Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft

Her Own Woman: The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft

by Diane Jacobs
     
 

Pioneering eighteenth-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft lived a life as radical as her vision of a fairer world. She overcame great disadvantages — poverty (her abusive, sybaritic father squandered the family fortune), a frivolous education, and the stigma of being unmarried in a man's world.

Her life changed when Thomas Paine's publisher, Joseph

Overview

Pioneering eighteenth-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft lived a life as radical as her vision of a fairer world. She overcame great disadvantages — poverty (her abusive, sybaritic father squandered the family fortune), a frivolous education, and the stigma of being unmarried in a man's world.

Her life changed when Thomas Paine's publisher, Joseph Johnson, determined to make her a writer. Wollstonecraft's great feminist document, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which brought her fame throughout Europe, insisted that women reap all the new liberties men were celebrating since the fall of the Bastille in France.

Wollstonecraft lived as fully as a man would, socializing with the great painters, poets, and revolutionaries of her era. She traveled to Paris during the French Revolution; fell in love with Gilbert Imlay, a fickle American; and, unmarried, openly bore their daughter, Fanny. Wollstonecraft at last found domestic peace with the philosopher William Godwin but died giving birth to their daughter, Mary, who married Percy Bysshe Shelley, wrote the classic Frankenstein, and carried on her mother's bold ideas. Wollstonecraft's first child, Fanny, suffered a more tragic fate.

This definitive biography of Mary Wollstonecraft gives a balanced, thorough, freshly sympathetic view. Diane Jacobs also continues Wollstonecraft's story by concluding with those of her daughters. Her Own Woman is distinguished by the author's use of new first sources, among which are Joseph Johnson's letters, discovered by an heir in the late 1990s, and rare letters referring to Wollstonecraft's lover Gilbert Imlay. Jacobs has written an absorbing narrative that is essential to understanding Mary Wollstonecraft's life and the importance it has had on women throughout history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The life of Wollstonecraft, pioneer feminist, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, observer of the French Revolution, and mother of Mary Shelley, seems an odd choice for Jacobs, whose previous publications include studies of film directors Woody Allen and Preston Sturges. But her access to newly discovered primary sources, notably a cache of letters by Wollstonecraft's publisher, Joseph Johnson, provides the pretext for this new biography. By now the outlines of Mary's story are reasonably familiar. A feminist theorist of the time, her life manifests all the contradictions we might expect from one whose vision of liberty ran far beyond the strictures imposed on a woman of her time and circumstances. Biology was indeed destiny for Mary, much as she would have deplored it, and in the company of so many more ordinary women, her brief life ended because of a mismanaged childbirth. Jacobs covers the obvious moments in Wollstonecraft's biography, but focuses on her perilous and exhilarating two-and-a-half-year stay in France during the Terror, where she tried even French tolerance by bearing a child out of wedlock to her lover, Gilbert Imlay. Regrettably, the new material Jacobs has consulted appears to add little to our understanding of Wollstonecraft's passions and conflicts. Coming as it does hard on the heels of Janet Todd's recent and excellent Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life, this biography is less than essential. (May 10) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Most famous for her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Mary Wollstonecraft is the subject of a second biography in less than a year. Jacobs's (Christmas in July: The Life and Art of Preston Sturges) book is a shorter, more flowing narrative than Janet Todd's more detailed Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life (LJ 8/00) and is documented with secondary sources and letters, some newly available from the early feminist's mentor and publisher, Joseph Johnson. Wollstonecraft's early life of financial insecurity, her determination to become a writer, her turbulent affairs with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay, her observations of the excesses of the French Revolution, and her final brief marriage to William Godwin are recounted with verve and felicity. A worthwhile addition to public library biography collections and to academic collections in women's studies. Patricia A. Beaber, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Ewing Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The life and times of the egotistical but extraordinary woman who challenged family and society to become the first modern feminist. Mary Wollstonecraft's famous polemic, Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was published at the height of the French Revolution (whose seminal Declaration of the Rights of Man did not necessarily include females). But her thesis had its roots in the frustrations of her English childhood and youth. Deprived of formal education and limited to jobs as teacher or companion, Wollstonecraft (1759–97) set on a course of self-education, reading Rousseau and Locke while other girls her age favored romantic novels. Jacobs (Christmas in July, 1992) brings fresh insight and detail to her story, thanks to a newly available correspondence that includes letters from her mentor and publisher, Joseph Johnson. The author takes a more tolerant view of Wollstonecraft's self-centered personality, her inconsistencies, and even her two suicide attempts than Janet Todd displayed in the rather judgmental Mary Wollstonecraft (2000). She helped (some say forced) her sister to leave an abusive husband, and together they opened a school. Although the school failed, it launched Wollstonecraft's writing career with Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, published by Johnson. Her ideas continued to develop and mature as news and discussion of the French Revolution filled the English press and Parliament. She wrote Vindication of the Rights of Woman in response to Edmund Burke's critique of the Revolution. Eventually she found her way to France, where she lived through the Reign of Terror, wrote reports to England, took an American lover, and bore his child. Abandoned by Gilbert Imlay,she solidified a friendship with (and later married) the English philosopher William Godwin. She died bearing a second daughter, Mary, who would grow up to write the novel Frankenstein. A sympathetic introduction to a passionate and remarkable woman.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684810935
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
05/10/2001
Edition description:
REVISED
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.47(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.13(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter Nine

