Britain’s first known truly professional woman literary critic, Wollstonecraft was born into a London middle-class family headed by a profligate and tyrannical father who squandered the family’s money on a series of unsuccessful business ventures. Her childhood was dominated by the family’s frequent moves, her father’s drunkenness and domestic violence, and her own haphazard education. At age eighteen Wollstonecraft accepted employment as a lady’s companion, but returned home after two years to nurse her mother through a fatal illness. Soon after, her sister Eliza suffered from a post-partum depression. Convinced that Eliza was being maltreated, Wollstonecraft persuaded her to abandon her husband and their baby, who died a year later. To support herself, Eliza, another sister, and a close friend, Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft established a marginally successful girls’ school at Newington Green. The school’s location brought Wollstonecraft into contact with some of England’s most prominent religious dissenters, and though she never converted to dissent, her ties with this community remained strong throughout her life.
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- Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797)
Mary A. Waters
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