Mary Wollstonecraft Series
Acts of Balance
Acts of Balance, a Chapbook of Poems by Nancy Means Wright, with cover art by Raymond Hudson.
ORDER from Finishing Line Press, PO Box 1626, Georgetown, KY 40324. $14 plus shipping.
Praise for Acts of Balance
Like a conversation across two continents and centuries, the poems in Acts of Balance tell the stories of an 18th-century English writer and a 20th-century Vermonter who must navigate the waters that the former first roiled. Mary Wollstonecraft kidnaps her sister from a brutal husband; Fay Hubbard packs up her books and leaves her marriage
And so their histories unfurl, both women battling the forces aligned against them and searching for the release that Wright, in a lovely concrete poem shaped like a breast, describes as 'lean (ing)/ into the wind/ until I am/ wind.' This book is an act of balance unlike any other.
—Sue Ellen Thompson, winner of the 2010 Maryland Author Award and editor of the Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry
In Acts of Balance, Nancy Means Wright alternates between speakers, women living two centuries apart. We see in these dramatic monologues the kinship and similarities between women through the ages. Wright asks timeless questions: What holds us up? What lets us down? And, perhaps most importantly, Who and how do we love? Throughout, Wright's sure narrative voice keeps us riveted to the page.
—Barbara Crooker, author of Ordinary Life, Line Dance, More, and Gold
Acts of Balance reminds us all that poetry is no small miracle, beginning with Wright herself, word conjuror and shapeshifter, who, with the stroke of her pen, can raise the dead, guillotine a king, and send us all running into the arms of the matriarchy. Throw away your compass and GPS: these poems alone will take you where you want to go.
—J.C. Ellefson, author of Foreign Tales of Exemplum and Woe
Dismissed from her governess post in Ireland, Mary Wollstonecraft lands on her feet in London. After the 1792 publication of her controversial Vindication of the Rights of Woman (they called her a hyena in petticoats), she gains entrée to a circle of celebrated poets and writers (Wordsworth, Blake, Paine, et al.). But Mary becomes infatuated with artist Henry Fuseli, whose hauntingly erotic masterpiece, “The Nightmare,” has been stolen, and more scandal results when she offers a ménage à trois with him and his wife. Yet when an innocent young artist is sent to notorious Newgate Prison for the theft, Mary's passionate nature does not allow her to stand aside. Her quest for the truth will lead her to a chase in and out of a madhouse, the pursuit of a young girl's abductor, and confrontations with a gaggle of rogues.
A deft portrait of a vanished world and one of history's most compelling women—not to be missed.
—Stephanie Barron, author of the critically-acclaimed Jane Austen Mystery Series
Overlapping mysteries thicken the plot in this fast-paced story set in a circle of famous authors and artists, whose revolutionary fervor, passions, and injured innocence lead them into dangerous waters. Wright illuminates the complicated character of Mary Wollstonecraft—scandalous feminist and self—deluded romantic—with rebellious opinions, manic moodiness, and untamable energy.
—Patricia Wynn, author of the award-winning Blue Satan Mystery Series
Wright skillfully evokes the people and ideas from the age of Enlightenment
in her entertaining second mystery featuring Mary Wollstonecraft (after
2010's Midnight Fires), which once again shows how Mary's brilliance as a
freethinker could have made her an expert crime-solver. In 1792, Mary is
completing the second part of her renowned A Vindication of the Rights of
Woman when her friend, painter Henry Fuseli, finds his famous painting The
Nightmare stolen. Henry suspects a critic of his work and has the young man
imprisoned. But when an acquaintance is murdered and her corpse left in a
tableau suggestive of the artwork, Mary finds herself investigating an
intrigue steeped in politics of the day characteristic of a conservative
England and a revolutionary France. Several illegitimate children of
uncertain paternity provide red herrings, and walk-ons by Fuseli, poet
William Blake, and chemist Joseph Priestley help ground events in credible
Wright captures the character of intellectual London brilliantly… Obsessed with trying to change her sexual attraction to Fuseli into an intellectual ideal, Mary hardly pays any mind to the crimes of the story, making her a bizarre yet intriguing sleuth… Yet I found her scatterbrained intellectualism charming. I appreciate Wright's ability to model her fictional Mary Wollstonecraft with the clay of the historical person, keeping her personality and foibles and not pretending that when faced with a murder she would suddenly become Sherlock Holmes.
—Elizabeth Caulfield Felt for Historical Novels Review
Chapter One of The Nightmare.
Here's a link to an article by Nancy published in the Burlington Free Press on Sunday, June 3, 2012
The Nightmare was published by Perseverance Press, September, 2011. ISBN 978-1-56474-509-5. $15.95.
18th century Mitchelstown Castle hums
with intrigue. An impoverished but
rebellious English governess (future
author of A Vindication of the Rights
of Woman) seeks justice after a young
Irish rebel and a roguish aristocrat
die in cold blood.