This time, Imlay had gone to Paris. He needed to chastise a business associate who'd committed some "knavery" and to look into new commercial prospects now that Robespierre was dead. He would be back soon, Gilbert once again promised Mary, but he no longer soothed her with talk about making just 1,000 pounds so they could buy a farm in America. He wanted "a certain situation in life," which demanded wealth.

"Pray ask some questions about Tallien — I am still pleased with the dignity of his conduct," Mary wrote Imlay on August 20, 1794, soon after he left Le Havre. She also wanted Imlay to inquire "whether as a member declared in the Convention, Robespierre really maintained a number of mistresses." The answers were disappointing. The same Tallien who now nobly condemned the Terror as "an instrument of tyranny" and demanded, "What does it matter to me if a man was born noble if his conduct is good?" had two years earlier ordered the death of Bordeaux's wealthiest citizens, then helped himself to their jewels. Meanwhile, the terrible Robespierre was an impeccable family man and even a good person by his own lights. So sorting out heroes and villains in France was as confusing as ever. And while Parisians of all classes rejoiced at the end of the bloodshed, perfect liberty and equality eluded them still. Indeed, as they rushed to open new dress shops or queued for the theaters, Parisians were acting very like Voltaire's long-suffering optimist Candide, who finally determines just to cultivate his own garden. The larger world is too wicked to assail.

But Mary Wollstonecraft found little comfort in her domestic circumstances. Her letters to Imlay during his 1794-1795 absence are more bitter and desperate than those of the previous year. Then, she had been a childless woman creating an important book that she hoped would make money. Now, she was a mother dependent both emotionally and financially on a capricious man.

Later, Mary acknowledged that she suspected Imlay had fallen out of love with her by the time he left Le Havre. But at the time, she pretended to believe he was called away by greed. "The demon of [commerce] will ever fright away the loves and graces," she resumes her crusade against business in a first letter to Imlay in Paris. She'd come from dinner with a boarish merchant in an ugly house that "smelt of commerce from top to toe," she complains, adding peckishly that "business is the idea that most naturally associates with your image, I wonder that I stumbled on any other."

Soon after, she is informing Imlay that she wants him only if he wants her: "Your attention to my happiness should arise as much from love, which is always rather a selfish passion, as reason — that is, I want you to promote my felicity, by seeking your own...Unless the attachment appears to me clearly mutual, I shall labour only to esteem your character, instead of cherishing a tenderness for your person."

But since Mary could not stop loving Imlay, she had to convince herself that he loved her still — even when, instead of returning to Le Havre, he set off alone for London in the early fall. All my "emotion is on the same side as my reason, which always was on yours — " Mary wrote. "Separated, it would be almost impious to dwell on real or imaginary imperfections of [your] character. — I feel that I love you."

Mary wrote also of Fanny, "the little damsel," who was "almost springing out of my arm...Poor thing! When I am sad, I lament that all my affections grow on me, till they become too strong for my peace, though they all afford me snatches of exquisite enjoyment — This for our little girl was at first very reasonable — more the effect of reason, a sense of duty, than feeling — now, she has got into my heart and imagination, and when I walk out without her, her little figure is ever dancing before me."

