London: Printed for James Wallis, 1803. First edition of this epistolary defense written in a series of nine letters from an anonymous writer to his friend, dated April 12, 1802 to June 21, 1803. Some chipping to cloth at spine and some slight soiling. Binding remains firm despite cracking to joints. Early nineteenth century armorial bookplate of a Roger Lee. A very good, clean and fresh copy of a work that attempts to refurbish Wollstonecraft’s reputation during the “Great Wollstonecraft Scandal” sparked by William Godwin. Early nineteenth century light brown cloth with earlier leather spine label laid down. Octavo., viii, 160 pp. Item #16948
The present work was written in response to the publication of William Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798), which he disclosed Wollstonecraft’s affair during their marriage, her suicide attempts, and other private details of her life. The “Great Wollstonecraft Scandal” had a profound negative effect not only on her reputation but also on the popular opinion toward woman public figures of the day. In Jane Austen, Feminism and Fiction, Margaret Kirkham writes, “Everything written on the subject of female emancipation for the next two decades, if not for much longer, has to be understood in light of public reaction to the Memoirs, and the violent personal abuse they provoked,” (p. 49).
Kirkham also writes that, though the present work is often attributed to Sir Charles Aldis (1776 – 1863), it was most likely written by Wollstonecraft’s personal friend and publisher Joseph Johnson (1738 – 1809). She explains that Johnson probably wrote these letters to Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743 – 1825), another of Wollstonecraft’s friends who wrote in her defense during the scandal (pp. 48-49). Johnson likely published this work anonymously both to avoid tarnishing his and Barbauld’s reputations in light of the scandal and to prevent personal backlash from Godwin, given that Johnson himself had published Godwin’s Memoirs.