Radical thinker and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft died less than two weeks after giving birth to her second daughter, a baby girl who would grow up to become the author of Frankenstein. Samantha Silva’s Love and Fury uses the last 11 days of Wollstonecraft’s life as a frame, allowing her to tell her life story to her infant daughter.
Wollstonecraft’s childhood was shaped by a dissolute father and a withholding mother. A young woman of remarkable intelligence and precociousness, she formed many of her theories about marriage and the evils of patriarchy early on. She set out to change opinions, first by running a small school with Fanny Blood, a botanical illustrator with whom she shared a passionate friendship, and then by writing, most significantly A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Wollstonecraft’s uncompromising romances with Swiss artist Henry Fuselli and American businessman Gilbert Imlay (father of Wollstonecraft’s first daughter, Fanny), though unsuccessful in the long run, led her to friendships with some of the 18th century’s most notable intellectuals and radicals, including Thomas Paine, William Blake and Abigail Adams.
Hers was a peripatetic life, spent traveling all over England with a short stint in Ireland as a governess. Living in Paris during the French Revolution inspired many of the ideas that found fruition in A Vindication of the Rights of Women. In 1797, she married William Godwin, Mary Shelley's father, after a long friendship, though their relationship is barely alluded to in the novel.
After the birth, when it becomes clear that Wollstonecraft has a life-threatening infection due to a male doctor’s procedure for delivering the placenta, midwife Parthenia Blenkinsop is called to the house to tend to mother and daughter during their only days together. Love and Fury is told in a series of short chapters, alternating Wollstonecraft’s memories with Parthenia’s experience of caring for the ill woman and new baby. Silva’s attention to period detail creates a heartbreaking novel of compassion and grace, as well as an elegy to one of the world’s most influential thinkers.