A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

A Bit More on A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Thank you so much to SilverSeason who pointed out that this book can be acquired free online. The books can be found:

  • On Project Gutenberg – A number of her Mary Wollstonecraft’s works are available here including an electronic and an audio version of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
  • On Amazon.com for Kindle – I, in Canada, can only seem to find it for $0.89 or higher, there are a number of versions available though quite cheaply. In other parts of the world you may find different prices or versions. You can download the free Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac application to read the books on your computer.
  • On Barnes and Noble for Nook – again, I see a number of options starting at $0.99. I believe you can also download a free application to read Nook books on your computer or smartphone.
  • Has anyone else found it free (or cheap) anywhere else for me to add to the list?

A Bit of a Ramble and a Question for Readers

I have been reading through the introduction material in my copy of the book and came across a quote that made me so happy that we are reading this book and I just had to share it right away. A Vindication of the Rights of Man was written primarily as a response to a piece written by Edmund Burke that denounced the French Revolution and their attempts at democracy. The introduction to the text I am reading says on page 10:

Burke himself claimed to not to have read it [The Vindication of the Rights of Man] (Correspondence 6:214), but his ignorance of her critique of his Reflections did not prevent him from describing Wollstonecraft (in 1975) as one of “that Clan of desperate, Wicked, and mischievously ingenious Women, who have brought, or are likely to bring Ruin and shame upon all those that listen to them” (Correspondence 8: 304).

I figure anyone who garnered that kind of reaction is certainly worth reading! I certainly giggled at the quote.

I want to point out the two posts that Jillian at A Room of One’s Own has posted on Wollstonecraft over the past three days. She posted an introduction about how Wollstonecraft has been considered through the ages titled Mary Wollstonecraft – a “bitch”?. The post was a hilarious look at early feminism (like, Wollstonecraft and even one who came before her!).

Her second post was titled A thought: On reading history and in it she talks about how exciting it is to think of all of those historical figures through the ages who have read the same book and had similar thoughts on it. Fascinating!

What that quote I shared, as well as everything else I’ve read on Wollstonecraft including Jillian’s two posts, has made me think of is how important reputation was to female authors and intellectuals (and all females really). If we think of historic male writers they could do anything they wanted in their personal lives with no (or at least little) repercussions to what people thought of their intellectual works and articles. As a female author Wollstonecraft was vilified and her works ignored and forgotten once the truth came out about her life after her death.

Wikipedia reads:

In January 1798 Godwin published his Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Although Godwin felt that he was portraying his wife with love, compassion, and sincerity, many readers were shocked that he would reveal Wollstonecraft’s illegitimate children, love affairs, and suicide attempts.[45] The Romantic poet Robert Southey accused him of “the want of all feeling in stripping his dead wife naked” and vicious satires such as The Unsex’d Females were published.[46]

I talked briefly about this in my last post, saying that reaction to her Vindication of the Rights of Woman was actually quite favorable and opinion only changed after her death. I am very interested in hearing your opinion on this matter.

Were you as surprised as I was that the reaction was initially favorable to this work? And surprised at how devastating the repercussions of the memoir were? I am of the opinion that Godwin, being a male, probably assumed the same standards he was subjected to would be the standards that Wollstonecraft would be judged by and so saw nothing wrong with talking about the details of her life. I wonder if he was surprised at the reaction his book actually received.

Do you think reputation and life still matters as much for women in terms of their intellectual achievements? Would women’s works today be dismissed after details of their personal lives came out? Unfortunately while I think things have improved slightly, I think a female is still held to much more stringent morals and values.

I’d be interested to hear your opinions on both thoughts in the comments!

Another post on the topic shows up here from De Zesde Clan. I can’t translate it, but I thank the author of the website for joining us and discussing this book and Mary Wollstonecraft with us.

Note: If you have posted a discussion on the topic of this book or author please add your link in the comments and I will add it to the next round-up / discussion post.

In closing, a quick SQUEE of excitement that we’ve been mentioned on The F Word, a contemporary UK feminist blog! I do hope that we get more participants through that and I look forward to the discussions!


87 responses to “A Bit More on A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

  1. SilverSeason January 4, 2011 at 1:11 am

    Yes, I am blogging about the book at Silver Threads and have just posted the first of what will be several comments: http://silverseason.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/a-vindication-of-the-rights-of-women/.

    There are always been and there continues to be a double standard about women’s writing, in which their lives are considered when judging their right to be heard. A women must be virtuous — or at least not openly wicked — in order to be respected. Think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and the abuse she took when she decided not to raise her own child. Or of Ingrid Bergman and how she was condemned for her affair with Rossellini. Or George Eliot for living with George Lewes. She said somewhere that her offense was not in what she did but that she did it openly. Others, she said, had done as she had done and were still invited to dinner.

    • amymckie January 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Thank you for the link SilverSeason!

