Read Mary: A Fiction by Mary Wollstonecraft Online


Mary: A Fiction is the only complete novel by the 18th-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. It tells the tragic story of a heroine's successive "romantic friendships" with a woman and a man. Composed while Wollstonecraft was a governess in Ireland, the novel was published in 1788 shortly after her summary dismissal and her momentous decision to embark on a writingMary: A Fiction is the only complete novel by the 18th-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. It tells the tragic story of a heroine's successive "romantic friendships" with a woman and a man. Composed while Wollstonecraft was a governess in Ireland, the novel was published in 1788 shortly after her summary dismissal and her momentous decision to embark on a writing career, a precarious and disreputable profession for women in 18th-century Britain....

Title : Mary: A Fiction
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781421958804
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 116 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Mary: A Fiction Reviews

  • Amy Sturgis
    2019-02-11 18:19

    This is a fascinating story if you read it from the perspective of intellectual history, in the context of its times and as a reflection of Mary Wollstonecraft's evolving ideas. Inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's conviction that geniuses are self-taught, but in defiance of his poorly-drawn, two-dimensional woman characters, the story presents a self-taught female genius, Mary. The heroine's tragic plight -- by the end, the anticipation of dying young almost seems like a happy ending -- proves how women under both the British system of law and cultural norms of the time were shackled rather than enriched by marriage.Much of Wollstonecraft's own experiences and acquaintances make their way into this tale. Because she's using the trappings of "sentimental literature" to criticize sentimentalism and the "cult of sensibility" (which she believed damaged women by elevating emotion over reason), her work falls into some of the same problems as the very genre she's attacking. This can make for a difficult read for contemporary audiences, what with the fainting and the weeping and such. But in a way, that's part of the point.Wollstonecraft herself later said this novel was laughable. It isn't, though. It's a deeply humane character study and a bold interrogation of notions of masculinity, femininity, and "proper" relationships. Most importantly, it anticipates some of Wollstonecraft's signature and revolutionary themes, such as the "slavery of marriage" and the lack of suitable occupations and professional opportunities for women. It's well worth reading for a window into Wollstonecraft's subversive and remarkable mind.

  • Pink
    2019-02-02 22:01

    I've come to the conclusion that I love what Mary Wollstonecraft has to say. Her writing, not so much.

  • Rebecca
    2019-01-20 21:08

    Summary: The main character, who the writer named after herself, is superior to everyone. There are long long long passages about how crappy everybody is, even her best friend.5 paragraphs describing people who have no importance in the story whatsoever, and are only really talked about in these 5 paragraphs: "When I mentioned the three ladies, I said they were fashionable women;and it was all the praise, as a faithful historian, I could bestow onthem; the only thing in which they were consistent. I forgot to mentionthat they were all of one family, a mother, her daughter, and niece. Thedaughter was sent by her physician, to avoid a northerly winter; themother, her niece, and nephew, accompanied her.They were people of rank; but unfortunately, though of an ancientfamily, the title had descended to a very remote branch--a branch theytook care to be intimate with; and servilely copied the Countess'sairs. Their minds were shackled with a set of notions concerningpropriety, the fitness of things for the world's eye, trammels whichalways hamper weak people. What will the world say? was the first thingthat was thought of, when they intended doing any thing they had notdone before. Or what would the Countess do on such an occasion? And whenthis question was answered, the right or wrong was discovered withoutthe trouble of their having any idea of the matter in their own heads.This same Countess was a fine planet, and the satellites observed a mostharmonic dance around her.After this account it is scarcely necessary to add, that their minds hadreceived very little cultivation. They were taught French, Italian, andSpanish; English was their vulgar tongue. And what did they learn?Hamlet will tell you--words--words. But let me not forget that theysqualled Italian songs in the true _gusto_. Without having any seedssown in their understanding, or the affections of the heart set to work,they were brought out of their nursery, or the place they were secludedin, to prevent their faces being common; like blazing stars, tocaptivate Lords.They were pretty, and hurrying from one party of pleasure to another,occasioned the disorder which required change of air. The mother, if weexcept her being near twenty years older, was just the same creature;and these additional years only served to make her more tenaciouslyadhere to her habits of folly, and decide with stupid gravity, sometrivial points of ceremony, as a matter of the last importance; ofwhich she was a competent judge, from having lived in the fashionableworld so long: that world to which the ignorant look up as we do to thesun.It appears to me that every creature has some notion--or rather relish,of the sublime. Riches, and the consequent state, are the sublime ofweak minds:--These images fill, nay, are too big for their narrow souls."Narrow souls!?"The Portuguese are certainly the most uncivilized nation in Europe. Dr.Johnson would have said, "They have the least mind.". And can such servetheir Creator in spirit and in truth? No, the gross ritual of Romishceremonies is all they can comprehend: they can do penance, but notconquer their revenge, or lust. Religion, or love, has never humanizedtheir hearts; they want the vital part; the mere body worships. Taste isunknown; Gothic finery, and unnatural decorations, which they termornaments, are conspicuous in their churches and dress. Reverence formental excellence is only to be found in a polished nation.Could the contemplation of such a people gratify Mary's heart? No: sheturned disgusted from the prospects--turned to a man of refinement.Henry" "Sensibility is indeed the foundation of all our happiness; but theseraptures are unknown to the depraved sensualist, who is only moved bywhat strikes his gross senses; the delicate embellishments of natureescape his notice; as do the gentle and interesting affections.--But itis only to be felt; it escapes discussion.""As she passed through the streets in anhackney-coach, disgust and horror alternately filled her mind. She metsome women drunk; and the manners of those who attacked the sailors,made her shrink into herself, and exclaim, are these my fellowcreatures!... " And then she says! and then she says! look:" Too well have I loved my fellow creatures! I have been woundedby ingratitude; from every one it has something of the serpent's tooth." Too well have you loved!? You are consumed with hate, Mary. You aren't supposed to do something for the sake of gratitude and a place in heaven. Jeeze. She also mentions about 4 times that marriage sucks, fair enough.

