Vindication Essay - Critical Essays

Frances Sherwood


The historical novel VINDICATION is an exciting story, whichaccurately re-creates its eighteenth century setting while at thesame time focusing on issues which are all too relevant to thepresent. The central character is Mary Wollstonecraft, the Englishfeminist best known as the writer of A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OFWOMEN (1792).

Mary’s childhood experiences with her half-mad father illustratethe fact that most of her contemporaries believe that women have norights, but are the property of their husbands, to be humiliated,insulted, and physically abused at will. As the sympathetic maidtells her, that is what marriage is.

In later life, Mary searches for something better. However, thefirst man with whom she falls in love, her publisher, is ahomosexual; the second, the artist Henry Fuseli, wants her only asa mistress, not as a replacement for the wife he has. Fuseli’srejection drives Mary into insanity, and her later abandonment bythe American Gilbert Imlay causes her to attempt suicide. When shefinally finds a man worthy of her, Mary is still doomed by hergender. Like so many other women of her time, she dies of childbedfever.

However, Sherwood emphasizes her protagonist’s triumphs ratherthan her tragedies. The indomitable Wollstonecraft goes to Franceto observe the Revolution, takes her baby on a buying trip toScandinavia, argues with William Blake, impresses William Godwin,and produces works for publication, including one which lays thefoundations for the feminist movement. VINDICATION is a convincingfictional picture of the real Mary Wollstonecraft and her turbulentlife.

Sources for Further Study

Belles Lettres. IX, Fall, 1993, p.27.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 9, 1993, p.3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, July 11, 1993, p.21.

The Times Literary SupplemenL May 21, 1993, p.23.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, June 27, 1993, p.9.