Never the Bride: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Crash of Wedding Symbols

Abney Angel annotated SMALL royal wedding
Controversial (the ‘Better than Highgate’ bit).

Symbols matter. There’s a serious bit of state theatre going on this weekend apparently (Hackney Tours is too busy being out on the street to follow the media) and it’s all about reinforcing the ancient (feudal?) concept of monarchy. Apparently we’re paying for an elaborate spectacle that is designed to reassure us that being Subjects not Citizens is still the best option in 2018.

Yet one-time Hackney resident Mary Wollstonecraft – who opposed marriage in an era where a woman would essentially become a man’s property – still has no monument despite laying out the seminal treatise on equal rights for half the planet in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Revolution comes in different forms. It can be violent and physical like the latter stages of the French Revolution, but it can also be slow and philosophical like the changes taking place in Britain at that time.

If you think Fake News is new, just go back to the 1600s and 1700s to look at how spin has been around forever. The Civil War, the split from Rome, the Glorious Revolution, things being ‘over by Christmas’ in 1914 – every war or major political manoeuvre has been shaped to fit an agenda. Hackney Tours explored this at last year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival. As the French say, “Plus ca change…”

If you think people were exasperated now over Brexit, you should see the riots that happened when someone suggested being nice to Catholics in 1700s England. Punk hit ‘Gordon is a Moron’ was two centuries early for the mob violence which played on post-Reformation hatred of ‘Popery’. Islamophobia might be a new word but religious persecution is an old phenomenon. Anyone for burning a martyr?

Hackney characters were key players in the intellectual tumult of the 18th Century, a time of political turmoil as the ideals of the Enlightenment and the American and French revolutions meant that people would start to ask important questions of the Church and State. In Hackney in particular, educators used increasingly rational arguments for the way they lived their lives rather than bowing to tradition and just doing what was expected of them.

This spread from things like religious toleration to issues like gender equality where Mary Wollstonecraft challenged orthodox opinions on gender identity – and capability – by pointing out that just saying women are inferior wasn’t exactly hard science.

A crack was opening to let in the light…

Find out more about how we couldn’t be the people we are today without the likes of Mary Wollstonecraft on this walk. It’s running to tie in with the last day tomorrow of the Making Her Mark exhibition at Hackney Museum.

Half the money goes to Abney Park (Cemetery) Trust and half to the campaign for a monument to Mary.

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