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September 27, 2005

British Biographer to Discuss 18th-Century "Mother of Feminism"

Editor's note: For a 300-dpi photo of Lyndall Gordon, e-mail

NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Acclaimed British biographer Lyndall Gordon will discuss the subject of her latest publication, 18th century author Mary Wollstonecraft, at a lecture Friday, Oct. 7, at 4:30 p.m. in the Neilson Library Browsing Room.

Gordon’s book “Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft” appeared in the United States in May and references Wollstonecraft’s groundbreaking work, the classic feminist text published in 1792, “The Vindication of the Rights of Woman.”

In the lecture, Gordon will talk about Americans in Wollstonecraft’s social circle, including John and Abigail Adams, and what America meant to the young intellectual.

Revered by some as the mother of feminism, maligned by others as a traitor to the very principals she espoused, Wollstonecraft eschewed the traditional path of marriage, instead founding a progressive school, working as a governess and, later, a full-time writer.

Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” was heralded as the first great feminist treatise. She wrote that intellect will always govern and sought “to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body.”

In her portrait of Wollstonecraft, published by HarperCollins, Gordon explores contradictions in Wollstonecraft’s life. Among those, according to Gordon, were Wollstonecraft’s thoughts of suicide over the loss of a lover to another woman, despite her strong views on the independence of women.

Gordon was born in South Africa and lives in Oxford, England, where she is a senior research fellow at St. Hilda’s College. Her other biographies capture the lives of Charlotte Bronte, T.S. Eliot and Henry James. Her tome “Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life” won the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize, handed out by the Department of English Literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Presented by the Friends of the Smith College Libraries, this lecture is Gordon’s second occasion speaking at Smith. She also visited campus to take part in a June, 2003, symposium on Virginia Woolf.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation’s foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women’s college in the country.

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