Thoughts on the Education of Stepdaughters

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By Rosie Whitcombe

Selina Packard is an archivist currently working on ‘Mapping Heritage’, a pilot project for the Open University exploring the relationship between places and ideas in the intellectual milieu of early nineteenth-century London. She has a PhD from Goldsmiths College on Mary Shelley’s fictional personae.

A birthday is a convenient hook on which to hang a reflection on a significant figure, as this and other ‘On This Day’ projects evince. But it can also be of interest itself: no birth certificate or registration has been found for Claire Clairmont, and the mystery of her paternity – kept secret by her mother her whole life – has only been resolved this century.[1] For this reason, and its poetic coincidence with Mary Wollstonecraft’s birthday, it has been speculated that that she adopted the date as a tribute to the revered thinker.[2]

Much has been written – understandably – about the relationship between Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Godwin, later Shelley. But less well-noted is that between Mary’s stepsister, Claire Clairmont and her lost stepmother. For the young Clairmont, Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (1796)was one of her favourite books. She described it idiosyncratically as …read more