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A Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft
By Nancy Means Wright
Perseverance Press, 2010 ($14.95)
Kindle eBook: $9.19
Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel
Many people are familiar with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, wife of the Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of the classic novel, Frankenstein. Fewer may know of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer for women's rights, education reform, author of the groundbreaking Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). She was eccentric, her behavior considered scandalous by many. She had one child out of wedlock, and although she was married to Mary's father, William Godwin, she didn't believe in marriage, considering it a form of slavery. She made quite an impact during her short life, dying in her thirties in childbirth with Mary. Earlier biographies emphasize the scandals in her life, but only recently has a more balanced picture begun to emerge. She is a woman who deserves to have her true story told. Ms. Wright does this, using what she was able to learn through extensive research to create a plausible and fascinating fictional tale.
Basing the story on what is known of Wollstonecraft's life and character, Wright creates a character study and mystery set in Ireland during a time of political turmoil. She did serve for a short time in 1786 as a governess to the Kingsboroughs, an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family, where she taught the daughters to love and appreciate Shakespeare, and to think for themselves, but not to play the pianoforte or embroider.
Her journey into intrigue and danger begins as her ship is approaching the Dublin harbor, taking her to her new job. A young Irish sailor rescues her hat, then slips her a letter, pleading with her to make sure it reached the right hands. It was addressed only to "Liam." Before she can get more information, she hears a commotion and sees a sailor going over the side of the ship — her sailor. For an instant she sees a flash that could be a knife blade. The captain refuses to attempt a rescue.
She makes a poor impression on her new mistress when she arrives at the Kingsborough home, tired, hungry, and wearing a soaking wet, homemade cloak. Her behavior and theories of education do little to improve her status, but she grows fond of her young pupils. Starved for affection from their parents, they come to care for her too, to the annoyance of their mother.
The letter to Liam disappears from her cloak pocket, then reappears, opened. One of the servants admits to knowing Liam, who works on the farm, and, like many young Irishmen, belongs to the rebel group who want a free Irish homeland. She befriends the staff and farm workers, another demerit against her by her employers, and when she finds out who her gallant sailor was, she sets out to solve his murder, with some help from unusual sources.
Ms. Means, who has published several books, including contemporary mystery novels and award-winning children's mysteries, has a winner with MIDNIGHT FIRES. She has skillfully taken what is known historically about Mary Wollstonecraft and created a complex, conflicted, yet sympathetic character who might well have tried her hand at being an amateur sleuth. The second in the Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft series is THE NIGHTMARE, 2011.
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