lends her books and provides a little of the learning she denied to her by her father. As Mary puts it, he sees her “nothingness as something worth filling”.
Inspired to transform her beliefs in to practical action, Mary opens a school alongside her two sisters and her dear friend Fanny Blood, with the aim to educate girls to ‘think for themselves’. Anticipating by some centuries the campagins for female education in poorer countries around the world, she argues, “Reform the girl, reform the world”.
Later, London publisher Joseph Johnson recognises Mary’s talent for writing and publishes her first book. He also finds her lodgings and around his dinner table she is introduced to influential figures of the day such as naturalist Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), poet William Cowper and artist Henry Fuseli. Johnson also employs Mary to write reviews of novels and I had to chuckle as I read her scathing comments on what she perceives to be the favourite female ingredients for a novel, which include ‘ridiculous characters’ and ‘improbable incidents’.
Attracted by the idealism of the slogan Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, Mary travels to revolutionary Paris but soon becomes disillusioned by the reality of what she sees. However, it is in Paris that she meets the men – businessman, Gilbert Imlay and journalist, William Godwin – who will become fathers to her two daughters. The first turns out to be a poor example of the male sex but Godwin proves himself to be a devoted father, as touching scenes in the book illustrate. Indeed, I would have welcomed witnessing more of the relationship between Mary and William which, even if not formalized in law, seems to have been a marriage of minds.
Throughout the book, Mary’s appreciation for the natural world shines through. For example, there are lyrical descriptions of landscape as Mary travels through Sweden and Norway on a ‘midsummer journey in the great, wild north’. Indeed, what she describes as ‘the healing embrace of the natural world’ enables her to forget for a time recent disappointments in her personal life and take up her pen once again.
Love and Fury is a fascinating insight into the life of a remarkable woman whose philosophy can probably best be summed up in the words given to her in the book. “Never be weak… Never submit, never cower… Struggle to the death with any obstacles rather than fall into a state of dependence.”
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Allison & Busby via NetGalley.
In three words: Immersive, powerful, fascinating
Try something similar: Imperfect Alchemist by Naomi Miller
About the Author
Samantha Silva is a writer and screenwriter based in Idaho. Her debut novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, was published in 2017 by Flatiron Books/Macmillan. She is currently adapting her debut novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, for the stage. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)