      And yes, that is the rub isn’t it – if it is hidden it is no big deal, but as soon as you say it’s not a big deal and live openly instead of in shame you will be ‘punished’. Some of the things they did aren’t a big deal anymore but I think women do still suffer from a double standard today.

  2. Emily January 4, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Isn’t it bizarre what a negative reaction that memoir garnered? Although it’s interesting – Wollstonecraft’s detractors almost seem to be holding her to the same standard to which she attempted to hold herself. She stresses strength, chastity and reason to such a great extent that perhaps readers of the memoir felt betrayed to find that she had attempted suicide, for example (something, I think, that is very rarely viewed as a “rational” act). It’s something that has occurred to me while reading Vindication – there’s not a lot of room for human vulnerability in Wollstonecraft’s view. Which really just shows her to be a product of her times, I suppose.

    I’m not sure about making a blanket statement re: a continuing double-standard toward women writers/intellectuals. On the one hand, I can think of several successful, respected female writers who were incredibly nasty people (Patricia Highsmith and Marguerite Duras leap to mind). But is their nastiness made more of than it would be had they been men? Hard to say…

    • amymckie January 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      That is a really great point Emily. I really hadn’t thought of the reaction against her in terms of her own views and writings. She likely would have judge someone else who did some of the same things in a similar way… In railing against the passions how could people but judge her when she showed so much of her own, in a way. She claimed her suicide attempt was completely rational, but I’m not sure that many would agree with such a claim. I’m going to have to think on this one!!

      And I’m not sure either if it is made more of. I think for feminists at least it might be made more of – i.e. they are only so staunchly feminist because they are angry, man-hating, etc and the stereotypes like that. In general it is becoming more even. But even when you look at things like politics – it seems women are judged differently and for things men aren’t judged for still.

  3. dragonflyy419 January 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    I thought that you should look at the Project Gutenberg copy and read A BRIEF SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT at the beginning of the book as this sketch was taken from the memoir you mentioned in your post. It does mention her illegitimate children and her suicide attempts. It also tries and compliments her.

    ‘That there may be no doubt regarding the facts in this sketch, they are taken from a memoir written by her afflicted husband. In addition to many kind things he has said of her, (he was not blinded to imperfections in her character) is, that she was “Lovely in her person, and in the best and most engaging sense feminine in her manners.”‘

    • amymckie January 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Yes dragonflyy419, Wikipedia also mentions that he wrote it out of love and wrote with compassion and sincerity. I really don’t think he had any thought that revealing certain facts would turn people off of her works. I may have to go actually read that now, you have me intrigued 🙂

  4. Emily Jane January 5, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Haha, I love that quote too…and I agree, anyone who would inspire it is someone I want to read!
    I was also surprised to learn that her work was at first received favorably; though less surprised to learn that her memoir wrought such upset. I do think that women’s’ reputations, or personal lifestyles/choices do still affect their intellectual work, though to a lesser degree. For example, I think there’s still tension for women politicians and whether or not they have children or are wives, etc., whereas familial concerns are not really made an issue of for male politicians. Whether that extends to writers and other types of intellectuals, though, I wouldn’t say. Interesting questions, Amy!

    • amymckie January 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm

      Yes, I think it might be less for other intellectuals and writers, but we certainly see it commonly for politicians, and I would say it is still a bigger issue for feminist writers than for other writers. Because they have to face those stereotypes of being angry, man-hating, etc. Thank you Emily Jane 🙂

  5. Violet January 6, 2011 at 5:03 am

    I’m not getting along with Mary Wollstonecraft too well at this point. I’m finding her rather contradictory, dare I say somewhat hypocritical, in that she didn’t exactly practice what she preached. If you read biographical material on Wollstonecraft and hold it up alongside her writing, well, there’s a lot of contradiction between what she said and what she did. In modern parlance, she talked the talk, but didn’t walk the walk.

    I know Vindication was dashed off in six weeks, but it needs a good edit. Also, Wollstonecraft does not appear to believe in the equality of the sexes; she sees them as complementary. I might practise a strange brand of feminism, but one of the basic tenets for me is that men and women are equal; we have equal rights and equal responsibilities. Wollstonecraft seems to be calling on men to lift women out of their subjected state, to educate them, so that they would be better friends and partners. She seems to want to rob women of their autonomy by discounting their sexuality and feelings, and writing about women as if they are over-grown children in need of correction. I think she was referring specifically to the bourgeois, and not to the poor, who had it a whole lot tougher. I think living in poverty, surrounded by filth and disease, was a much worse fate than being trapped in the gilded cage of middle-class privilege.

    As an atheist, all the God talk bothers me as well. Maybe she did have to frame her argument in Christian terms, but I find it hard-going to read. If she truly was a free-thinker she wouldn’t have espoused Christian values.

    I can’t just extract Vindication from the context in which it was written and form any sort of coherent argument about it. Without looking at all the other texts surrounding it and permeating it, and looking at the lives of the people who wrote them, and the political and social milieux in which they were written, I think it’s a bit of an uphill battle to formulate an opinion of this book.