  • Izzy
    2019-02-19 00:07

    I notice a lot of the negative reviews of this novel focus on Mary as a character, her self-absorption and 'obsession with herself' - I can't help but disagree. Mary is a fundamentally selfless character, consistently (naively) hopeful that others will behave as well to her as she does to them. That Mary Wollstonecraft has constructed the character around herself is not inherently negative. How many men, particularly in the 18th Century, write characters where they obsessively consider their own virtues, and those of other men around them. If the author and protagonist were not women I think this book would be held in much higher regard. The novel is, in essence, a deep character study, and simply because the character in question is a woman confident of her own intellect, reason, passion and goodness, does not negate the successes of the narrative. Mary's story is one of profound tragedy, heightened by the circumstances her gender relegates her into, which only adds to the irony of so much reader dismissal on account of her personality. A male character, becoming romantically interested in Mary, is surprised by her: 'In Mary's company he doubted whether heaven was peopled with spirits masculine, and almost forgot that he had called the sex "the pretty play things that render life intolerable". This quote alone indicates the importance of Mary's self-insertion of her own experiences; many men at the time simply did not consider women to be anything more than sexual objects, incapable of rational thought or intellect. 'Mary: A Fiction' is a celebration of the rich internal life of an intelligent, unfortunate young woman of the time.

  • Emily
    2019-02-17 19:19

    I have to agree with Wollstonecraft's later opinion that this is not a strong work. It's absolutely worth reading to see the beginnings of her later political ideas, but as a work of fiction it's just not great. It's quite muddled and ambivalent, despite being an incredibly tragic narrative. This term is often misused and I don't think it could be properly applied to this text, but the only thing I kept thinking of over and over while reading this is that Mary is a, well, Mary Sue. It unfortunately really read like Wollstonecraft's personal fantasy, which is interesting in order to learn more about Wollstonecraft, but is pretty lame as a fiction.

  • Donna
    2019-02-05 19:00

    A quick read with little substance. Yes it was Literature, but not impressive enough to make me want to write essays.

  • Ewa-lotta Neander
    2019-02-13 21:17

    Interesting perspective written in the 18th century. Don't actually like the narrator though so it falls kind of flat.

