Love and Fury by Samantha Silva
Published by Allison & Busby, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This stunning novel serves as a love letter to the genius of pioneering feminist and writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, while also painting a picture of the very real, sensitive woman behind the legend.
Sticking true to historical events and paying suitable homage to the strength and lyricism of Wollstonecraft’s own work, Silva’s stunning prose evokes the time period to great effect, with much of the action taking place against the brutal backdrop of the French Revolution. Wollstonecraft’s life is a fascinating one full of bittersweet contradictions; an abundance of passion, joy, defiance, success, ridicule, and heartbreak packed into her much-too-short life.
Silva does an excellent job of celebrating her subject’s sharp intellect and early push for equality, exploring issues of gender, class, and sexuality with nuance and grace, as Wollstonecraft strives to resist a system structured to keep women down. That said, the book never feels like an academic text or a dot-to-dot biography. Wollstonecraft was a leader in many respects but she was also a human being, susceptible to the same flaws and tragedies as the rest of us. I think Silva handled the balance of reverence and honesty in portraying her heroine with aplomb.
Structured as a dual narrative, the story jumps between Wollstonecraft’s own retelling of her life, and her midwife Mrs B’s perspective of the days immediately following the birth of Wollstonecraft’s second child. This baby, of course, is none other than Mary Shelley, who would go on to secure her own legacy as a boundary breaking writer, but whose life would be marked by equal sorrow and strife. With most readers likely aware that their lives overlapped by just 10 days or so, the structure adds a further dose of poignancy, as the timelines edge closer together and inevitable tragedy looms.
Still, Wollstonecraft’s story is not without hope. We see moments of genuine happiness won through her determination to live freely. With the birth of her daughter, destined to become a legend in her own right, and the powerful impression she makes on Mrs B in her final days, Wollstonecraft’s place in history is secured; her role in women’s emancipation undeniable.
Whether familiar with Wollstonecraft yet or not, this is a gorgeous, evocative read; a character study that is equal turns inspiring, captivating, and moving.