Welcome to our Year of Feminist Classics project. We begin today with A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft.
I read A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in March 2010 and thought it was a fantastic book. I wrote a short review of it here. At the time I thought it was a book with a lot in it to discuss and contemplate and so am very happy that we are starting with it for our project. The text is considered the first document of feminism by many, so what better one to start with?
I apologize that this month may be a little less structured than the ones to come. I am still figuring out how best to do this. I have a degree in business and mathematics, so don’t feel like you need any grounding in literary theory or criticism to join in with us – these discussions will be for anyone who is a fan of the written word!
This month, if you recall from our reading list, we are also reading Mariama Bâ‘s So Long a Letter. As it is a much shorter text (and I forgot that I had lent my copy to a friend!) I thought we would start looking at it in the second half of the month.
An Introduction to the Text
Image from Wikipedia of the First American Edition of the book.
The book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, calls for women to have greater autonomy and a greater role in their lives. It specifically attacked the double standard that was exhibited and legislated in Europe. It was well received when it was published, and it wasn’t until later that the author and her works fell into disrepute (see the biography below). The book was as a direct response to current events with a second volume planned. Unfortunately the author died before a second volume could be written – just think of how fascinating that could have been!
Many have said that Wollstonecraft isn’t a feminist and didn’t consider herself a feminist. Her ideas are clearly not the feminist ideas that we have today. To that I point out that history is always progressing. As one of the earliest advocates in writing of equality and removing the sexual double standard, Wollstonecraft was clearly working toward the feminist ideas we hold today. If it were not for her and others like her, we wouldn’t have the ideas that we have today. I look forward to discussing this in more detail through the month.
My version is the Broadview Press Anthology which includes a few introductions, a chronology of the author’s life, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and a number of appendices that include additional information about the revolution, the education debate, and reviews. I’m a little bit geeked out by it all!
Whatever version you have, through the next few weeks we will be reading it and I will be coming up with some discussion questions. If you have any questions or comments that you would like to be part of the discussion send us an email at feministclassics[at]gmail[dot]com.
A Quick Biography of the Author
Image from Wikipedia of the author.
Mary Wollstonecraft was born on April 27th, 1759 in London. Her biography on Wikipedia is fascinating reading and I highly suggest checking it out. She was always had a strong woman and protected her mother, sisters, and friends growing up. She convinced her sister to leave her husband, they and a friend set up a school together, she worked as a governess for some time, until eventually embarking upon a career as a writer. Wollstonecraft translated a number of texts as well as writing her own. The most famous of these is A Vindication of the Rights of Women (in 1792) which was written shortly after she wrote Vindication of the Rights of Man in response to the French revolution in 1790.
After writing the book Wollstonecraft went to France to try living out her ideas. While there she fell in love with Gilbert Imlay and ended up having his child. She was registered as his wife to avoid being put in danger after Britain declared war on France in 1793. Despite this they were never actually married and he showed no interest in marriage or their child. Over the next few years she tried to kill herself twice (in 1795 and 1796) in response to her situation supporting herself and her child alone.
Eventually Wollstonecraft got back in to writing in London and met William Goodwin who fell in love with her and they were eventually married after she again became pregnant in 1797. They lived in separate houses to retain their independence and appeared to have a very happy relationship. She died on September 10, 1797 due to complications resulting from childbirth.
After her death Goodwin was devastated and wrote a memoir of her which laid bare her illegitimate child, love affairs and suicide attempts which of course, given the time, resulted in her reputation being torn to shreds and her writing seemed to lose credibility. Her work was then tied with her person, and she was vilified through the years until finally the early feminists in America revived her legacy beginning in 1884. New biographies have come out numerous times since coinciding with new feminist thought.
I hope that many of you will join with us in reading and discussing this text. I look forward to hearing your opinions and thoughts on it. Again, if you have any contributions in terms of discussion points, questions, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to email us at feministclassics[at]gmail[dot]com.