  • Jared Pechacek
    2019-01-31 21:05

    What a strange book.Semi-autobiographical (as you might guess), Mary: A Fiction follows a young woman of great intelligence and passion from her birth to—well, not quite her death. Mary is a sort of proto-Marianne Dashwood, a goodhearted woman who hates societal restriction and wishes she could be free to follow the dictates of her heart. Sure, that sounds a bit rote, but at the time it was written, it must have been shocking. Most of the plot concerns Mary on a trip to Portugal with a sick friend, where she falls in love with a young man. They would be perfectly happy, if only she wasn't married. And if she were to have an affair with him, she might as well be dead. The story is extremely short, but it would be still shorter without the rhapsodies over nature, the sublime, God, and music squeezed in between people in sitting rooms politely dying of consumption or condemning women's ballgowns. And at the end, after Mary's quasi-boyfriend dies, she is left caring for his mother and pining for death herself. It's a strange, unsettling, abrupt conclusion to a book that until then felt more like one of Jane Austen's unpublished stories played straight. Mary isn't precisely a fun read, but as a glimpse into the beginnings of feminism and romanticism, and as a direct predecessor to Austen, it's fascinating, and worth putting up with some creaky plot stuff.

  • Donna
    2019-01-24 23:18

    Wollstonecraft is someone I have always been aware of, particularly as I have studied and written on women's rights quite a few times. As a proto-feminist she was one of the first women to speak out against gender inequality, and her fiction definitely follows this theme.Mary is a young heiress ignored by her parents in favour of her older brother- a situation Wollstonecraft faced in her own life that continued to anger her for her whole life (the favouring of her brother that is, not the heiress part). Mary is then left on her own quite a lot, however, this allows her a certain freedom to explore and to increase her intellectual faculty. She also becomes very interested in helping the poor, and particularly makes a friendship with the daughter of a neighboring widow- Ann. Due to some inheritance issues, Mary is married off to someone she has never met near the beginning of the novella, and this situation increasingly frustrates her throughout the narrative. Without ever meeting him, she comes to hate her husband, and the restrictions on her person he comes to represent. Mary then spends a lot of the narrative trying to avoid and escape her husband (especially when she starts to have feelings for another man), however in the end she is forced to return to him. The other thing I really want to mention is her relationship with Ann, because I found this particularly interesting (female relationships in media really interest me anyway). Mary's love for Ann is very strong- it eclipses all of her other relationships in a way and there are moments when it does seem to merge into something more romantic, however, it was nice to see such a strong female relationship in fiction, and really it is hard to say if it there was something more romantic there- in the period there was a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior- while female companions were encouraged, apparently becoming too close was dangerous. There were certainly a few really beautifully written passages, and as I said it's great that someone was speaking out (she did kind of give birth to the feminist movement- if their are aspects of her beliefs that are problematic in their own right). Overall I'm glad I read it and I will be reading more Wollstonecraft in the future.

  • Rebekah
    2019-01-18 16:21

    "Mary, A Fiction" is often supposed to be one of the world's first truly feminist novels. However, Wollstonecraft instead creates an insipid character named Mary (after the authoress, by any chance?) who very rarely speaks up in her own defense or acts with the revolutionary fervor Mary Wollstonecraft was famous for. The character Mary is born of dreadful beginnings and it is not until she unexpectedly becomes an heiress that her parents take note of her. Her parents, however, die shortly after Mary becomes an heiress, and their last act is to marry her to a man who we meet twice in the novel. Mary's husband goes to the Continent, and Mary spends a lot of time actively avoiding him, travelling all the way to Lisbon with a sick friend to achieve this end. Whilst in Lisbon, Mary falls in love with another invalid named Henry. However, their romance is interrupted by the death of her friend, and Mary must return to England to put her friend's affairs in order. Henry, meanwhile, has a lapse of his sickness, and he returns to England only to die in Mary's arms. Now the novel has become almost gothic, in that everyone Mary cares about are dead, were it not for the frequent speeches Mary makes about the value of sensibility. Mary spends the rest of the novel bemoaning her fate, and faints when her husband returns home. She spends the rest of her life avoiding her husband whilst living in the same house as him and working with the poor. The novel ends with Mary's desire to die and go to heaven, where nobody gets married.There are a few moments where Mary's feminism comes out--she refuses to ask her husband permission to travel to Lisbon in a letter, and only informs him of her intentions--and she is obviously a very poor housewife, but Mary changes nothing for the better and, once she dies, will leave no mind changed about the status of women, or even Mary's right to choose who she marries for herself. The entire novel is a sermon on the beauty of religion and both a praise and mockery of sensibility. I fail to see how this is considered a feminist novel, and I really hope that Wollstonecraft's other books are better than this one was.