    In response to the question whether women are judged in relation to their personal lives, I seem to remember that Naomi Wolf came in for a lot of criticism when she wrote The Beauty Myth, because here was this drop-dead gorgeous woman everywhere in the media, with the fabulous hair and makeup, talking about how women are judged on appearance. It was just incongruous, and people picked up on that and gave her a hard time over it. Also, there is evidence (in her war-time diaries) that de Beauvoir was instrumental in the formulation of Sarte’s philosophical theories, but she played down her role and cultivated her image as his life-long partner, when in actual fact she was the more brillant philosopher, but hid it. She didn’t want people to know, because it would have been incongruous with what she wrote in The Second Sex.

    • Emily January 7, 2011 at 2:52 am

      Violet, as a fellow atheist I feel you on the religious emphasis. Not that I wasn’t expecting it in an 18th-century British work (since most so-called “free thinkers” in that time & place were still Christian, just a more liberal version of Christian than others), but I still find it annoying/irrelevant at times. Especially when she argues that a point is obviously true because to think otherwise would imply (gasp!) ATHEISM! and I’m left thinking “Well…yeah.” Also agree with you that she glamorizes the poor, or at least glosses over how difficult their lives were.

      It does seem kind of harsh to hold Wollstonecraft to a standard of total consistency vis-a-vis her personal life and her ideas, though – I mean, what philosopher HASN’T had some contradiction between those two? It seems to me that if we waited for a 100% consistent person before we respected them as a philosopher, the philosophy shelves would be mighty empty. I hold certain beliefs about right & wrong but I can certainly name times when I have acted poorly, or in a way not consistent with those beliefs; it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a hypocrite, just that I tried my best and fell off the wagon, you know? (Although Wollstonecraft seems similarly harsh in her judgments towards others, so maybe your criticisms are just giving her a taste of her own medicine!)

    • Madame Curie January 9, 2011 at 2:34 am

      I’m with you on this difficulty in “extract[ing] Vindication from the context in which it was written”. I think if I read another rationale for something being couched as “how God intended it”, I might scream.

      The constant reference to “Mahomet[ism]” is also irritating to the modern reader.

    • amymckie January 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      Great comment Violet, and good point about how her life and writing didn’t really mesh. I get the impression it was written quickly as a response piece with not a whole lot of thought, and perhaps she said what she ought to in some cases more than what she felt? I mean, if women were thought less of for being passionate she would want to appear to agree? I don’t know. I think the contradiction is there in all of us to a certain extent though.

      And as to the god arguments, yes, frustrating to a modern reader. At the time, though, it would have been the only way she say it as being able to get her point across I would imagine. People said women’s place was in the home and not to be educated because the bible says so, so she would of course use similar arguments to try to have them understand, perhaps?

  6. SilverSeason January 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    This project has all my feminist juices flowing! I have just posted on Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age (the 1870’s). This novel is usually read as a political document, but tied into its several plot lines are 19th century feminist issues: independence for women, the dangers of a aggressive woman. You can see my post at http://silverseason.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/mark-twain-the-gilded-age/.

    I sympathize with Violet’s concerns, whereby Wollstonecraft advocates “reason” but certainly didn’t live by reason alone. She was, I think, relating to the Enlightenment belief that reason could solve all, while “the passions” are dangerous. Values — what we perceive as good or bad — are assumed to come from God. I get past all that by looking at her righteous anger, which she tries to conceal, but can’t.

    • amymckie January 30, 2011 at 5:26 pm

      Yes, she had some great righteous anger didn’t she – I loved her passion, even as she argues that it is bad! I think though it is really just one type of passion she argues against perhaps.

  7. Erika January 6, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    I just heard about this project from the Geek Feminism Blog. This is really cool! What an awesome idea! Thank you!

  8. Violet January 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Emily: You make a good point about my being a bit harsh on Wollstonecraft by expecting her to hold to a standard of consistency. However, I do believe that people should practise in private what they espouse in public, and when people don’t I hold them accountable for their inconsistency. I think it is hypocritical to say one thing but do another. But I do get your point about us all being fallible.

    SilverSeason: Wollstonecraft was searingly angry, that’s for sure! I have a problem with the fiction that atheists have no values. I realise that MW was a product of her time, but she does play the God card rather a lot. I think that maybe Vindication was MW trying to work out her own stuff, in a way. Advocating reason over passion, because look where passion had taken her? She was a most passionate woman, and maybe she was afraid of that side of herself. Rousseau was another who failed to practise what he preached. I think they were all standing on soapboxes, yelling at the top of their lungs, trying to convince themselves as much as anybody else. 🙂

    • Iris January 9, 2011 at 11:10 am

      I am currently questioning if we are looking at this in a completely wrong context. Is it possible that she is arguing her point in a certain way, because it was the only way of getting heard at that time? (ie. women becoming more like men, God getting such a significant place because it would be outrageous for a woman to argue within any other context, the whole pamphlet style). And maybe she was more busy reacting to Rousseau and Burke than formulating her own argument?

