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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary…
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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

by Mary Wollstonecraft

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Might seem like an odd combination, but there’s method. Mary Wollstonecraft is the author of Vindication of the Rights of Woman (although she may be more famous for being the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who eventually became Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly). At any rate, Ms. Wollstonecraft may have been the first radical feminist; she was nicknamed “The Hyena in Petticoats” by contemporaries. It’s true that the lot of women was pretty miserable for 18th century Englishwomen; women could not own property, and the only grounds for divorce for women was desertion. (A man could get a divorce for adultery, but a woman couldn’t; as long as her husband kept supporting her he was free to consort with all and sundry, and many did). Alas, despite its importance, this book is pretty tedious. Ms. Wollstonecraft is not a talented writer, and it took a lot of patience to get through this. To her credit, her main point is that woman should get the same education as men; but she gets sidetracked so often on questions of feminine beauty, details of educational methods (she sometimes sounds annoyingly like a NEA representative) and various other diversions that her main point gets lost. (I was once a member of NOW, until I read an editorial in the NOW newsletter stating NOWs position on land claims of the Hopi. I was a little puzzled as to what NOW was doing getting involved in Native American rights; a friend explained that “Native American Rights are a women’s issue”. Well, perhaps, but I decided that self defense was a women’s issue too, noted that there are more women in the NRA than the NOW, and transferred all my donations there). This is the same problem Wollstonecraft has, if you make everything “a women’s issue”, then nothing is a women’s issue.


Wollstonecraft’s personal life was interesting given her political views. Her first husband (they never actually married) was Gilbert Imlay, an American. Mr. Imlay lost interest after the birth of their child, and took up with an actress, whereupon Wollstonecraft jumped off a bridge into the Thames. She was dragged out by a passer-by. She then took up with an old friend, William Godwin, who was of the opinion that marriage was an artificial institution unnecessary to virtuous individuals while Wollstonecraft had argued that cohabitation was evil. They did marry after Wollstonecraft’s second pregnancy, but never lived together; Wollstonecraft died in childbirth.


So what does this have to do with Georgette Heyer, who is more or less the inventor of the Regency romance novel? Ms. Heyer was prolific with I think around 50 works to her credit; they all have more or less the same plot (unlikely girl attracts the attention of rich but accomplished English gentleman who falls in love with her virtues rather than her beauty). There are a number of fairly pedestrian mystery novels, and she sometimes leaves her time period for the medieval, Elizabethan, Restoration or Georgian settings. All that said, she’s pretty enjoyable. Her historical research is meticulous to the extent that it’s sometimes difficult to figure out character’s dialect without recourse to the dictionary. The plotting, despite its basic predictability, has enough surprises to be entertaining, and her characters manage to be individuals despite being all essentially the same. Oddly, she seems to spend more time on her male’s character development than her females, and she has a disturbing tendency to let her heroes get shot in the arm so the heroine can prove her worth by nursing them back to health, possibly showing that while her history is otherwise immaculate she had a poor idea of what happens when you get hit by a 0.79” lead ball (to be fair, Charlotte Bronte gets away with this in Shirley, so I suppose it’s alright).


Now then, I mentioned above that Vindication is slow reading, and I often pick a lighter book as sort of a “palate cleaner” to take a break better the heavy chapters. Thus, I was reading Heyer’s The Quiet Gentleman at the same time as Vindication, and lo and behold heroine Drusilla Morville is acquainted with Mary Wollstonecraft and even recounts her suicide attempt with a mix of amusement and disapproval. Must be something to coincidences after all.
( )
  setnahkt | Dec 16, 2017 |
Published as part of the "Revolution Controversy" in England in the late 1700's through the early 1800's, A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN is a revolutionary text itself. As France was in the upheaval of the French Revolution, England was deep in questioning the role and function of its monarchy and aristocracy. As a way to influence public opinion, many prominent intellectuals published pamphlets - often as a response to other pamphlets that came before. This, coupled with a 1791 French educational report that recommended educating females only so as to be docile and dependent wives and mothers, inspired Mary Wollstonecraft to write this work.

