What do anarchism, science fiction, women’s rights, and Romanticism have in common? One family! William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley wrote in different genres but the writings of all four continue to provoke thought and provide enjoyment centuries later. You can learn more about this fascinating family by viewing their works in Hornbake Library’s Literature and Rare Books collection!
William Godwin was a British philosopher, novelist, and a radical critic of British government and society in the 18th and 19th centuries. Godwin was a proponent of utilitarianism and anarchism, and many of the radical critiques of these schools of thought can be found in his writings. For example in St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century Godwin ponders the value of the aristocracy and questions what truly makes people free.
In 1797, Godwin married Mary Wollstonecraft. Like Godwin, Wollstonecraft was an author and philosopher. Wollstonecraft is best known for writing a Vindication of the Rights of Women, a work that was highly influential on the early women’s rights movement. In Vindication, Wollstonecraft argues that a lack of education, rather than inherent differences due to sex, is what prevents women from achieving the same things as men. You can find both the 1794 edition and the 1796 edition in the Literature and Rare Books collection.
Godwin and Wollstonecraft had one daughter, Mary. Wollstonecraft died shortly after Mary’s birth and Mary was raised by her father and step-mother. At age 16, Mary met the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Percy, despite his aristocratic birth, was a follower of Godwin’s radical political views. Despite the fact that Percy was already married, the two fell in love and fled along with Mary’s stepsister, Claire, to Switzerland.
In Switzerland, Mary would write Frankenstein, her best known work. Hornbake has several fascinating editions of Frankenstein such as a specialty edition given out to the armed forces during World War II and an edition featuring engravings from the acclaimed artist Lynd Ward.
While Frankenstein is what Mary is most well known for, she continued to write in a variety of genres after it was published. Her novel Lodore follows a widow and her daughter as they struggle to find their way in a patriarchal culture after the death of her husband. Mary also wrote a travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843.
Mary’s literary output also included editing her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley’s works after his passing. Mary edited volumes of Percy’s poetry that were published in 1824, 1839, 1840, 1854, and 1892. Hornbake’s Rare Books collection also includes works that were published before Shelley’s death such as Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, The Revolt of Islam: A Poem, in Twelve Cantos, and Rosalind and Helen: A Modern Eclogue: With Other Poems.
Caroline Ackiewicz, Candidate for Master of Library & Information Science, University of Maryland.