      These are just questions, because I am very much struggling with the text myself.

    • amymckie January 30, 2011 at 5:27 pm

      That is what I think Iris, she felt it was her only way of getting her point across. I feel if she wrote Vindications today it would be argued in a completely different way. I understand your points though too Violet, it is frustrating!

  9. Tronella January 8, 2011 at 2:15 am

    Hello! I found this blog via The F-Word, and after reading Vindication I wrote down some (probably somewhat incoherent) thoughts on my livejournal here. Thanks for pushing me to read it!

  10. maggie January 8, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I came here from Geek Feminist Blog too, and I have a bunch of links to free book sites, that you could add!


    And most awesomely:

  11. dragonflyy419 January 8, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    As I have begun to make my way through this book – which has been going slowly as every other sentence I stop and read aloud to my husband and then we have a long discussion on it – I can see why the criticism on this book increased after her memoirs were released. Wollstonecraft spends much of her time scolding women on their childlike behavior. Though I am sure she did not mean to behave in a way that contradicts what she was preaching, her own behavior in her personal life could appear to be hypocritical and similar to the faults she keeps espousing in females. I think even in modern society you can get berated for not “practicing what you preach.”

    Personally like Violet, I am having a difficult time with this book. I find the constant discussion of women being ignorant children and her desire for them to be both equal to men in rationality but also to maintain a proper weakness (or this is how I perceive it) really hard to sympathize with.

    Another thing I noticed was in her introduction. It was her statement that she wasn’t going to use “flowery” diction, but then everything I have read so far has seemed really wordy. This may just be a consequence of the time it was written, but to me it acts as another contradiction.

    I’m still working my way through the book and am having some really great verbal discussions on what she says, but at the same time I am finding it to be a hard book to get through. For those leading the discussion, I would love to see what the positive notes you felt about this book were. I seem to keep getting stuck on the harsh way she talks about women and the excessive diction.

    • Iris January 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

      I hope we shall get around to mentioning more positive notes. I myself am struggling a lot with the book, so I cannot help you much at the moment, but we will certainly look into it.

    • amymckie January 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

      A lot to struggle with in the book dragonflyy419 – I admit to not getting far in it this month unfortunately. You are right though that her arguments don’t fully match up to her life – but I wonder if she is more trying to point what women should be but realizes she’s not perfect? I mean, I can say we should all eat healthier but yet find it hard to do so myself, especially when the options presented to me make it harder to do so. Does she have to be perfect to argue that women are trapped currently? I forget – does she ever say she is ideal? Hmm… I hadn’t thought of this line yet!

  12. Jillian January 9, 2011 at 12:13 am

    Thanks for adding my links — and congrats on the F-word mention! 🙂

  13. Madame Curie January 9, 2011 at 2:50 am

    I am about 20% through the novel at present. I will agree with some of the other commenters that I am not enamored by Wollstonecraft. For me, the annoyance is that she seems to have an inherent belief in gender essentialism; indeed, early in the book she states,

    In the government of the physical world, it is observable that the female, in general, is inferior to the male. The male pursues, the female yields – this is the law of nature; it does not appear to be suspended or abrograted in favour of woman. This physical superiority cannot be denied – and it is a noble prerogative!

    Later, she goes on to side with men, that women should not be “hunt, shoot, or gamble”. Given that “hunting” generally was synonymous at the time with “horseriding,” it seems odd that she would argue against women seeking to maximize what physical gifts they had.

    At another point, she states that such “masculine” women likely were “MALE spirits” in a female body.

    When I started reading book, I had no reference to her personal life. I will admit that I actually find her life and pursuit of happiness outside the cultural norms of marriage and monogamy to be more interesting and feminist than some of her ideas espoused in Vindication. However, taken at the time in which it is written, and the intended audience (upper-class ladies in Britain), I can see how the book would have created a stir. I place this book in my mind alongside such drawing-room romances as Jane Austen’s, and I can see where there would be a need to stress against the extremes associated with being a “fascinating woman” rather than a woman of reason.

    Do you think reputation and life still matters as much for women in terms of their intellectual achievements? Would women’s works today be dismissed after details of their personal lives came out? I immediately think of J.K. Rowling and the drama that surrounded her when it came out that she was a single mother – she had had a child out of wedlock! And was divorced! I really just can’t imagine anyone doing an ad hominem attack on a male author for living unmarried with a woman.

    • Iris January 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

      Regarding your last answer, I wonder if it makes a difference where you are from what kind of reputation is thought important. For example, your mention of the controversy surrounding the “she had a child out of wedlock” “she is a single mother” was actually the first I heard of it. I don’t think that is considered “shocking” in the Netherlands. However, that does not mean that reputation is I think still very much an issue for women everywhere, more so than for men.

      • Kate January 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm

        I wholeheartedly agree, Iris. America is notoriously Victorian/Puritan in its culture. I think the difference between men and women in terms of the importance of “reputation” should be considered more as a function of degree than of type.