But it was the rare moment when Mary managed to steal out without Fanny. Mostly, she took her baby everywhere because there was no one to watch her at home. Guiltily, Mary admitted there were times when she felt a "slave" to her lively infant.

Nonetheless, Mary's mind was free and elastic. When she'd tucked Fanny in at night or at nap time, she had the leisure to look out at the boats wandering in and out of the Le Havre port and to speculate philosophically. Her ideas had changed considerably since Vindication. Then, she'd felt so sure of the perfectibility of mankind. Now, she wondered. And unlike Rousseau, who advocated rigorous attention to one's offspring while sending his own babies off to foundling homes, Mary demanded a theory consistent with her own decisions. Before she had come to France, Mary had scorned romance and mistrusted the imagination, especially woman's imagination, which sketched such "dangerous pictures" of marital bliss. Reason alone was the spur to progress, she'd felt then. Now, without demeaning reason, she spoke eloquently of dreams and sensual feelings. In an August letter, Mary for the first time refers to romance as a partner to, rather than an enemy of, thought. "I will allow you to cultivate my judgement, if you will permit me to keep alive the sentiments in your heart, which may be termed romantic," she tells Imlay. And in one of the loveliest passages in all her writing, she muses:

Believe me, sage sir, you have not sufficient respect for the imagination — I could prove to you in a trice that it is the mother of sentiment, the great distinction of our nature, the only purifier of the passions — animals have a portion of reason, and equal, if not more exquisite, senses; but no trace of imagination, or her off-spring taste, appears in any of their actions. The impulse of the senses, passions, if you will, and the conclusions of reason, draw men together; but the imagination is the true fire, stolen from heaven, to animate this cold creature of clay, producing all those fine sympathies that lead to rapture, rendering men social by expanding their hearts.

In September, Mary decided to return to Paris. The journey was "the most fatiguing...I ever had." Four times, the carriage tipped. And Mary's current servant was useless during the crisis and afterward couldn't even manage to take Fanny off her hands. "I still continue to be almost a slave to the child," Mary complained to Imlay, but quickly added that Fanny was "a sweet little creature" whose "eyes are not the eyes of a fool — I will swear."

Fanny relished urban living. Her favorite activities, Mary reported, were "looking at me," riding in a coach, glimpsing a French scarlet waistcoat, and hearing loud music. These pleasures abounded throughout Paris, where cheerfulness pervaded and having fun was in favor once more. Salons reopened, church bells rang, and theaters filled. Baggy trousers and red wool hats were decidedly outré. Men strutted out in tight-waisted pants and high collars, while women wore transparent dresses and décolletage. It was fashionable to stand out again. Madame de Staël wrapped herself in stoles and a turban; Tallien's wife had her gowns slit to the thigh.

"Not to have suffered persecution during the tyranny of Robespierre, is now to be disgraced," wrote Helen Maria Williams. There were bals de victimes for relatives of the Terror's victims — widows cropped their hair and twined thin red ribbons around their necks to signify blood. Newspapers advocating all points of view returned to the stands. "[The Parisians] write now with great freedom and truth, and this liberty of the press will overthrow the Jacobins," Mary predicted to Imlay.

Still, the Jacobins were not yet finished. Marat remained a national hero. His body was lowered into the Panthéon on September 21. Mary took Fanny to enjoy the accompanying festivities (though privately she mourned for her own martyrs, such as Condorcet, who had been discovered and arrested and died in his jail cell — probably from swallowing poison — before Robespierre's demise). And though they were quiet for now, the radical women would rise once more, in the upcoming May, to lead a siege on the Convention, to call for the Mountain to return to power, and to demand death for the new regime. It would take the military to defeat them, reflecting the growing power of the French armed forces. But defeated they would be, so thoroughly that in the spring of 1795 the Convention banned all unaccompanied women from its meetings and forbade more than five females to walk together in the street.


But in the fall of 1794, Mary was free to walk with whomever she wanted. She moved into her old St-Germain apartment, hired a promising nursemaid named Marguerite, and quickly struck up a friendship with a German family, who shared Mary's passion for education and swapped tips with her about teething, early morning wake-ups, and the amount of time a child should nurse. While the German family was "just above poverty, I envy them — " Mary wrote Imlay. "She is a tender, affectionate mother — fatigued even by her attention. — However, she has an affectionate husband in her turn, to render her care light, and to share her pleasure...I will own to you that, feeling extreme tenderness for my little girl, I grow sad very often when I am playing with her, that you are not here, to observe with me how her mind unfolds, and her little heart becomes attached!"

