Judith Hawley at Literary Review:
While Mary Wollstonecraft earned her place at the table for pioneering women in Judy Chicago’s art installation The Dinner Party (1974–9), she would not be everyone’s ideal guest. She has a reputation as an acerbic killjoy. She deemed novels to be the ‘spawn of idleness’. She did not embrace women in sisterhood but censured them for their propensity to ‘despise the freedom which they have not sufficient virtue to struggle to attain’. Wollstonecraft has proved both an inspiration and a challenge to those who have come after her.
Her life and works, as Sylvana Tomaselli demonstrates in this wide-ranging new book, contain startling contradictions. On the one hand, she championed women’s capacity for reason in an age that largely treated them as sentimental playthings and decorative accessories for men. On the other, she fell passionately in love with the dashing and unscrupulous American businessman Gilbert Imlay.