        • amymckie January 30, 2011 at 5:34 pm

          Interesting point about JK Rowling Madame Currie – I do remember that drama being semi big here in Canada as well. And yes, I find her real life much more fascinating than Vindications, but I do think it was a product of the times that she argued as she did, perhaps. Love the comment.

  14. Madame Curie January 9, 2011 at 2:52 am

    Darn it, my tags got all messed up. I meant to close the blockquote after “and it is a noble prerogative”. If someone could fix that, or tell me how I can fix it, I would be grateful.

  15. Pingback: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: the first few chapters | Iris on Books

  16. Emily January 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    My thoughts on Wollstonecraft are here.

    In contrast to some other commenters, I really liked Mary Wollstonecraft the person, even as I understand many of the critiques being leveled against her here. She’s human and inconsistent, and her philosophy doesn’t always reflect mine, but considering her time and place I was very impressed with her arguments – and somewhat rueful at how many of them still seemed relevant to my own life, particularly the stuff about how women are socialized always to think of how they appear to men, rather than how we honestly feel or think.

    • amymckie January 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      Yes, that is the way that I read it and her as well Emily. Her failings are the same as any of ours really. I find it hard to judge her knowing how inconsistent that I can be! So glad you enjoyed it and still found it relevant in some ways.

  17. Patti Smith January 9, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    I think that some of the inconsistencies with MW’s actions and writing are quite possibly due to her own struggles…I have only completed the introduction so far and had to take it quite slow and re-read portions just to make sure I was following what I think she’s trying to say. I read her comments to women about acting like children as her way of telling women that while they are treated differently by men and society as a whole, they also to some extent perpetuate this treatment by accepting…even expect it and enjoy it…the whole swooning and fainting bit so the big strong man can rescue you comes to mind here. I didn’t think she was saying this to all women and quite sure that she was definitely giving wealthy women a pretty good tongue lashing. I think some women today are still guilty of this kind of behavior. As difficult as it is to get a male dominated society to listen to new ideas about the treatment of women, to have a group of women (especially those with nothing but leisure time to bat their eyes at men) contradicting what feminists were and still are trying to say makes the movement that much more difficult.
    As for those inconsistencies again, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to be a “feminist” during a time when it was difficult to be a feminist…I’m not sure any of us can completely understand that…sure, MW wanted to live a different life, but her “self” would still be somewhat wrapped up in the culture, societal norms in which she lived. Intellectually and psychologically I would think that it would almost feel like schizophrenia sometimes.
    Those are just my initial thoughts…I may change my mind as we keep reading…I’m loving this project already though and learning so much from all of you!!

  18. Emily Jane January 10, 2011 at 3:40 am

    Like many of you, I’m also struggling with this text and with my reactions to it. There are many things I disagree with her about, mostly on points which have been raised already: the fact that she doesn’t actually seem to believe in equality of the sexes, just that the natural inequality of them is being exaggerated and shouldn’t be; her tendency to invoke God as the natural and inevitable source of her conclusions, etc.; and I find her writing hard to follow. But after reading Emily’s thoughts on her personal blog (which she linked above, and which I recommend reading), I think a lot of what leaves me feeling cold is the whole enlightenment ideology of reason and rationality in general. It doesn’t leave much room for the many complexities of human feeling. I think this is why it doesn’t really bother me that she didn’t “walk the walk” she preached, as Violet points out, in her real life–what she preached didn’t sound so great! I do understand feeling bothered by individuals whose actions directly contradict their words and stated aspirations, of course, but at the same time, I don’t think a person’s hypocritical actions should necessarily denigrate the content of their intellectual work.

    And this book was necessary. It may not have gone far enough, and certainly doesn’t stand up to contemporary feminist standards in a lot of ways, but it was important–and NOT a given–that women be considered active participants of the enlightenment movement, which is so integral to the philosophical foundation of modern western society. A small step toward progress it may seem in retrospect, but a BIG one at the time. Wollstonecraft’s thought is completely steeped in the logic and cultural context of where and when she was writing; to me, this is what makes it both interesting and limited. A lot of what she says is clearly dated, but interesting from a historical perspective at least. I would not that as a positive, for me, dragonfly: to read what was considered “feminist” (not a word that would have been used at this point, but I’m not sure what to replace it with) at this crucial point in western intellectual history; which issues surrounding gender inequality were the first to be challenged in this context and why, letting the ones that WEREN’T challenged point toward what’s to come a bit farther down the road. And I agree, again, with Emily–a lot of what she says about how women are socialized to cater their appearance and behavior to men, instead of in accordance with their own preference, IS, in fact, still relevant. As is her central assertion that the betterment of women makes for the betterment of society in general.

    So, it’s been hard, for me, but not all bad. I fear that I’m beginning to ramble in a confusing manner much like Ms. Wollstonecraft herself, so I’ll wrap it up here…I hope that everyone else struggling with this book finds something to make it a worthwhile battle!

