An Interview with Bee Rowlatt
To celebrate Mary Wollstonecraft’s birthday, we caught up with Bee Rowlatt, author of In Search of Mary.
1) When was the first time you heard about Mary Wollstonecraft?
I first read her Scandinavian Travels when I was a literature student, before I knew anything about her astonishing political and philosophical legacy. The image of her writing a travelogue whilst at sea on a treasure hunt, with a baby in tow, hooked me on the spot. Her fearlessness still thrills me.
2) How did you research the places you travelled to?
On the Norwegian part of the book I was following in Wollstonecraft’s footsteps, so she had done much of the research for me. There were some surprises, though. She experienced these places through a prism of deep misery, and even when I found the exact same locations and read her words there, the atmosphere was strikingly different. One thing hasn’t changed: she praised the Norwegians as being among the freest people of Europe, and today Norway is rated among the fairest and best places to live. However, 216 years may have separated our journeys, but we were both shocked by the price of Norwegian coffee…
3) Tell us your favourite bit of Mary Wollstonecraft trivia.
There isn’t much that’s trivial about Mary Wollstonecraft. But I do very much enjoy the fact that she is Frankenstein’s grandmother!
4) If Mary Wollstonecraft were alive today, what do you think she would be campaigning for?
Sadly, if Wollstonecraft were alive today she would still be campaigning for the exact same things: equal access to education, equality of the sexes, human rights and social mobility. And she’d be furious that women are still trolled over their private lives (as happened to her). She powerfully argued for the use of reason. So I imagine her today as a campaigning lawyer, someone using the law as a check and balance on entrenched power. I would dearly love to see her let loose on President Trump, the way she went for Edmund Burke. That would be spectacular.
5) What other reading and places to visit would you recommend to feminists who are interested in Mary Wollstonecraft?
There are three that I particularly love. First, Footsteps by Richard Holmes. I have a debt to that book, and I will never stop reading it. Next, the gorgeous biography Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon (@CharGordbooks) which also includes the life of her amazing daughter. Finally, I both enjoyed and relied heavily on Lyndall Gordon’s biography Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. It’s a wonderful read.
For places to visit please check out the Wollstonecraft campaign group Mary on the Green as we are shortly unveiling a Walking App with guides to many places that were significant to Mary Wollstonecraft. www.maryonthegreen.org @MaryontheGreen
6) What is your favourite Mary Wollstonecraft quote?
“I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.”
Toddler in tow, Bee Rowlatt embarks on an extraordinary journey in search of the life and legacy of the first celebrity feminist: Mary Wollstonecraft. From the wild coasts of Norway to a naked re-birthing in California, via the blood-soaked streets of revolutionary Paris, Bee learns what drove her hero on and what’s been won and lost over the centuries in the battle for equality.
On this biographical treasure hunt she finds herself consulting a witch, a porn star, a quiet Norwegian archivist and the tenants of a blighted council estate in Leeds – getting much more than she bargained for. In her quest to find a new balance between careers and babies, Bee also discovers the importance of celebrating the radiant power of love in all our lives.