Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft by Samantha Silva, Caroline Bleeke
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 25, 2021
Genres: Book Clubs, Fiction, Historical, Literary
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It’s a sunny morning in 1797 London when Mrs. Blankinsop, a midwife, arrives at a home to assist with a birth. The mother-to-be greets her at the door, cheerful and excited about welcoming her second child. The two women settle in and spend the ensuing hours before the birth talking about all manner of things. After the birth there are complications and Mrs. B spends extra days with the new mother and her baby girl. In that time, she comes to know something of Mary Wollstonecraft, a woman unlike any she’s ever met. Love and Fury is Samantha Silva’s novel of the times, an exceptional woman and her love letter to her newborn daughter, Mary Shelley.
Both eminently practical women, neither Mrs. B or Wollstonecraft see the need for a male doctor after the birth, but when the placenta doesn’t follow her husband insists. His terror at losing his beloved wife is such that he notices nothing of what follows—the unwashed hands, the brutal removal of the placenta by force by hand. It leaves Mary in a weakened condition that quickly turns to a postpartum infection. Mary is determined to nurse her baby, but infection soon makes that impossible. The child is removed from her mother’s side and Mrs. B’s days are spent trying to save the two lives.
The narrative in Love and Fury is split between Mrs. B and Wollstonecraft—two women of vastly different life experiences. Mrs. B has followed a traditional path of helping women with the kind of conditions that the new male doctors prefer not to deal with. When she meets Wollstonecraft, she assumes her to be a genteel, protected wife. A notion she’s soon disabused of when Mary shares that marriage is an abhorrence, refusing to do so until this very year to give her new child legitimacy. She’s had lovers, but being bound to a man was anathema to her soul. Instead, she’s poured her boundless energy and fearsome intellect into starting a school for girls, living in France at the time of the revolution so she could write about it. She found likeminded individuals to publish her works and get her ideas into the world.
In the same way Mrs. B learns of the real Mary Wollstonecraft so too did I. I knew of her daughter, thanks to Frankenstein, but of Wollstonecraft I knew nothing. Love and Fury is not a textbook or biography, but a rich, lovely narrative of a woman in the 1700s who refused to accept that she was inferior to men. Any man. Who backed up her assertions with writings that stand to this day. And yet, she was as tormented by love as any human. She chose wisely and foolishly, paying the price even in the face of ostracism.
I’m no different than other readers—summertime is largely a time of light, fast, snack reading, whether it’s salty (gossipy, trashy), sweet (chick lit, rom com), or spicy (psychological thrillers), but sometimes fare that’s a bit quieter and more filling is welcome. Love and Fury flows through the life of a woman who refused to let society’s restrictions bind her mind while at the same time maintaining a heart that loved widely and freely. A woman who uses her last days to tenderly pour her story as a love letter into her new daughter.
Sorrow, my sweet girl, will bring you to your knees, time and again, but so will beauty, so too love, enough to rise again, to try again, to live as all beings wish to live: free.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.*