    • Snowball January 20, 2011 at 8:32 am

      You said what I wanted to say but couldn’t put into words. I would only add that I ran across a quote today by Louis Menand, that I think is pertinent:

      “The Feminine Mystique” did not recommend that women pursue full-time careers, or that they demand their legal rights. It only advised women to be prepared for life after the children left home. “The Silent Spring” did not call for a ban on pesticides. It only suggested that their use be regulated. These are books whose significance exceeds anything they actually said. For many people, it doesn’t even matter what they said or why they were written. What matters is that, when the world turned, they were there.

      Her voice was not perfect, but it was truly important to all that came after.

  19. Madame Curie January 10, 2011 at 3:49 am

    Is there anyone who is reading Vindication who is well-versed in what Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy was? I read through the website for Rousseau on Wikipedia, which helped somewhat. However, I have not read Emile. I am feeling as though my lack of knowledge about some of the individuals Wollstonecraft is mentioning may be hindering my full understanding of Wollstonecraft’s argument.

    • Emily Jane January 10, 2011 at 5:59 am

      No! I feel the same knowledge gap :/

    • annajcook January 10, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      I have some background and as I get further into the text I’ll see if I can marshal some of what I know to try and help y’all out. In a nutshell, he was very romantic about man’s “natural” state (and he meant MAN) and the importance of boys developing without the evil influence of culture (“civilization”) to interfere with their “natural” development. Once a young man had attained sufficient years, he was then introduced to society and the concept of a social contract between individuals (ideally, those who had also grown up unimpeded by “civilized” ideas).

      Women were definitely an afterthought of Rousseau and his ideas about heterosexuality and marriage were … not about equality, as Wollstonecraft bitingly points out. Rousseau adopted two young women at one point and attempted to raise them according to his philosophy, an experiment which failed disasterously. MW would have known about all of this as R’s contemporary.

      The key is to watch for how she constrasts her ideas of “reason” with Rousseau, who emphasized feelings and man’s physical experience. She is trying to distance her understanding of humanity from the physical and emotional, and emphasizing mental development and rationality.

      • SilverSeason January 12, 2011 at 12:32 pm

        Thank you for your explanation of Rousseau which is helpful. I read The Social Contract some time ago and what I chiefly remember is that Rousseau bases a lot of his arguments on a concept of a “state of nature” which somehow precedes all government and social arrangements. Each individual can make an agreement with other individuals about how they are all going to get along — the basis for government. My difficulty with this is that man (and this man includes woman) is a social animal and could not survive without some social arrangements or structure. Even Rousseau must have had a mother.

        The relevance of the Social Contract to feminism is that Rousseau assumes the decision to make a social contract is a male decision. Women are included in the deal, but as participants, not deciders. In other words it the same old “women as property,” thinly disguised.

  20. Pingback: Book #26: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft « A Room of One's Own

  21. Violet January 10, 2011 at 5:15 am

    My little rant on Vindication and why I could not finish it.
    I hope everyone else battles on through and appreciates the work, but I admit to a big fail. The fact that Wollstonecraft bases her argument on the existence of God is the deal-breaker for me. I don’t believe there is a God, so her argument is specious. I just can’t be bothered trying to understand her reasoning, because her God keeps getting in my way, and I have other books to read. 🙂

  22. annajcook January 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Here is a good overview of Rousseau’s views on human nature and education, for those who were expressing a lack of background knowledge.

  23. dragonflyy419 January 10, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    I wrote a blog about the first few chapters I read and a better answer to the discussion questions above …

  24. Pingback: » Feminist Classics Book Club Gender Focus

  25. Shelley January 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    As someone whose work centers on two strong women characters surviving the worst U.S. economic disaster, I just want to say that all of us who write in this century owe a huge debt to those valiant women who survived the 18th and 19th centuries!

    I don’t know how they kept their sanity.

  26. nymeth January 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Here are my own two cents. Like Emily I quite liked Wollstonecraft as a person, though I appreciate the many problematic points everyone has been discussing here and elsewhere. Your thoughts and comments got me thinking about the book in ways I might not have otherwise, which was exactly the sort of reading experiences I was hoping this project would be all about.

  27. dragonflyy419 January 14, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Did anyone notice the following quote when they read Wollstonecraft …

    “I lament that women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions, which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, they are insultingly supporting their own superiority. It is not condescension to bow to an inferior. So ludicrous, in fact, do these ceremonies appear to me, that I scarcely am able to govern my muscles, when I see a man start with eager, and serious solicitude, to lift a handkerchief, or shut a door, when the lady could have done it herself, had she only moved a pace or two.”

    It made me laugh a little and think of the modern issues we have with male chivalry … do you or don’t you let a man hold the door open for you etc. I don’t know why this stuck out to me, but I started thinking about this woman writing this in the 18th century feeling degraded by men doing those little things for women that they still do for us today in the 21st century and it made me stop and read it over again because it still resonates in the modern era. I know it is small and insignificant in comparison to her over all ideals, but it stood out to me.

