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The Art of Rowing with Mary Wollstonecraft

Doctor Lisa Mullen sets off on a voyage of the imagination in the company of one of the greatest intellects of Western culture to eighteenth-century Sweden and Norway.

Mary Wollstonecraft, the great feminist pioneer is best known for her book, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’. She was never afraid to make waves.

But after her book came out in 1792 she embarked on perhaps her greatest and most personal experiment in modern womanhood: travelling alone as a single mother.

She hadn’t planned her life this way. Her passionate affair with an American adventurer, Gilbert Imlay, had come to an end when he abandoned her and their baby daughter, Fanny. Undeterred, she set off for Scandinavia, where she hoped to impress Imlay by tracking down some business assets that seemed to have been lost at sea. Mary turned the letters she wrote during her travels into her next book, and it gives us a vivid picture of a single mother who is fully engaged in the world around her - a ‘fallen' woman refusing to stay at home and play the victim.

In the end, the book impressed a much worthier man, Mary’s fellow radical activist and writer, William Godwin. ‘If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book,’ he said.

We join Dr Lisa Mullen, herself a single mother with experience of the vicissitudes of travel-with-child , as she sets off on a voyage of the imagination in the company of one of the greatest intellects of western culture, to eighteenth century Sweden and Norway. She talks to writer Marie-Noelle Bauer and artists Vicky Samuel to find out if having a child on your own is really that different today.

Restlessness and single motherhood: sex and motherhood: treacherous waters indeed.

Dr Lisa Mullen is a writer and academic at Oxford University, where she researches the literature of sick bodies and strange landscapes.

She published her first book this year - "Mid-Century Gothic".

Producer: Sara Jane Hall

Music "Single Mother" by Oded Tzur, with Shai Maestro, Petros Klampanis, and Ziv Ravitz

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14 minutes

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