  • Rachel Brand
    2019-02-12 20:12

    Read for EN4363: Romantic Writing and Women.Technically, the edition I own is a Penguin 3-in-1, but I realised that I'd rather have my reviews of Mary, Maria and Matilda separate, and that using that edition on GoodReads would skew my reading statistics for the year.I'm unsure as to whether Mary is a novella or a short-story. It only takes up 53 pages in my edition, but it's an incredibly small font. And given how tedious this book felt after a while, it might as well have been a full-length novel!Honestly, I really appreciate Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, but I think that's definitely her best display of her writing skills. Although there are a few insightful moments in Mary, the only other compliments I can bestow this novel is that Wollstonecraft occasionally inserts some interesting descriptions of scenery and probably did a good job of depicting how difficult it was to be an independent women towards the end of the 18th century. Other than that, it seems to be a melodramatic novel about a woman who experienced far too much illness, death and heartbreak. Mary seemed to be a good product of her time, but this contradicted Wollstonecraft's comments in the Advertisement at the start of the novel, which explained that Mary was an unusual woman of "thinking powers". There were a few throwaway comments about Mary's reading and powers of reason, but honestly? The emotions and irrationality that she displayed seemed far more fitting with the women Wollstonecraft describes in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It almost feels like Wollstonecraft didn't entirely know what she set out to write about in this much earlier work. All in all, I'm sure this will make for some interesting conversations in class, but I can't say I can recommend this book--whether you're looking for an early classic novel or a feminist tract. If you are interested in Wollstonecraft, look to her non-fiction instead. 2*

  • Donnell
    2019-02-18 19:11

    Poor Mary. Her parents ignore her until she becomes an heiress and then they die--but not before her father marries her off to the son of a man with whom there is a dispute for a portion of the acreage of Mary's estate. While the marriage conveniently solves the land dispute it leaves Mary tied to a man she, at first, does not know and later, loathes. Not to mention, now she can never marry for love. Again perhaps conveniently, her love interest is a sickly man who dies before marriage can become an issue. What is so charming about this brief book though, is that it so obviously builds on Wollstonecraft's previous work--Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. The philosophy laid out like rules to follow, in the earlier book, is interwoven through the story as the rules are illustrated by the fictional tale. My favorite rules are those which have to do with Wollstonecraft's stated disdain for the many shallow minded wealthy woman which populate her world. This book is also notable in that it sheds light on the possible underpinnings of Wollestonecraft's intense friendship with Fanny Blood. The Mary in Mary clings to her dear friend Ann ( also sickly) because without Ann Mary will be so alone--since Mary is such an advanced thinker literally no one else she knows can understand her. Finally, surely Jane Austen read Wollestonecraft for there are whispers of Mary in Jane's commentary about limited options for poor women of intelligence and the seeming plethora of women preoccupied by clothes and gossip.

  • Amanda Farag
    2019-02-07 22:13

    As I am an avid fan of Wollstonecraft's other works, mainly philosophical writings, I was very excited to read her first novel. After reading this piece though, is clear this is one of her early writings and not as mature or eloquent as her later works. That being said, when placing this work in the context of when it was written during the late eighteenth century and the perspective it offers about marriage, charity, sensibility, friendship and the expectations of women at that time it becomes easy to understand why "Mary" is upheld as a great contribution to early feminist literature.

  • Lucy
    2019-01-19 22:12

    Really only of interest because of who wrote it, and what she subsequently wrote and became. As a novel, it's fairly woeful. Mary may be a proto-feminist and thinker, but she still does the usual gothic heroine thing of alternately weeping and fainting.There are some glimmers of good writing - I did like the description of the ungrateful poor family who Mary rescues, and she deals well with the sea and river passages - but overall, it's a tract not a novel.

  • Annabel
    2019-01-26 23:19

    Thoroughly enjoyed this short novel; I fell in love with the protagonist early on (despite her being self-indulgently woeful!) and willed her to be happy in life.A great window into womens' lives in the 18th century too.

  • Alex
    2019-01-29 18:11

    This very short book is not a success, and has none of the power of her letters from Sweden etc or of the Vindication.

  • Rebecca
    2019-01-21 20:08

    Be prepared for internal monologues and characters who do not inspire the reader with an ounce of sympathy. Bah! the writing style makes you very aware that you are reading a book. Not worth reading.