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The Paradoxical Marriage of Godwin and Wollstonecraft

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"Marriage is law, and the worst of all laws."(Godwin in Paul 113) is what William Godwin, an 18th century English writer who is also known as "the founder of philosophical anarchism" (Philip), wrote in his Political Justice book. His future-to-become wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, was another English writer whose fame shone after the publication of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Wollstonecraft was one of the first women to come open and sharp against the inferiority shown towards women at her time and no different from Godwin; she also attacked the marriage institute by calling it "legal prostitution" (Tomalin 106). But despite their theories, both of these writers acted different in practice. They both married, and what is astounding is that they married each other. The announcement of the marriage left everybody astonished and not able to understand how the paradox had happened. How could these two intellectual writers, who through their work told the world "Do not marry. Marriage is slavery." marry each other? To be able to understand the causes that led them to oppose their own moral laws, one first needs to know how and why each of them supported their anti-marriage philosophies.

Godwin was a man of reason. "Reason, far more than the affections, guided his actions, and while he sought after One who would satisfy his intellect, he seems to have never felt the need, and therefore never the power of adoration and self-abasement." (Paul 27). Having such a standing, love and passion would never be enough reasons for him to lead a person to marriage. As mentioned at the beginning, he saw marriage as a law, a law that would restrict a person's actions and furthermore impose on him what actions to take. Thus he said: "Whatever our understandings may tell us of the person from whose connection we should derive the greatest improvement, of the worth of one woman, and the demerits of another, we are obliged to consider what is law, and not what is justice.

Add to this that marriage is an affair of property, and the worst of all properties. So long as two human beings are forbidden by positive institution to follow the dictates of their own mind, prejudice is alive and vigorous." (Godwin in Paul 113)

On the other side, Wollstonecraft was probably one of the most passionate women ever. She couldn't stay without loving. The element of love is what gave her and her work life. In her novel Mary, which many people consider as an autobiography, she wrote: "Her mind was strong and clear when not clouded by her feelings: but she was too much the creature of impulse and compassion." (Wollstonecraft in Taylor 88) So why was Mary Wollstonecraft against marriage if she was such a passionate woman? The answer to this question is the position of the woman in the society at her time. During the 18th century women were not given the same education as men; they were neither allowed to participate in politics nor to vote; what is worse they were considered "the slave and the toy of man." (Paul 203) All this was achieved through the "marriage" process. Once married, a woman would not be able to do any of the things listed above. Once married a woman would have to invest her time to the family. Once married, freedom was over. She argued that "women are human beings before they are sexual beings, that mind has no sex, and that society is wasting its assets if it retains women in the role of convenient domestic slaves and 'alluring mistress', denies them economic independence and encourages them to be docile and attentive to their looks to the exclusion of all else". (Tomalin 105) "So why did she still marry? Why did he marry? Why did they marry?"- one would still ask.

Before meeting with Mary, Godwin "had no settled home and was constantly changing his lodgings." (Paul 30) Believing that marriage was an institution that restricted a man from being free and getting tired of moving from one place to another very often, "he suggested his Sister Hannah that she should choose him a wife."(Paul 30) It should also be mentioned that during this time of his life, around Spring 1793, "Godwin, who'd formerly shown no sexual interest in anyone, was playing at love with the 'Fairs,' as he called beautiful women like Elizabeth Inchbald." (Jacobs 233) It was during this time that Godwin started to be more sensitive than he was before. After reading Mary's Letters from Norway, he wrote in his diary that "if ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book." This softness of his heart and the beauty and intellect that Mary had, made Godwin taste what he hadn't before: strong love feelings.

At the same time that Godwin was just starting to get



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