1 December 2018 Susannah

A Mary Wollstonecraft Statue

Competing designs for the Mary on the Green sculpture campaign.

Did you know that more than 90% of the statues around London feature men? Some of those are writers – Shakespeare, Churchill, Wilde, Johnson, Keats, Betjeman, etc?

I was delighted to hear that a new statue will soon be erected, this time of a female writer – Mary Wollstonecraft. It is to be the work of sculptor Maggi Hambling and will stand in the suburb of Newington Green where the pioneering feminist author once lived.

There were two competing designs in the competition – the one by Maggi Hambling is on the right while the other is by Martin Jennings. Which would you have chosen? I’d have gone for Martin’s myself.

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie

If you want to learn more about this important and intriguing woman, you could try reading Claire Tomalin’s The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. Everything Claire Tomalin writes is fabulous and this book is no exception. Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon (another fine biographer) is also well worth reading. I also recently enjoyed In Search of Mary: The Mother of All Journeys by Bee Rowlatt, in which a young mother tries to replicate Mary Wollstonecraft’s journey in Scandinavia in 1796. Mary travelled with a baby, and so does Bee, and her enthusiasm for Mary and all she achieved (on a strange journey which involved trying to locate a stolen treasure ship) is infectious.

It is 100 years since British women gained the right to vote, so a very appropriate time in which to mark Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy with a statue. I hope to go and see it when I visit London next year.

And on the subject of statues … We waited 200 years for a statue of Jane Austen, but suddenly it seems there will soon be a second one. It will be in Winchester and is by Martin Jennings, whose statue of Mary Wollstonecraft failed to win the competition.

Which of these statues would you have chosen? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

 Susannah Fullerton: 10 September 1797 – Mary Wollstonecraft dies

  Susannah Fullerton: Claire Tomalin and Biographies
  Susannah Fullerton: The 18th Century – When the English Novel Began
  Mary On The Green
  The Guardian: Maggi Hambling picked to create Mary Wollstonecraft statue

   The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft by Claire Tomalin
   Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft by Lyndall Gordon
   In Search of Mary: The Mother of all Journeys by Bee Rowlatt

I only recommend books I have read and know. Some of these links are my affiliate links. If you buy a book by clicking on one of these links I receive a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but does help cover the cost of producing my free newsletter.


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Featured image credit- Competing designs for the Mary on the Green sculpture campaign, https://www.maryonthegreen.org/index.shtml
Body image credit- Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, by John Opie, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=970256

Comments (27)

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Thanks so much for sending that to me, Donna. Looks like the male / female balance is very slowly being redressed.

  1. Penny Morris

    While Maggi Hambling’s statue is a lovely piece of sculpture, Martin’s tells the viewer why Mary Wollstonecraft is important – namely for literature. The design appears to have seating around the statue which makes it a nice way of offering time for contemplation. Martin’s would have had my vote too.

  2. Brian Doyle

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it only louder,why were you not asked which one.
    Vote one Martin

    • Boudicca

      It’s so dispiriting that women are,again, reduced to tits and arse. Why not fully clothed? Why not give us something that would evoke her life and works? Ffs. If you think it suggests strength and power, you’re wrong. It just reinforces tired stereotypes.

  3. Patricia Farrar

    A recent issue of Philosophy Now had a very good article on Mary Wollstonecraft.

  4. pam blackwell

    Definitely Martin’s. As the writer above says, it shows why she is important. What really does a statue of a naked woman tell you except that it is much more socially acceptable to put naked women on show than it is to put naked men. And that’s my rant for the day!

  5. pam blackwell

    Me again. It also tells me that the judging panel was probably made up of only men. Not that I am at all against men but really why do we keep doing this to women. Making them just a body rather than a person who actually had an amazing talent.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I fully agree! I wonder who was responsible for such a stupid decision.

  6. Tereaa

    The statue which was chosen looks like a nymph not a respected feminist philosopher. What an appalling choice. I can’t imagine she would have wanted to be remembered for her naked body.

  7. Layla Oates

    I feel that Hamblings statue was chosen because she is a woman, an effort which I would normally applaud, but in this case a flawed decision. The generic naked woman which is neither beautiful nor a likeness to MW (and I feel she might also object to being shown in this way…) has nothing to say about MW at all. I prefer the more conventional and conversational approach of the other piece: sit a while with MW. Public art should appeal to a broad audience, it is not a purist area of aesthetics.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      A statue should represent a person’s achievements in some suitable way, and this one woefully fails to do so.

  8. Evakatrina

    As a piece of art, fine, let it stand. But attached to the name of someone who fought in a most hostile climate to create a new foundation for dignity, respect, and due rights for women, it is shocking and shameful. It is like having our mothers paraded for the sake of “contemporary art.” It takes a lot to make me angry, but at this I am angry to my core.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It makes me angry too. Poor Mary faced so many insults in her lifetime for the brave stand she took about women and their rights, and now she is still being insulted by this stupid state.

  9. A naked woman. A women is just her body then? How many women were consulted as to which one? She has a very masculine face and a huge lump between her legs. Is this trying to be inclusive? How many statues of ‘notable’ men are naked? The winner is an insult to Mary Wollstonecraft.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is such a weird design and an even stranger choice. There is a naked statue of Balzac, bu Rodin, but most statues have clothes on and it makes her seem so undignified.

  10. Rose Bunker

    I’d definitely have chosen Martin Jennings’ submission, much more dignified and I think Mary Wollstonecraft would have preferred it too!

  11. Lili

    I agree with everything people have said. I would also add : the female figure is TINY. Look at the whole sculpture. It’s doll-size, atop of the anormous metal mass. How is representing ALL WOMEN as one single tiny female form atop of an enormous mass liberating ? It isn’t. Everytime I look at it, it makes me feel smal, it makes me feel too small for all the troubles coming at me. It makes me feel powerless.

    Oh, and another thing : the female figure is represented… WITHOUT HER LEGS. The litteral message is : you can’t run, you can’t fight, and can just stand there and die. All the troubles in the world are coming at you, and you can’t move. Her body is being engulfed and she just stands there, paralyzed.

    I’m horrified by the message this sculpture conveys. It is not feminist at all. I read that 143 000 pounds, donated by women, were spent for this. Imagine if that money had been used to create rape crisis centers… I’m full of rage.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am fully in favour of statues, especially those of great writers, as I think they can convey a powerful message. But this one is a disaster! As you note, she looks paralysed, she is overpowered by the blob beneath her and too small. The other statue suggested was so much more suitable, and included books. I think Mary would have been horrified by this piece of rubbish that has been erected in ehr name.

  12. Elizabeth Mooney

    i generally disapprove of statue throwing but this pornified version of Mary with a male brow and tucked in penis and masculine face emerging from a giant silver phallus is a disgrace to everything Mary stood for. How dare anyone “honour” her by vilifying her. get it out of the park and into the nearest pond never to offend our gaze and Mary’s legacy ever again. Such dishonour to a woman of such stature.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Yes, it’s a travesty and should be sent deep into the bottom of the pond, except it might scare the fishes!

  13. kara joslyn

    The one NOT repeating sexist objectification conventions in art and RE-traumatizing women through it existing! Wtf to the Chrome naked statue of no one specific who has no feet to run away. It’s as tho the artist statement was “since Wollstonecraft was old, homely, and out of shape, I figured I had to make a statue that depicted the kind of female form that actually MATTERS – young, fit, white, no wrinkles, can’t age, can’t put clothes on, and can’t run away.” This makes me want to vomit.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      In my view, it is a truly terrible statue, and so inappropriate for the woman Mary Wollstonecraft was. I share your disgust!

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