Hyena in Petticoats: The Secret Life of Mary Wollstonecraft
When thumbing by the side of the road, there is often a moment of doubt. Would anybody pull over here, I wonder, and can they even read my sign? Every car that drives by is a betrayal, and the one that finally stops revives my trust in humanity. And I love getting picked up by other women. It’s a rare treat—a relief from the double edge of chivalry and predation that one fears when accepting a ride from a male stranger.
That’s how I met Ms. Alexis Wolf of Olympia, WA and her charming zine about Mary Wollstonecraft. Hyena in Petticoats is a 60-page fan zine for the author of 1792′s A Vindication of the Rights of the Women and mother of early sci-fi novelist Mary Shelley.
The zine includes a series of journal entries from Wolf’s “quiet pilgrimage” to London, where she lived with anarchist philosopher William Godwin until she died in 1797. When I met Alexis I was at the close of my own, destination-less pilgrimage around North America, on my way back to Oregon.
Alexis looked like someone I would know. And, as we came to realize, she actually knew my oldest best friend from Davis High School, Molly Raney, whose musical alter-ego, “Poppet,” had performed recently at Alexis’ house in Olympia. Alexis, with her band Letters, would soon be on her way to return the favor by playing a show with Molly in Davis.
She knew all the lyrics to Molly’s songs. It was one of those meetings that makes a person feel both at home and utterly disoriented. I will stop short of the word “coincidence,” or “serendipity,” because things like this happen when if you travel enough, and Olympia is the capital of small worlds. When I finally sat down and read Wolf’s zine, it was love like being wrapped in a down comforter during a rain storm. I immediately checked out two books of Wollstonecraft’s letters.
Wollstonecraft knew about feminism way before it was cool, and she made a stink when the French revolutionaries expressed disinterest in extending equal rights and education to women. While Wollstonecraft’s prose garnered praise in France and the UK, the compliments were often backhanded, as in “You’re smart, for a girl.” Wolf depicts the whole M.W., and embraces the familial expressions of her feminism. “Hyena” professes an eloquent, thorough fanaticism for Wolf’s feminist heroine, complete with a family tree, a biography, and hand-illustrations.
“One night while I was barely awake and hardly asleep, I though of how strange it was to think that there was no way to faithfully tell what M.W. Or M.S. [Mary Shelley] actually looked like…” says Wolf, in “a Note on the Art.” “The artwork contained here are the products of an amateur longing to get a little bit closer to her favorite dead friends.”
My favorite section is Wolf’s side note on Fanny Imlay, Wollstonecraft’s lesser known daughter from an earlier lover/heart breaker, Gilbert Imlay. After a well sourced, academic discussion about Imlay’s short, mysterious life (she committed suicide at age twenty-two), Wolf declares “I LOVE FANNY.”
Wollstonecraft had, in her own words “romantic notions of friendship.” “I am a little singular in my thoughts of love and friendship; I must have the first place or none,” she wrote. Her first daughter, Fanny Imlay, was presumably named after her adolescent bff Fanny Blood.
On the day we met, Alexis saved me from the roadside and inspired me to give my own girl best friend a long-overdue visit. We are our sister’s keepers.