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Gilbert Imlay

Gilbert Imlay, ?1754-1828, American speculator and diplomat.

Imlay, an army officer during the American War for Independence, settled for a time in Kentucky, writing from his experiences on the then-frontier a valuable Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America, published in London in 1792. He appears to have left the United States in 1786 to base himself in London as a business speculator and trader. But he also had literary pretensions, as is evident by his 1793 novel, The Emigrants. That same year he went to Paris as a diplomatic representative of the United States, where he met Mary Wollstonecraft. With the fall of the Girondist faction in June 1793, Wollstonecraft was in considerable danger. During this summer she and Imlay became lovers, and, though they did not marry, she was registered as his wife at the American embassy in September. Thus protected from the proscriptions of the Terror, Mary soon was pregnant with the daughter who was born the next year and who was named Fanny Imlay. For their mutual benefit as foreigners, the two moved to Le Havre, where Imlay flourished in business by running the British blockade. The next year he was back in London, and while Mary and their daughter went to Scandanavia where she served as agent for his business interests (the basis of her Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark published in 1796), he blithely contracted another affair. When Mary returned in October, an ugly scene effectively ended their relationship.

Badly treated as she was by Imlay, Mary Wollstonecraft seems in her last year to have been attempting to exorcise him from her life. He appears in the fragment of her last novel -- Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman (of which Chapter 5 is included here) -- as the attractive but untrustworthy Darnford, whose pattern of seducing and deserting women will, according to the outline of the unfinished novel, include Maria as well.