May 18, 2018

Mary Wollstonecraft to become the subject of some Bronze Statuecraft


Mary Wollstonecraft in her early thirties, as painted by John Opie.

In the US, it’s been a weird and unchill year for statuary.

In the UK, where things are looking a lot chiller, they took another turn for the brighter this week, when sculptor Maggi Hambling won a competition to design a public monument to Mary Wollstonecraft in North London. The memorial, which has been in the works since 2010, is the initiative of an organization called Mary on the Green, which announced that Hambling’s design had been chosen from a batch of submissions on Monday. “I’m really excited at the prospect of realising my idea inspired by the trailblazer Mary Wollstonecraft,” Hambling said in a statement. “I hope the piece will act as a metaphor for the challenges women continue to face as we confront the world.”

It’s hard to think of a badder-ass subject to memorialize than Wollstonecraft, the tectonic proto-feminist—and proud Melville House parent—who wrote, most famously, 1792’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, a fiery tract whose arguments in favor of women’s education have proved so influential that it can be hard to believe what a sensation they once were. As Sady Doyle writes in Trainwreck:

Vindication was well situated in a debate people were already having over the concept of “natural rights,” which kept it from seeming foolish, and made it one of those books that people felt obliged to know, if only so that they could argue about it. John and Abigail Adams read her work carefully. Aaron Burr (himself not the most well-liked guy in history) had a portrait of Wollstonecraft over his mantel, and educated his daughter according to Wollstonecraft’s theories. The conservative Anti-Jacobin Review, in one of its many takedowns, quipped, “Rights of Woman, which the superficial fancied to be profound, and the profound knew to be superficial” — but even they were forced to admit that people were listening.

The Wollstonecraft project has a number of prominent supporters, key among them the Absolute Boy himself, British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who released a one-minute video in support of it a few months ago. Corbyn borrows a talking point that has been powerfully developed by Mary on the Green: more than ninety percent of the UK’s public monuments are to men, few of whom can touch Wollstonecraft for radness (or historical influence).

Hambling’s design features a big wave of metal resembling a tree trunk, rising out of a rectangular stone base, with the smooth form of a woman emerging from the top. Inscribed at the bottom will be the words “I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.” Over at StylistMoya Crockett has an artist’s rendition.

The sculptor is well-known for her public memorials, including one to Oscar Wilde and an especially dope (and controversial) one to Benjamin Britten.



Ian Dreiblatt is the former Director of Digital Media at Melville House.