Many of Mary's old friends had left the country — the Christies for first Switzerland and then England; the Barlows to Hamburg, where Joel had found work. The Schweizers remained. Once, while Mary composed a letter to Gilbert, Madeleine Schweizer sat beside her, reading Imlay's first book. "She desires me to give her love to you, on account of what you say of the negroes," Mary informed the author.

In her journal, Madame Schweizer was less flattering about Mary:

I was very fond of Mary Wollstonecraft...and should have liked to regard her with constant affection, but she was so intolerant that she repulsed those women who were not inclined to be subservient to her; whilst to her servants, her inferiors, and the wretched in general, she was gentle as an angel. Were it not for her excessive sensibility, which too often gains the upper hand, her personality would be exquisite. I passed one evening with her in the country. The blending of the varying tints of colour in the sky were of a marvelous poetic beauty. Mary was sitting with [a baron] beneath a tree gilded by the rays of the setting sun. I was opposite them, and was so enraptured by the scene that I said...: "Come Mary, — come nature lover, — and enjoy this wonderful spectacle — this constant transition from colour to colour!" But, to my great surprise, Mary was so indifferent that she never turned her eyes from him by whom she was at the moment captivated.

So mothering and lovesickness did not keep Mary from (in her old friend George Blood's words) "assuming the Princess" and charming barons or counts, as in the case of Count von Schlabrendorf, who was out of prison and continued to adore her. There was also a certain judge she found attractive, and handsome Claude-Joseph Rouget de l'Isle, author of the "Marseillaise," whom Mary would be "half in love with" if Imlay did not return soon.

She made a new friend named Archibald Hamilton Rowan, an Irish patriot whom the British had unjustly accused of sedition and thrown into jail. He had escaped and, leaving his wife and eight children behind in Ireland, fled to Paris, where he arrived in the last days of the Grand Terror and remained after the death of Robespierre, waiting to be exonerated by the British king. Rowan was forty-two and breathtakingly handsome. He first spotted Mary walking with Marguerite and Fanny in the fall of 1794. "[A friend] whispered to me that she was the author of the 'Rights of Woman.' I started! 'What!' said I within myself, 'this is Miss Mary Wollstonecraft, parading about with a child at her heels, with as little ceremony as if it were a watch she had just bought at the jeweller's. So much for the rights of women,' thought I."

But Rowan and Mary quickly established a close rapport. "I got a dish of tea and an hour's rational conversation, whenever I called on her," Rowan recalled. Their talks were often intimate. Once, Mary dismayed Rowan by announcing that love was the only justification for perpetuating a marriage. If so, he wondered, would he lose his far-off wife? No, Mary assured him, "for...when a person whom we have loved [is] absent, all the faults he might have [are] diminished, and his virtues augmented in proportion." They surpassed each other boasting of their partners. Mary's "account of Mr. Imlay made me wish for his acquaintance; and my description of my love made her desirous of your acquaintance," Rowan wrote his wife in Ireland.

Also in Ireland, still governessing, was Mary's sister Everina, who'd lately received a series of shocking reports. First, in the spring of 1794, Mary's letter from Le Havre arrived, implying that she was in love with an American. A few months later, Charles wrote from Philadelphia announcing that Mary was married and had a child. "I own I want faith — nay I doubt my senses," gasped Eliza. But when Joseph Johnson (who'd consulted with the repatriated Christies) confirmed Charles's report, Eliza expected to be summoned to Paris at any moment. She hired a fifty-year-old escaped royalist (who reminded her of Joseph Johnson and had "the manners of a gentleman blended, with great simplicity of character") to perfect her French.

And, if this weren't enough, Charles invited Eliza to join him in Philadelphia: "In the autumn I will remit you 100 pounds...which will pay your passage to this country and you shall have a room in my house, and a quiet horse to ride — or it will go hard with me. If you can resolve to leave England you may rest assured of everything in my power being done to render life comfortable to you — and that elegant ease you have often longed for I will assure you." Good-bye, Upton Castle! Eliza exulted. If her Paris plans failed, she would embrace the New World.

