Mary Wollstonecraft, “Ithuriel,” and the Rise of the Feminist Author-Ghost

Devoney Looser, Arizona State University
Vol. 35, No. 1 (Spring 2016), 59-91

This essay considers the ways in which pioneering eighteenth-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft has been imagined as speaking from beyond the grave. It considers what the undead Wollstonecraft means—and has meant—to the histories of literature and feminism. Examining representations of Wollstonecraft alongside those of other eighteenth-century author-shades, the essay demonstrates that Wollstonecraft’s ghostly renderings have important resonances with those of her male literary predecessors as well as implications for how and why modern feminists came to be “haunted” by her. The last section of the essay examines an unpublished 1798 fictional manuscript, “Ithuriel,” located among the papers of historical novelist Jane Porter. “Ithuriel” depicts Wollstonecraft as a speaking spirit in conversation with other celebrated dead women. This previously unknown text (published as an appendix to this essay) shows us the instantiation of Wollstonecraft’s specter, born out of a particular moment in the late eighteenthcentury development of professional authorship and literature and at a watershed moment for early modern feminism.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]