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Love in the Time of Revolution

Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818

Andrew Cayton

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

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Prologue: A Revolution in Favor of Love

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pp. 1-11

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...

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1: “Quite Alone in a Crowd,”

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pp. 12-53

Armed with a letter of credit for thirty pounds from her publisher, Mary Wollstonecraft traveled from London to Paris in December 1792 determined to experiment with the possibilities of life at the epicenter of revolution. She was thirty-three years old and the acclaimed author of A Vindication of the...

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2: A “Very Sensible” American

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pp. 54-90

April came at last. Winter was over, and with it went Mary Wollstonecraft’s melancholy mood. Life was better, mainly because she was no longer alone. She had found friends within a community of English-speaking writers, some of whom she had known in London. Through Thomas Paine, she had...

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3: “I Wish to Be Necessary to You,”

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pp. 91-114

Jacques-Pierre Brissot de Warville and his allies were in serious trouble by the end of May 1793. Neither eloquence nor equivocation could save them from the growing wrath of the Montagnards in the National Convention. Skeptical colleagues and distrustful Parisians transformed Brissot’s ambivalence...

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4: “We Are . . . Differently Organized,”

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pp. 115-143

In September 1794, Mary Wollstonecraft responded to Gilbert Imlay’s obsession with “alum or soap” by insisting on the revolutionary quality of their relationship. Imlay ought to stay with her not so much from “love, which is always rather a selfish passion, as reason—that is, I want you to promote my...

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5: An “Exchange of Sympathy,”

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pp. 144-181

Mary Wollstonecraft first met William Godwin at a small party in London in November 1791. “The interview was not fortunate,” Godwin later recalled. He had sought an invitation to dinner at a friend’s to meet Thomas Paine, who had recently published The Rights of Man. Godwin had no interest in...

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6: Modern Philosophers

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pp. 182-210

The publication of Memoirs of the Author of “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” ignited a firestorm of controversy throughout the English-speaking world. Mocked as “Modern Philosophers,” William Godwin, Gilbert Imlay, and Mary Wollstonecraft were derided as ineffectual egoists inhabiting a...

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7: American Commerce

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pp. 211-238

“What are the mutual influences of beings on beings: how far is the well-being of each, consistent with that of every other,” asked Elihu Hubbard Smith, a young man living in New York City in the mid-1790s. Like many admirers of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, Smith hoped that...

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8: The New Man of Feeling

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pp. 239-269

Like Charles Brockden Brown, William Godwin was struggling to survive as a man of letters in a nation suddenly overrun with speculators, bankers, lawyers, and soldiers. By the early nineteenth century, the eighteenth-century blend of intellectual, social, and economic speculation uneasily...

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9: Love’s “Very Essence Is Liberty,”

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pp. 270-299

Their runaway romance became famous because they became famous. Percy Bysshe Shelley was twenty-one in the early summer of 1814. Although he could not have known it, he had already lived two-thirds of his life. In the eight years that remained before he drowned in a storm off the coast of Italy,...

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10: “The True Key of the Universe Is Love,”

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pp. 300-328

In May 1846, Thomas Medwin informed Mary Shelley that he was writing a biography of his second cousin Percy Shelley, who had drowned off the coast of Italy almost a quarter century earlier. Medwin implied that he would mine the records of the 1817 Chancery suit in which Percy had lost...

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Epilogue: “The Subject Was of Love,”

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pp. 329-334

In 1825, forty-seven-year-old William Hazlitt published a collection of character sketches intended to reveal The Spirit of the Age. The names of several of his subjects—Jeremy Bentham, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walter Scott, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, and Thomas Malthus—remain familiar to us...

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pp. 335-338

I wish I could acknowledge adequately the influence of scholars I have never met. Without the work of G. J. Barker-Benfield, Pamela Clemit, Mark Philp, Barbara Taylor, Janet Todd, and Wil Verhoeven, among many others, I could never have imagined Love in the Time of Revolution, let alone written it. Luckily, I can thank the many...


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pp. 339-351

E-ISBN-13: 9781469608266
E-ISBN-10: 146960826X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781469607504
Print-ISBN-10: 1469607506

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 14 halftones
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia
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OCLC Number: 879306140
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Love in the Time of Revolution

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Subject Headings

  • English fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Love in literature.
  • American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • Godwin, William, 1756-1836 -- Influence.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary, 1759-1797 -- Influence.
  • Literature and society -- England -- History -- 19th century.
  • Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Politics and literature -- England -- History -- 19th century.
  • Politics and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Radicalism in literature.
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