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NOW IN PAPER

By Merle Rubin / November 30, 1987



A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, by Mary Wollstonecraft; and Memoirs of the Author of `The Rights of Woman,' by William Godwin, edited with an introduction and notes by Richard Holmes. New York: Viking Penguin. 310 pp. $6.95. The union of the rationalist philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836) and the brilliant feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) was tragically short-lived, but bright with promise: a marriage of contrasting, yet harmonious temperaments that seemed to symbolize the wedding of Enlightenment reason with Romantic feeling.

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Published in 1796, the year in which she and Godwin fell in love, Wollstonecraft's account of her visit to Scandinavia was written while she was still involved with the American sea captain Gilbert Imlay, at whose behest she undertook the journey. Scandinavia in those days was a wild, exotic terrain, shrouded in mystery, and Wollstonecraft's traveling there was a mark of her courageous spirit.

Observant of politics and society, deeply responsive to the majestic scenery, Wollstonecraft's book strongly affected Godwin, who wrote: ``If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book.'' Godwin's unusually frank and revealing memoir of his wife (``Memoirs of the Author of `The Rights of Woman'''), published only a year after her death, shocked contemporaries by dealing openly with Wollstonecraft's previous affairs and suicide attempts. The modern reader will more likely find that the ``Memoirs'' reflect great credit on the extraordinary woman who is their subject and on the man who loved and wrote of her. This volume contains excellent editions of both works, and the pairing is truly inspired.

Merle Rubin is a free-lance book reviewer.