Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman was a novel left uncompleted at the time of Mary Wollstonecraft’s death. Perhaps more famous today as the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, before her untimely death, Wollstonecraft was a leading figure of feminist literature. Mostly known for her essays and other works of elegantly crafted polemics decrying the unfair treatment and systematic subjugation of women in British society, Wollstonecraft had also already written one novel—Mary: A Fiction—before commencing on her second attempt.
Her husband and even more famous—and infamous—literary light, William Godwin, took it upon himself following his wife’s death to complete her work and fashion it for publication. Women authors at the time were primarily famous for gothic works of haunted homes and castles in which the subjugation of women were stripped of common notions of reality and the pervasive element of patriarchal governance. By situating her heroine into a mental hospital at the request of her husband and revealing the true horror facing many women in a society constructed upon stripping of civil rights, Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman places the underlying horror of gothic fiction within the very real world of feminist empowerment.
The novel take the subjection of women not just out of the sphere of the horror novel, but reveals just how widespread and all-encompassing that male control becomes within a society in which women are now even allowed rights over their bodies. The women in the novel are just subject to court ruling them insane on the flimsiest of evidence, but also enslaved by the actions of unfaithful husbands, pimps, illegal abortionists and landlords.
As might be expected, the predominantly male reviewers who considered the novel upon its initial release instantly attacked the novel not so much on the basis of its content, but by applying the morality of the author (or perceived lack thereof) to the novel’s heroine. Whereas the title clearly implicates that the wrongs suffered by Maria are intended to reflect those of an entire sex, reviews insisted upon suggesting that her story is one of a personal lack of character. In the centuries since its posthumous publication in 1798, critical and scholarly opinion of the worth of the book has only continued to rise.