Born in Spitalfields, died in Somers Town, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was a true Londoner. Her life, tragically cut short when she died from childbirth complications aged 38, was full of scandal, incident and – above all – a huge contribution to the furtherance of the cause of women in the shape of her groundbreaking work ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792). Now the capital has got the world’s first memorial to this pioneering philosopher, writer and activist.
In the words of its creator Maggi Hambling, ‘A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft’ ‘encourages a visual conversation with the obstacles Wollstonecraft overcame, the ideals she strived for, and what she made happen.’ That is to say, it’s not exactly a traditional statue, partly because traditional statues tend to be of men. Instead, the work, in silvered bronze, is a dramatic expression of Wollstonecraft’s spirit, in the form of an abstract uprushing swoosh of energy crowned with a nude female figure that could be charitably interpreted as a personification of the spirit of woman and uncharitably as looking a bit like a hood ornament. Hambling is also the artist responsible for ‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’ opposite Charing Cross station.
It’s unconventional, but so was its subject. Wollstonecraft preached (and practised) sex outside marriage in an age when such a thing was unthinkable among genteel women. She witnessed the hopes and horrors of the French Revolution firsthand and undertook several perilous trips under her own auspices, all apart from writing a series of works that culminated in her most celebrated one. Her daughter Mary later went on to write ‘Frankenstein’. Hambling’s new work is the first tribute in the world to this remarkable Londoner, and you can go and see it on Newington Green, near to where Wollstonecraft lived and wrote. Told you she was genteel.