From the preface:
Mary Wollstonecraft shocked the eighteenth century world with her outspoken views on marriage, children, and women's rights, her advocacy of divorce reform, and her involvement with the French Revolution. She set off a tempest of scandal through her passionate love affairs, the birth of an illegitimate child, and her attempts at suicide. A "hyena in petticoats," a contemporary called her. Her short life was a continual struggle between her principles and her own sexuality. The struggle ended at the age of thirty-eight when she died giving birth to a second but, this time, legitimate daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. The latter married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and true to the Wollstonecraft blood, wrote the suspense novel, Frankenstein.
Wollstonecraft (pronounced WALLston-croft) left numerous works to the world, including her famous Vindication of the Rights of Woman… (Click here to read more from the preface of Midnight Fires)
At the start of this captivating historical set in 1786, Mary Wollstonecraft is on her way to Ireland to become a governess, "that most humiliating of occupations." At Mitchelstown Castle in County Cork, headstrong Mary, the future mother of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and future women's rights advocate, is determined to pen a novel and remain above the fray of castle politics while schooling Lord and Lady Kingsboroughs' daughters. Three suspicious deaths, however, compel Mary to seek justice for a poor young sailor, the family's troubled former governess, and even an aristocrat. It appears everyone from poet George Ogle, Lady K's new flirt, to a land tenant or two has a motive in one or more of these tangled deaths. As Mary snoops around in search of the culprit, she is bound not to lose herself to the mystery, her job, or the charms of any man. Wright (Mad Season and four other Ruth Willmarth mysteries) deftly illuminates 18th-century class tensions.
—Publishers Weekly, February 15, 2010
RICH WITH HISTORY, PERSONALITY… It's reasonable, if regrettable, to believe that few 21st-century American women have ever heard of Mary Wollstonecraft, but had there been media in 18th-century Britain and Ireland comparable to today's Internet, surely this early crusader for women's rights would have been an international celebrity. Her daughter, Mary Shelley, did become famous for marrying the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and for writing "Frankenstein."
Nancy Means Wright, a prolific, disciplined and well-informed Vermont author living in the town of Cornwall, has seized upon the true story of Wollstonecraft to create the heroine of a finely honed mystery set in Ireland at a time, roughly corresponding with the American Revolution, when the Irish suffered under the often-cruel thumb of insensitive, tradition-bound British aristocrats. It wasn't entirely Irish Catholics suppressed by British Protestants, but it was largely that way.
Since the real Mary Wollstonecraft — once described as "a hyena in petticoats," Wright tells us — was an extremely controversial figure in the early and predictably futile struggles to liberate women from the stultifying yoke of traditional male domination, Wright had a rich field of history to harvest in gathering material for her novel.
—Click here to continue reading this review by A.C. Hutchison Vermont Sunday Magazine, April 4, 2010
A delightful new arrival on the historical
mystery scene, Midnight Fires
entertainingly seamy portrayal of
provincial aristocrats and the day-to-day
messiness of 18th century life. Add a
feisty, engaging heroine in the young
Mary Wollstonecraft and the result is an
atmospheric & absorbing whodunit.
—Susanne Alleyn, author of The Aristide Ravel Mysteries
Despite the constraints of class, culture,
stays and skirts, Wright's fictionalized
Mary Wollstonecraft is thoroughly
engaging on her voyage of detection
—Kate Flora, Edgar-
nominated author of Finding Amy
Midnight Fires was published April, 2010 by Perseverance Press (ISBN 978-1-56474-488-3) / $14.95.
the Preface to Midnight Fires.
Chapter One and Two of Midnight Fires.
Book Group Discussion Questions for Midnight Fires
Consider the relationship of governess and mistress. At Mitchelstown Castle, who prevails: Mary or Lady K?
Describe the teacher-pupil relationship between Mary Wollstonecraft and Margaret King. An 18th century governess must not infringe on any mother-daughter affection, yet Mary is ultimately dismissed for this reason. Who is to blame?
What do you see of 18th-century class tensions in this novel? Of religious issues? Where does Mary stand on the issue of class? Could a relationship between Mary and Liam, or young George and Fiona ever work?
A few years after the end of Mary's ten months of governessing, Margaret abandons her own class, leaves her husband for a middle class man, and joins the United Irish rebels. Anglo-Irish society blamed Mary's "bad influence." Were they right to do so?
What hints have we here in 1786 of Mary's future groundbreaking work: A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN (1792)?
Discuss the use of the masquerade and the play Midsummer Night's Dream as a theme in this novel.
In your opinion, does Mary make a believable sleuth?
A few unanswered questions: How guilty is Lord Robert K for any malice in this novel? Did James King favor the Irish rebels—or the Protestant aristocrats (of which he was one)? Was Nora guilty for drowning Fiona's child?
Consider the tragedy of the former governess Eva, and the difficulties for governesses in general.
Discuss the relevance of the title, Midnight Fires.