Eliza quit her governess job and moved into nearby Pembrokeshire. "Three and a half [years] I lingered in this dungeon [Upton Castle]. Yet I am sad — ," she told Everina, for parting from the family's little boy was "like losing a limb...This is the Last child I ever Love!" she vowed.

Meanwhile, Everina received a baffling note from Mary, telling her "You must, my dear Girl, have received several letters from me, especially one I sent to London with Mr. Imlay." But the sisters had not received Mary's letters, nor had Imlay contacted them in the two and a half months since he'd left France. Also perplexing was Mary's offhanded suggestion that Everina visit Paris in the springtime. "If possible in Spring, my Everina, why not have gone [to Paris] with Mr. Imlay [now] could he have written to us!" Eliza exclaimed.

Why not, indeed? Eliza promptly wrote to Imlay in care of Joseph Johnson at St. Paul's Churchyard. And here is the tortuous letter she received in reply:

My dear Madam

Mr. Johnson gave me your acceptable favor inclosing one to Mrs. Imlay saying it was for her; which leaving me ignorant of being included I could not return an immediate answer. Since which time I have been out of Town. I hope this circumstance will appear to you a sufficient apology for my silence, and that you will be pleased to consider it a good reason for preventing a forfeight of that claim to humanity, or at least respect, I esteem for a person so affectionately loved by my dear Mary as yourself which you say had already been impressed on your mind — As to your sister's visiting England, I do not think she will previous to a peace, and perhaps not immediately after such an Event. However be that as it may we shall both of us continue to cherish feelings of tenderness for you and a recollection of your unpleasant situation, and we shall also endeavor to allviate its distress by all the means in our power — the present state of our fortune is rather pre[carious] — However you must know your sister too well — and I am sure you judge of that knowledge too favorably to suppose that whenever she has it in her power that she will not apply some specific aid to promote your happiness. I shall always be happy to receive your letters, I shall most likely leave England the beginning week I will thank you to let me hear from you as soon as convenient and tell me ingenuously in what way I can serve you in any manner or respect. I am in but indifferent spirits occasioned by my long absence from Mrs. Imlay and our little girl while I am deprived of a chance of hearing from them

Adieu yours —

G. Imlay

So Imlay "cherish[ed] feelings of tenderness" for Mary's sisters, but had no plans to meet them. He'd love to help them out — some other time. And he'd "always be happy to receive your letters" but was leaving the country. What a muddle of downright deceit and unctuous dissimulation, not to mention bad grammar. And to add to the insult, when Eliza in a fury wrote Imlay that she needed neither him nor his wife and was positively bent on leaving for America, Imlay failed to reply.

The above note to Eliza is one of Imlay's few surviving letters. How different he sounds here than in his books. While the author is compassionate and idealistic, the correspondent is avid only to avoid trouble. The first is forthright, while the latter is abstruse. Mary alludes to another disparity between the two Imlays in one of her increasingly unchecked outbursts. "Reading what you have written [in your books] relative to the desertion of women, I have often wondered how theory and practice could be so different."

If Imlay's letters to Mary were half as sly as his reply to Eliza, it must have been hard work convincing herself that he intended to return. Still, she was too proud to confide her doubts to her sisters and, rather than lie, simply ignored them during the terrible winter of 1795.

It was the coldest winter of the century. The Seine and all the Paris water fountains froze. Coal was a luxury one stood hours on line to purchase, and wood was so scarce women and children chopped logs from the trees in the Bois de Boulogne. When, in December, the Convention abolished more price and wage controls, the cost of bread shot up, and the value of the currency plunged. People died because they couldn't afford bread or fuel for their fires, or they killed themselves — suicide rates rose drastically. Wolves howled at the gates of Paris. And the traditional recourse of the poor, the Church, was so devastated by the Terror that it could do little to help.

