By Bates, Stephen
The Wilson Quarterly , Vol. 32, No. 3
Mary Wollstonecraff, the 18th-century feminist and mother of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, spent a melancholy year in her mid-20s as a governess. In 1786, Wollstonecraft joined the staff of Lord Kingsborough, the wealthiest man in Ireland. Wollstonecraft looked after the dozen Kingsborough children, Ruth Brandon writes in Governess (Walker), while Lady Kingsborough baby-talked to her dogs.
When she played with the children, Wollstonecraft wrote, "something like maternal fondness fills my bosom." She found little else to like, though. The food was "rather of the grosser kind." Though the Kingsboroughs included her in parties and dinners, she could not "be flattered by the respect of people whose judgment I do not care a fig for." Lord Kingsborough, according to village gossip, had had an affair with an earlier nanny; now he seemed unduly fond of Wollstonecraft, which on one occasion made her "out-blush her ladyship's rouge." She left after a year.
Wollstonecraft went on to achieve renown for her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792. …