  28. LonerGrrrl January 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Hi everyone, this is my second reading of Vindication and I think it’s an excellent choice to kick this off with. I’m hoping to get a blog with my own thoughts on the text published soon, but in the meantime I’ll chip in here with some thoughts in response to those raised above.

    I also find Vindication a difficult text, her language can be quite covulated and she does repeat herself a lot, if she had been a bit more concise I’m sure that would have made for an easier read.

    I share Emily Jane’s view that her emphasis on reason at the expense of acknowledging the role human emotions play is problematic. I fully embrace Wollstonecraft’s view that women should be encouraged to expand their minds and increase their knowledge, but I don’t advocate a strict dichotomy between reason and emotion. Actually, as a feminist I find that a problematic dichotomy to uphold. The celebration of reason above emotion is also a celebration of the masculine over the feminine, which could be read implicitly in Wollstonecraft’s arguments. I think there’s a place for passion and emotion to sit alongside ‘reason’ and that the two can benefit from going hand in hand with eachother, towards a merging of the masculine and feminine, rather than the exaltation of one over the other. For example, when it comes to theoretical and political writing, I always prefer it when a bit of the writer’s own feelings and experience comes through, I think it lends some extra heart and substance to the argument they are making. Though ironically enough, Wollstonecraft does seem to give vent to her passionate feelings on the subject of women’s inequality in the Vindication despite her claims for rationality over excessive emotion! My version of the text has the introduction by Miriam Brody and she makes the interesting point that in this sense the Vindication is a contradictory text – its content advocating one thing (reason) whilst the form it takes (lively language, arguments going off on tangents) belies the passions, and indeed, ‘femaleness’ of its writer. Wollstonecraft may have took umbrage at this, but I think this is just another of the things which makes Vindication such an interesting text to study from within a contemporary feminist context.

    And yes, Dragonfly419 that passage also resonated with me too! Just recently at work an older male colleague made a point of helping me carry a heavy box of papers (which wasn’t all that heavy, I could manage it myself) and it was clear he was doing it out of the need to shore up his own chivalorous masculinity, and I too felt a jerk of the muscles in response!

    • nymeth January 16, 2011 at 10:24 am

      My edition also had the Miriam Brody introduction, and I found it excellent. Her point about how Wollstonecraft might have been suppressing her passionate/emotional side in order to stand a chance of being taken seriously as a woman writer in a world that demanded this really spoke to me.

      I very much agree with you that the dichotomy between reason and emotion is both false and problematic, but to me it seems equally problematic to equate this to a celebration of the masculine over the feminine. What she seemed to me to be suggesting (and what I personally believe as a feminist) is that these qualities aren’t gendered, but simply human. We do of course live in a world with a long history of equating the rational to the masculine and holding it above the emotional or feminine, and this can’t be disregarded. But one of the things I admire her the most for is attempting to break with this association altogether.

  29. Elizabeth January 18, 2011 at 1:51 am

    I’m so glad to have read this with a group, especially as I also struggled with the text. It has been so interesting to read others’ posts about it as I’ve learned more than I would have reading it alone. Here is my (brief) post about Vindication: http://beyondthebrush.blogspot.com/2011/01/vindication-of-rights-of-woman.html

  30. dragonflyy419 January 18, 2011 at 5:01 am

    “The outbreak of revolution in France expressed some of her deepest theories and convictions and she dashed off in the heat of that extraordinary moment those two eloquent and daring books — the Reply to Burke and the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which are so true that they seem now to contain nothing new in them – their originality has become our commonplace” – Virginia Woolf

    This is a great biography of Mary Wollstonecraft written by Virginia Woolf – http://www.martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/wollstonecraft.html#Woolf

    I just finished reading this book and I must say that though it began with a dislike, I grew to love it. I think as the book continued along her arguments became more coherent and easier to follow and her passion became more noticeable. Perhaps in the first few chapters where I was initially stuck, Wollstonecraft was still gaining momentum. Did anyone else notice this or was this just me?

    I plan on writing a blog soon :).

  31. Iris January 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Here is my post on the book. Like dragonflyy I found the rest of the book, once I was through the first 3 chapters, much easier to read.

  32. LonerGrrrl January 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Dragonflyy419 – thanks ever so much for posting that link to V. Woolf’s piece on M. Wollstonecraft. I’m a huge fan of Woolf so this is a brilliant find!

  33. dangermom January 19, 2011 at 12:36 am

    I’m nearly done with the book but haven’t gotten here to put in my opinion, sorry about that.

    She certainly doesn’t think much of Rousseau, and I’d bet that’s why she’s so big on reason. Rousseau was all about the emotion and the romanticism; I should think that she reacted by trying to stay on the reason/enlightenment side. She herself was obviously very passionate, and perhaps *too* given to living by emotion(?)–maybe she’s trying to find a better way. I too keep running into the contrast between her book and her life, and I’m starting to wonder if she isn’t speaking out of the depths of experience.

