In Mary (1788), Mary Wollstonecraft explores the position of an alienated intellectual woman and, in portraying her struggle against the constraints of a claustrophobic feminine world, began a line that would include the more substantial heroines of Jane Eyre and Villette. In the posthumously published Maria (1798) she continues in fiction the arguments of the Vindication. Mary Shelley wrote Matilda in 1819, while in mourning for her first son. William Godwin, Mary’s father, found its subject of father-daughter incest so ‘disgusting and detestable’ that he refused to publish it and the work remained suppressed for over a century.
In her illuminating introduction to this edition Janet Todd explores how these novels are linked, not only through the mother-daughter relationship of their authors, but in their perceptions of feminism and female sexuality and in their autobiographical richness.