Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818

Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818

Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818

Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818

Synopsis

In 1798, English essayist and novelist William Godwin ignited a transatlantic scandal with Memoirs of the Author of "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman." Most controversial were the details of the romantic liaisons of Godwin's wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, with both American Gilbert Imlay and Godwin himself. Wollstonecraft's life and writings became central to a continuing discussion about love's place in human society. Literary radicals argued that the cultivation of intense friendship could lead to the renovation of social and political institutions, whereas others maintained that these freethinkers were indulging their own desires with a disregard for stability and higher authority. Through correspondence and novels, Andrew Cayton finds an ideal lens to view authors, characters, and readers all debating love's power to alter men and women in the world around them.

Cayton argues for Wollstonecraft's and Godwin's enduring influence on fiction published in Great Britain and the United States and explores Mary Godwin Shelley's endeavors to sustain her mother's faith in romantic love as an engine of social change.

Excerpt

Gilbert Imlay was a citizen of the United States, and Mary Wollstonecraft a subject of George III of Great Britain. He avoided confrontation, she embraced it. He had been a soldier and speculator, she a teacher and governess. They were both writers. His Topographical Description of the Interior of North America had appeared in 1791, and he would soon publish a novel, The Emigrants, which would achieve a well-deserved obscurity. Her Vindication of the Rights of Woman became enormously influential. To Paris in 1793 these restless adventurers came to join other radicals in the heady business of renegotiating all aspects of human life. In the capital of revolution in the last decade of the eighteenth century, they talked, wrote, flirted, and fell in love and into bed with each other. It was a “PLEASANT exercise of hope and joy!” famously recalled William Wordsworth of life in Paris in the early 1790s.

For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

In actuality, neither Wollstonecraft nor Imlay was very young when they met each other. She was thirty-four; he was probably thirty-nine. Nor did they fall in love in a time of unlimited bliss. Members of a generation born

1. William Wordsworth, “French Revolution, as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement” (1804, 1809), in The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth: With Memoirs and Notes (New York, [1880]), 158.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.