While often considered to be a feminist masterpiece, it really is a long-form essay in favor of educating females. She argues that, because women are the ones who become mothers, they should be well-educated so that they can promote and model healthy behaviors, relationships, and ideals in their children. In fact, she recommends a national system of education for all children up to a certain age, where boys and girls of all social classes are educated together. Once they get a bit more mature, lower-class children should be educated separately, to prepare them for whatever employment they will be expected to fulfill. While this is quite revolutionary for the 1790's, a modern audience may not be in full accord with categorizing this work as feminist. It is largely a book of its time, but in some important ways ahead of its time. ( )
  BooksForYears | Nov 29, 2016 |
Published as part of the "Revolution Controversy" in England in the late 1700's through the early 1800's, A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN is a revolutionary text itself. As France was in the upheaval of the French Revolution, England was deep in questioning the role and function of its monarchy and aristocracy. As a way to influence public opinion, many prominent intellectuals published pamphlets - often as a response to other pamphlets that came before. This, coupled with a 1791 French educational report that recommended educating females only so as to be docile and dependent wives and mothers, inspired Mary Wollstonecraft to write this work.

While often considered to be a feminist masterpiece, it really is a long-form essay in favor of educating females. She argues that, because women are the ones who become mothers, they should be well-educated so that they can promote and model healthy behaviors, relationships, and ideals in their children. In fact, she recommends a national system of education for all children up to a certain age, where boys and girls of all social classes are educated together. Once they get a bit more mature, lower-class children should be educated separately, to prepare them for whatever employment they will be expected to fulfill. While this is quite revolutionary for the 1790's, a modern audience may not be in full accord with categorizing this work as feminist. It is largely a book of its time, but in some important ways ahead of its time. ( )
  BooksForYears | Nov 29, 2016 |
I read this during my last quarter as an undergraduate English major. The class was on revolutionary women writers and it was AWESOME. I was more interested and involved in that class than most of my other classes--I kept up a double-entry journal for all of the reading so that I was constantly analyzing and writing down my thoughts. I had a great relationship with the professor and other girls in my class. It was during this class that the big protest in Seattle was going on, and we were all motivated to take a bus up there together because of the women about whom we were reading. This class motivated me to be an activist.

As for this particular book, it was great in the beginning. Wollstonecraft is difficult, dense reading. She had some great ideas that spurred deep intellectual discussion, but after a while you want to stop reading. She makes her point early on and the rest is too much. Also, it's hard to be motivated to trudge through it when her dream is somewhat old news to us now. ( )
  engpunk77 | Aug 14, 2015 |
I think everyone should read this book. Everyone. Sometimes I reread it just to remind myself how fiercely this battle was being fought in the eighteenth century, and how hard we still have to fight. A little righteous fury goes a long way. ( )
  rrainer | Sep 20, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wollstonecraft, MaryAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brody, MiriamEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rowbotham, SheilaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the present state of society it appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground.
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"Educate women like men," says Rousseau, "and the more they resemble our sex the less power will they have over us." This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141441259, Paperback)

Writing in an age when the call for the rights of man had brought revolution to America and France, Mary Wollstonecraft produced her own declaration of female independence in 1792. Passionate and forthright, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman attacked the prevailing view of docile, decorative femininity and instead laid out the principles of emancipation: an equal education for girls and boys, an end to prejudice, and the call for women to become defined by their profession, not their partner. Mary Wollstonecraft?s work was received with a mixture of admiration and outrage?Walpole called her ?a hyena in petticoats??yet it established her as the mother of modern feminism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:49 -0400)

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"In an age of ferment, following the American and French revolutions, Mary Wollstonecraft took prevailing egalitarian principles and dared to apply them to women. Her book is both a sustained argument for emancipation and an attack on a social and an economic system. As Miriam Brody points out in her introduction, subsequent feminists tended to lose sight of her radical objectives. For Mary Wollstonecraft all aspects of women's existence were interrelated, and any effective reform depended on the redistribution of political and economic power. Walpole once called her 'a hyena in petticoats', but it is a tribute to her forceful insight that modern feminists are finally returning to the arguments so passionately expressed in this remarkable book."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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