• Deborah Yaffe

Broadening the collection

The last time the pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft was the subject of a public fundraising effort, the results were problematic: A statue erected in her honor in London in 2020 was widely panned.


The newest Wollstonecraft-related fundraiser seems far less likely to generate controversy, since it concerns not a piece of public art but a book – a first edition of Wollstonecraft’s Posthumous Works, compiled after her death in 1797 by her grieving widower, William Godwin.


This fall, Chawton House, the Austen-linked stately home that houses a research library for the study of early English writing by women, hopes to raise £4,000 (about $4,600) to buy the four-volume edition. The Posthumous Works include letters, essays, writings on education, and two pieces of fiction, one of them Wollstonecraft’s unfinished novel The Wrongs of Woman: or, Maria.


Although Chawton House owns ten other Wollstonecraft books, including six first editions, the library lacks an early edition of Posthumous Works. The proposed new acquisition would fill that hole.


Wollstonecraft is “an integral figure across many of the thematic strengths of our collection, from early women’s rights and Gothic to Jane Austen’s world,” Chawton House’s website explains. “Her views and arguments allow public audiences to understand what life was like for women during Wollstonecraft’s period, but also encourage reflection on modern attitudes to gender, education, and sexuality.”


Those interested in contributing can buy tickets to upcoming digital presentations on Wollstonecraft’s work, pay for a chance to add their voices to an audio recording of Maria, or just pony up some cash. The kickoff event, with three speakers discussing Wollstonecraft's legacy, was originally scheduled for last weekend but has been postponed out of respect for Queen Elizabeth's death. I'd be curious to know what Wollstonecraft, a political radical if there ever was one, would have thought about that.

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