Mary Wollstonecraft's Original Stories from Real Life, with engravings by William Blake


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97) wrote Original Stories from Real Life to provide a model for teachers and pupils which would ‘fix principles of truth and humanity on a solid and simple foundation’, as she explained in her preface. The conversations mentioned in the full title take place between Mrs Mason and two young relatives whose education she has undertaken. 14-year old Mary and 12-year old Caroline are motherless and lack the good habits they should have absorbed by example. Mrs Mason intends to rectify this by being with them constantly and answering all their questions. Each chapter addresses a particular moral failing. For instance, in Chapter VII, which is shown here, Mrs Mason discusses vanity, using the example of roses and tulips in her garden. She uses the flowers to teach the distinction between something which is outwardly showy but has no substance – the tulips – and something more modest but long-lasting and sweet-smelling – the roses. These metaphors represent the beauty that comes from internal goodness. The 1791 edition pictured here is illustrated with engravings by William Blake, and commissioned by the publisher, Joseph Johnson. 

Mary Wollstonecraft is best known as an early campaigner for the rights of women and in particular for her contribution to the debate on the French Revolution, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). She was married to the social philosopher and radical, William Godwin, later a writer for children himself. Wollstonecraft died within a few days of their daughter’s birth, but this child, Mary Shelley, would go on to write many books herself, most famously Frankenstein (1817).

Full title:
Original Stories from Real Life
1791, London
Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
Mary Wollstonecraft, William Blake
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

The origins of children’s literature

Article by:
M O Grenby
Childhood and children's literature, Reading and print culture

Professor M O Grenby charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.

The title page of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence (1789)

Article by:
Michael Philips
Romanticism, Childhood and children's literature

Michael Phillips compares the title page of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence to an earlier children’s book, in order to reveal Blake's progressive views on the importance and power of childhood.

William Blake and 18th-century children’s literature

Article by:
Julian Walker
Romanticism, Childhood and children's literature

Julian Walker looks at William Blake’s poetry in the context of 18th-century children’s literature, considering how the poems’ attitudes towards childhood challenge traditional ideas about moral education during that period.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Created by: William Blake

A collection of poems by William Blake (17577ndash;1827), illustrated with the poet's own etchings and published in ...