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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman…

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Penguin Classics) (original 1792; edition 1993)

by Mary Wollstonecraft (Author)

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3,191242,945 (3.82)126
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 Womanattacked 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 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.… (more)
Title:A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Mary Wollstonecraft (Author)
Info:Penguin Classics (1993), Edition: New revised edition, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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


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Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is a fantastic piece of philosophy, analysis and policy that ventures to allow women to fully engage with the world. Why wasn’t I ever exposed to this? I was lucky to be introduced to so many classics, but women were almost totally absent from my curriculum, especially when it came to philosophy or politics. Wollstonecraft shows that people were writing, talking and thinking about these important issues 222 years ago. She just blew me away with this piece and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Education is at the forefront of her recommendations, noting that women excel at learning, when they are given the same opportunities as their male counterparts. In her introduction, she attributes one cause of the lack of advanced knowledge and cognitive power in women to “a false system of education gathered from the books written on this subject by men, who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than rational wives” (p. 11).

Wollstonecraft works to deobjectify and humanize women: “My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their FASCINATING graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and human happiness consists–I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them, that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt” (p.13).

She hits the moralists, and this resonates today with calls from the rightwing and evangelicals in the United States: “And will moralists pretend to assert, that this is the condition in which one half of the human race should be encouraged to remain with listless inactivity and stupid acquiescence? Kind instructors! what were we created for? To remain, it may be said, innocent; they mean in a state of childhood” (p. 75).

Let me close with one more quote: “I know that libertines will also exclaim, that woman would be unsexed by acquiring strength of body and mind, and that beauty, soft bewitching beauty! would no longer adorn the daughters of men. I am of a very different opinion for I think, that on the contrary, we should then see dignified beauty, and true grace; to produce which, many powerful physical and moral causes would concur. Not relaxed beauty, it is true, nor the graces of helplessness; but such as appears to make us respect the human body as a majestic pile, fit to receive a noble inhabitant, in the relics of antiquity” (p. 209). ( )
  drew_asson | Mar 22, 2020 |
I'm torn on this one. One the one had, this is the founding document of feminism, of which I am a modern day beneficiary. On the other hand, I found a lot that I could not relate to.
It's a single volume of what was intended to be a 3 volume treatise, this isn't a fully finished article. It also has the feel of having been written swiftly, it doesn't follow an entirely logical sequence, and it repeats itself more than once. On the other hand, this gives it an impression of being written with feeling (which is ironic, when reading the view on emotions expressed in this).
What I didn't relate to:
The reasons for wanting to educate women is so that they can use reason to supplant emotions.
Passion is a sign of weakness.
Women should be equal so that they can gain merit in heaven for their souls
An educated women makes for a better mother to her children
That marriage & motherhood should be a woman's ideal.

There's a lot in there that I found impossible to relate to. It seems to me that she wants to make women into female men. The trouble with that being that she then wants to assign women to a set role in life, that of wife and mother. I can't see that suppressing emotion to reason is ever a good idea, it strikes me as a recipe for mental health issues. Life is a balance between head and heart, not the suppression of one to the other. And to argue that passion is not worth the same as reason is to ignore the impact that emotion can have on a life. It also strikes me that her life is not an example of practicing what she preaches. Her attempt to commit suicide after Imlay deserted her and her marriage to Godwin suggest, to me, that she would, herself, be unable to meet her own expectations. It strikes me as an argument that only works in the abstract.
The call on religion is, clearly, of its time and is something that makes a lot of this hard to take seriously. I also note that she fails to take issue with the attribution of God as male, which is something I find unpalatable.
The limitation of the women's role to the sphere of wife and mother is somewhat inexplicable. Mary Wollstencraft would seem to be an example of a woman who wanted a life outside that sphere, as she didn't fit that role herself. It seems an odd contrast again.

On the other hand, there is a lot of ambition in this. She wants equal opportunities for education of both sexes, in fact going as far as to propose primary schools on a national basis. There is the call for women to be represented in parliament (along with the point that the franchise is still very small at this time, and that the majority of the poor are also disenfranchised). There's the wish to change the law to allow women to have civil rights, to be able to hold their own property and have control of their own income.

The other oddity in this was that this is directed purely to middle class women. It's not intended as a broad rallying cry for women. I'm not sure I can understand the logic of this.

It's difficult to rate books from a different era, their starting point is so different from where we are now. I wanted to love this, to find it as a rallying cry that I could take up. It didn't work out like that, there was a lot of good, but there was too much that I found hard to get behind. ( )
5 vote Helenliz | Apr 1, 2018 |
I had been wanting to read this for a long time, so when I saw it narrated by Fiona Shaw last year, I snapped it up. The narration is brilliantly done - perfectly delivered, and I loved that they used a male narrator (Jonathan Keeble) to narrate the parts where Wollstonecraft quotes from Fordyce's Sermons and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This is basically one long essay that is divided into chapters, each addressing or responding to a different theme. While it is dated, as one would expect anything from 1792 to be, it is also still relevant. Definitely recommended - not sure I would have made it through the print version, but the audio is fabulous. ( )
  Crazymamie | Mar 1, 2018 |
Sometimes it's difficult to know how to rate such a classic. This work blazed trails for women, so one doesn't want to be too harsh on it, but it is difficult to read and turgid by today's standards of writing. The author focuses way too much on keeping women moral as the reason for educating them, though one suspects that is more to sell the idea to the men of the time, since she herself had a life that did not fit with what she described as a proper role for a woman in this book. The book appeared about the time of the French Revolution, and the idea of equality was being shouted both in France and across the pond in the former colonies; this author references both countries frequently in her desire to spread the idea of equality a bit further, and include women in the boundaries. Overall, worthwhile more for the history than the ideas, since most of us have moved on much beyond her modest (by today's standards) proposals. One real downside is that the book focused relentlessly on the idle classes; one who has read any history at all can hardly imagine her descriptions of the follies of poorly educated women applying to the rank-and-file of the hard-working women who didn't have time for the frivolous pursuits she decried. Such things may seem petty or picky as critiques, but these are the critiques that are always being leveled at feminists, whether they are true or not, and it would be nice to be able to point to a founding document and say, "see? we were always concerned about all women, not just rich women", so it's quite disappointing when such an important author gives fodder to the naysayers. ( )
  Devil_llama | Dec 19, 2017 |
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.
( )
1 vote setnahkt | Dec 16, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wollstonecraft, Maryprimary 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.
"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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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 Womanattacked 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 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.

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