    Perhaps I’m one of the few who doesn’t mind the constant invocation of God. I think she’s bringing religion into it more often than most writers of the time would have done. She belonged with a more radical, outspoken group of Christians than was usual and most people, I think, would have kept their religion more to themselves. So I find that a very interesting element of her book, that she’s insisting that we should look at first principles and trying to put the ultimate stamp of authority on her opinions.

    I know several have complained about the flowery language, but I think she really was trying to simplify; read Samuel Johnson, it’s almost unintelligible to us.

    One of my favorite bits has been from chapter 8: “The two sexes mutually corrupt and improve each other.” I like her ideal that if women were more educated, and men were more chaste, both would be happier and would be able to support each other in partnership.

  34. Pingback: » Feminist Book Club: Vindication of the Rights of Woman Gender Focus – A Canadian Feminist Blog

  35. Pingback: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft « Booked All Week

  36. Vicki January 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Hello all,

    Thanks for all the contributions above – this is my first ‘social reading’ experience and I’m enjoying getting everyone else’s viewpoints.

    I’m only about 20% of the way through the book, but I think I’ve enjoyed that first 20% more than many here. I wonder if I’ve just interpreted Wollstonecraft differently (that’s not to say more correctly, of course)? I’ve read this as being very much addressed to women. I think much of her tone when saying that women should display ‘weakness’ can be read as deliberate sarcasm – and I love that idea because it would have been so revolutionary at the time. I know ‘Room of One’s Own’ is coming up later in the year and one of the sections from that which always stuck with me was Woolf’s discussion of just how unusual it was to have female authors like Austen and Bronte using humour, precisely because it wasn’t considered a feminine ability. I hear a lot of mocking humour and irony in Wollstonecraft’s tone, and I think that has given me a different interpretation.

    I’ve also relished the idea (again, I might be wrong) that she was writing primarily for women. I assume this was extremely unusual at the time – that to take that position was in itself an incredibly daring stance, which would have only fuelled the antagonistic response. But presumably in the late 18th Century, female writers of any sort were unusual, let alone ones who tried to change women’s view of themselves. And yes, I agree that many women today could do with challenging their own assumptions about their gender drastically. Just recently my heart sank when I heard a woman say (while struggling with a mobile phone): “It’s women and technology. We shouldn’t be allowed.”)

    I could (and maybe will) write much more, but these are some initial thoughts. However I wouldn’t lay claim to great education in either history or feminism (hey, that’s why I’m here!) so maybe I’ve been on entirely the wrong tack? Or maybe I should read the rest of the book first!

    • dragonflyy419 January 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm

      I can totally see her scolding on women as sarcasm. I can hear a little bit of that, but I think she was also righteously angry at the petty nature of the women during her time. Or that is what I read in it.

      I do wonder who she was writing this to, was her primary audience women? Vicki, now you have me thinking and really pondering this question. Sometimes I think yes, sometimes no. When she starts really critiquing the philosophers’ of her time, namely Rousseau, I feel like she is addressing a male audience. When she brings up the military and government, I feel like she is addressing a male audience. BUT when she starts talking about love, preoccupation with dress, marriage, family, and education then I start thinking perhaps she’s addressing women directly. Maybe she was trying to be all inclusive, but knew that initially with a publication like this that her primary readers were inevitably going to be male? I was thinking on my own thoughts of her initial wordiness and another person’s comments on this. I think she was trying to write as much as possible to include as many examples and as much persuasive evidence as she could in this one document. I would imagine that doing that would be primarily for a male audience?

      Thanks for making me think on these questions some Vicki …

      • dangermom January 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm

        That is a really interesting question that I had not thought much about. I think she was hoping to reach a lot of women, but was certainly including men in the package. I do agree that she’s using a lot of sarcasm; it’s not that she thinks women are incapable, it’s that she’s really angry that they are capable but limited by lack of education and the social box they live in.

  37. Vicki January 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Oh rats, sorry about the poor html – that was just meant to be ‘to’ in bold. Technology and women eh? 😉

  38. Margot January 27, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    I finally finished wading through Mary Wollstonecraft’s difficult (for me) text. I admire her spirit and her incitefulness for the time period. I’m glad her work has survived. Here’s my post on the book:


  39. Nymeth January 28, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I decided to follow up Vindication with Claire Tomalin’s bio of Wollstonecraft – here are my thoughts if anyone’s curious!

  40. Pingback: Wrap-Up: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman « A Year of Feminist Classics

  41. Pingback: A Year of Feminist Classics Month 1 Wrap-Up « Amy Reads

  42. tucker92 February 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    This was a really interesting post, thanks for sharing! It helped me alot with my current work on my University Journalism course.

    I’ve been studying Wollstonecraft recently and would be grateful if you could have a quick look at my thoughts on her ‘Vindication of..’ passage.


    Thanks again,

  43. Pingback: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft | Maple & a Quill

  44. Pingback: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft | Journal of a Lit Student

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