ABSTRACT

Gilbert Imlay’s tempestuous but ill-fated relationship with Mary Wollstonecra has been recounted and picked over so o en in the past two centuries that it has become one of the most notorious causes célèbres in British literary history.2 Wollstonecra ’s collected letters to Imlay o er a poignant and revealing insight into the ups and downs of their a air, and literary history owes a significant debt to William Godwin, Imlay’s successor, for deciding not to destroy the letters a er his wife’s death in 1797. Posterity would have been even more appreciative had Godwin not interfered with Wollstonecra ’s letters. As it is, he not only expunged all proper names from the letters but particularly cut those sections from her letters to Imlay that might otherwise have detracted from the image he was trying to create of Wollstonecra as a woman of great sensibility and deep emotions.3 Yet, heart-rending as the edited letters are, Wollstonecra ’s correspondence with Imlay inevitably represents her side of the story; indeed, the entire sad tale of Wollstonecra ’s a air with Imlay is very much part of her biography, rather than his. If Imlay’s treatment of Wollstonecra has become one of literary history’s most notorious sagas of a lover’s betrayal and abandonment, this is only because it has always been assumed and expected that both partners were from the beginning equally committed to their relationship. ey were not.