Mary caught a cold and was feverish and coughing as madly as when she'd first arrived from London. Only now she was responsible for a shivering infant and had to drag herself from bed and walk great distances to find wood. "This however is one of the common evils which must be borne with — bodily pain does not touch the heart, though it fatigues the spirit," she wrote Imlay. Indeed, while Mary freely confided her mental suffering, she was proud of her strong body and despised admitting any physical need. She admitted her need now — in early January — because she wanted Imlay to pay for a servant to relieve her and Marguerite — who was now part of the family — from wood carrying. He would agree, she knew, which made asking all the harder: Imlay's eagerness to pay Mary's bills merely underscored his emotional negligence.

Mary had expected her lover in late December and so was "tormented by fears" at Christmastime when some British ships sunk in a Channel gale. For once, it was a relief to learn that business had kept Imlay safely in London. But "How I hate this crooked business!" she was soon again expostulating, "...This intercourse with the world, which obliges one to see the worst side of human nature! Why cannot you be content with the object you had first in view [the farm in America] when you entered into this weary labyrinth?" More than ever, she despised her financial dependence. She was determined to find a way to support her child and herself. "I have two or three plans in my head to earn our subsistence; for do not suppose that, neglected by you, I will lie under obligations of a pecuniary kind to you! — No; I would sooner submit to menial service."

Fanny did not catch Mary's cold or gloomy perspective. All through the blighting winter, she made the normal progress. She began crawling and grew two teeth. She sucked from Mary's breasts and gnawed at crusts of bread and biscuits. She was like a squirrel, the way she husbanded her treats. And "after fixing her eye on an object for some time, [she darted] on it with an aim as sure as a bird of prey." She had more spirit than physical beauty. She looked like Imlay, her mother thought.

In February 1795, Mary, still feverish and with her cough worsening, believed she had tuberculosis and began seriously to plan for the worst. She moved in with her German friends, who said they would bring up Fanny with their own child should Mary die. Mary "conjured" Imlay "by all you hold sacred" to accede to this plan.

"Brought up here my girl would be freer," wrote Mary, showing some stirring of her old faith in the French, as well as an increasing aversion to England. Meanwhile, Imlay continued to hem and haw about returning to Paris, while his French associate maddened Mary with announcements of fresh delays.

In late winter, Mary threatened Imlay that if he delayed any longer she would refuse to accept his money. His failing to love her would impoverish and probably kill her, in other words. So in February, Imlay went through the motions of inviting Mary to join him in England. But the formal tone of his letter infuriated Mary, who suspected he would be off again as soon as she and Fanny came. "Am I only to return to a country, that has not merely lost all charms for me, but for which I feel a repugnance that almost amounts to horror, only to be left there a prey to it!" Then Imlay rephrased the offer: "Business alone has kept me from you. — Come to any port, and I will fly down to my two dear girls with a heart all their own."

So in April 1795, Mary, Fanny, and loyal Marguerite left Paris. Once again, Mary was in good health. "Here I am in [Le Havre]," she wrote Gilbert, "on the wing towards you, and I write now, only to tell you, that you may expect me in the course of three or four days; for I shall not attempt to give vent to the different emotions which agitate my heart...I cannot indulge the very affectionate tenderness which glows in my bosom, without trembling, till I see, by your eyes, that it is mutual."

For once accepting conventional wisdom, Mary weaned Fanny so she'd be prepared to make love. "I did not wish to embitter the renewal of your acquaintance with [Fanny], by putting [the weaning] off till we met," she delicately wrote. "It was a painful exertion to me," for she relished suckling. But "I thought it best to throw this inquietude with the rest, into the sack that I would fain throw over my shoulder." She was indulging hope.

In Le Havre, Mary packed up her clocks and linens and asked "the good people here" to sell her furniture. After two and half years in France, on April 9, 1795, she boarded a boat heading home. Then the "awkward pilot" grounded the ship in the harbor! She had to disembark and go back to town and wait some more. "With the heart and imagination on the wing you may suppose that the slow march of time is felt very painfully," she wrote Hamilton Rowan, and flirtatiously continued: "If you were to pop in I should be glad, for in spite of my impatience to see [Gilbert Imlay], I still have a corner in my heart, where I will allow you a place, if you have no objection."

But her last words from France were oddly apprehensive. "Take any precaution to avoid danger," Mary warned her Irish friend.

Copyright © 2001 by Diane Jacobs

Meet the Author


Diane Jacobs is the author of Christmas in July: The Life and Art of Preston Sturges, published by the University of California Press. She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Village Voice. She lives in New York with her daughter.

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