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After two outstanding biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft by Eleanor Flexner (1972) and Claire Tomalin (1974), this little billet deux recording the romance between Mary and the radical philosopher, William Godwin, seems redundant. Detre bases her characterization of this improbable duo on the intimate journal Mary ought to have kept during the last year of her life (1796-1797). But Mary, not suspecting the current rush of biographers, didn't keep a journal, which obliged Detre to write it for her. . . and very artfully done it is. Mary, chronically short of money, is churning out book reviews for publisher Joseph Johnson, trying to forget about her ill-starred romance with that rascal, Imaly. She's working very hard to be a free woman and is alternately amused and exasperated by the attentions of Godwin who is nicely drawn as the gauche, unworldly suitor he was. Not for months can she accept him in good faith; the prospect of a second child and marriage plunges her into fits of anxiety. The two maintain separate residences even after they marry. There are allusions to Mary's family, always a vexation, to literary suppers and teas with London friends, to the latest rumors from revolutionary France. The courtship is certainly depicted as the prickly, nervous thing it was even though ultimately devotion carries the day and Detre probably doesn't agree with Tomalin that Mary accepted Godwin as ""a consolation prize of a superior kind."" Mary comes across as high-strung, impetuous and jealous but also full of generosity and proudly independent. In between the crypto-diary excerpts which end with childbirth and death are the actual letters--no more than short notes--exchanged between the two; the growing affection and intimacy between them can be discerned. Detre's abundant empathy for Mary Wollstonecraft enables her to assume Mary's voice at will--which may be most useful if a screen treatment is ever contemplated.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1975
Publisher: Doubleday