Vindication – A Love Story in Three Parts
Writer - Gail Pellett

 

Mary Wollstonecraft, author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792

 

 

VINDICATION – A Love Story in Three Parts (Screenplay) is about the battle between reason and desire, self-discipline and the craving for love in the wrong places – inspired by the extraordinary life of  the 18th Century British feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft.  When Mary lectures women about the virtuous path – to develop their minds, reject crippling romantic rituals and marriages for a meal ticket and carriage, instead urging women to strive for independence —  she sets herself up for a disastrous fall.

At a time when women were without rights to education, work or property – or even to their own children after divorce, Mary supports herself by writing and resists “marriage for a maintenance.”  Her obsession is to live a life of truth, reason and virtue. But first Mary falls in love with a married man, then with a feckless playboy, gets pregnant and exposes herself to scandal and humiliation.  All this while writing the founding document for women’s rights, and a book about the French Revolution.

Artist, Henry Fuselli, Mary's first love, a married man

 Raising her daughter, Fanny, and desperate from a broken heart she attempts suicide. Recovering from that disgrace she  falls in love with a man of her intellectual and moral equal — William Godwin, a political theorist and father of anarchism.

Mary’s story resonates with women of all ages in her staggering effort to maintain her independence, to inspire love AND respect, despite the mountains of obstacles before her.  Her journey travels from the landscape of radical reformers of King George’s London with characters like William Blake, Thomas Paine,  Wordsworth and Godwin to the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution in Paris.   Wollstonecraft’s tome, “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” written in 1792 would continue to influence women’s rights movements for the next two centuries.  She died giving birth to another Mary, who would marry Shelley and write Frankenstein.

 

 

Scene sequence from Script:

EXT – CALAIS DOCKS/ROAD TO PARIS

Chaos. SHOUTS, CARRIAGE BELLS, horses’ WHINNYING.  Mounted horses, foot passengers and jammed stagecoaches clog the roads.  Mary boards a stagecoach headed for Paris.  William Wordsworth disembarks from a coach and spots Mary.
WORDSWORTH
Miss Wollstonecraft!
MARY
Mr. Wordsworth!
He approaches her coach, walking beside it.
WORDSWORTH
I cannot believe you are arriving now. We are all leaving.  It is turning very bloody. Britain and
France are close to war. It will soon be too dangerous for you.
MARY
Going back for me is worse.
Mary’s coach suddenly takes off. He falls back.
WORDSWORTH
Be careful!
He watches her coach then turns to the chaos.
I/E. – STAGECOACH – PARIS – NIGHT
SCREAMS, YELLS and CHEERS POP.  Mary’s POV searching the CROWD from her coach window.  TORCHES illuminate what they see – severed heads perched on fence pikes. Someone in the crowd bangs on her coach window.  The coach rushes away.
EXT – PARIS TOWNHOUSE – MOMENTS LATER
At the door with her bags, Mary, trembling, talks to a MAID.
MAID
(French)The masters are gone for two weeks.
MARY
(pleading)
(French) They knew I was arriving but not the timing.
The maid hesitates, consults with another servant inside, looks both ways in the street before motioning Mary in.

Gilbert Imlay, Mary's great passionate love, father of her child, Fanny

EXT – PARIS STREETS – MORNING

Mary maneuvers her way through streets congested with agitants.  The RIOTOUS SOUND OF HUNDREDS OF VOICES moves like a wave. She is jostled by tri-color DEMONSTRATORS as she studies wall posters calling for the King’s head. One demonstrator threatens her. She stumbles, gets up and flees.
EXT/INT – WHITE’S HOTEL – AFTERNOON
Mary rushes breathlessly into the White Hotel where HELEN MARIA WILLIAMS (30) English chronicler of the Revolution, JOHN HURFORD STONE (29), writer, Thomas Paine and two other Brits sit around a table looking grim.
HELEN MARIA WILLIAMS
Welcome to the Friends of the Rights of Man in Paris!
Flushed, Mary nods politely to all and sits next to Paine.
MARY
(catching her breath)
What is happening here?
The group falls silent when a servant brings beers and tea. After she leaves…
PAINE
There are still some good people…
MARY
(overlapping)
But the Jacobins…
HELEN MARIA WILLIAMS
(overlapping)
They are after Paine now because he wants to abolish the death penalty.
Williams sits close to Mary to talk more intimately.  The others chat conspiratorially.
HELEN MARIA WILLIAMS (CONT’D)
Come to our salon next week.  You will meet some of the leading Girondins.
(whispering)
And perhaps a lover…
(off Mary’s reaction)
You will need the comfort…and protection.
(off Mary’s reaction)
I know you’re a virtuous woman – a woman of reason.  But sometimes following your
passion is the most reasonable thing.
I/E – MARY’S UPSTAIRS ROOM – MORNING –
A DIRGE LIKE DRUM BEAT draws Mary to the window.  She watches the street scene below where the only sound is that occasional DRUM ROLL then returns to her desk to write.
MARY (V.O.)
Dear Joseph:  The streets are empty except for a hackney coach surrounded by the National Guard.
POV returns to the funereal scene out the window.
MARY (V.O.) (CONT’D)
Louis sits alone, with more dignity than I expected from his character, going ultimately to meet death.  POV on her face as she writes.
MARY (CONT’D)
(mouthing the words)
Evil is the grand motivator of action now, not virtue…
(laying down her pen)
I miss you, Joseph. I have written to Henry, but he does not respond.
TAP at door. A servant peeks in.
MAID
(French) A Mr. Paine to see you.
INT. PARLOR – MORNING
Paine paces anxiously. Mary sits twisting a hanky.

William Godwin, her mature lover and father of her child, Mary (Shelley)

PAINE
I have tried to convince them that they do not need a royal martyr. Imprison him.  Humiliate him.
Send him to America.   But not the guillotine.
MARY
Passions run amok.  England has withdrawn our ambassador. Should we return home?
PAINE
I am safer here.  They have burned my effigy in England.
(chuckling)
I hear that you are next.
MARY
For supporting the revolution?
PAINE
…it’s now treason.
Mary walks to the window. Snow is falling.
MARY
How do you do it?  Without family.  Without a …?
PAINE
Wife? I could ask the same of you? It is much more lonely — and dangerous — for you. (Beat)
But our work keeps us going…
He takes her hand and kisses it.
PAINE (CONT’D)
Don’t lose faith.
Breaking News

In May, 2009, I produced a reading of Vindication in New York City, with Juliet Rylance as Mary. Karen Malpede directed. The shock of this reading in front of a supportive, yet critical crowd -- 100 -- of friends and colleagues, led to a complete re-write. Of course. My internal struggle with this script is between honoring the historical record versus imaginatively and dramatically flying off, and whether to turn it into a three-part series for television or a two hour film. Masterpiece Theater? Of course!! Many thanks to numerous friends and colleagues for invaluable in-depth critical readings of this in various stages: Karen Arthur, Peter Busby, Deirdre English, Paul McIsaac, Ricki Roer, and Tom Shachtman.

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One Response to “Vindication – A Love Story in Three Parts”

  1. Rosalyn Baxandall says:

    A great contribution to MW lore. It should be out on. This web site is a treasure trove, what an important body of work, easy to use. Thanks.

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