Mary Wollstonecraft: The First Feminist Writer

This week, I began studying feminism as part of my course at university. Therefore I decided that some research into feminist writers would be a good place to start, and because of my recent love affair with In Our Time, decided that these programs would be particularly useful. Therefore I treated them as lectures, taking notes as I listened. It was thoroughly enjoyable experience!

Courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00pg5dr.

By the time of writing, the Vindication of the Rights of Woman represents a very sophisticated level of her abilities. It is not however a straightforward proposal for women’s rights, especially in terms of property and politics, however they are implicit in that if women were re-educated and society reshaped, then these rights would become a part of the ‘new woman’. She writes primarily about middle class women. Women tended to accept the ascribed social position; Wollstonecraft tries to think her way out of this, to find a way that a woman can perform a civic role in society and be more educated.

As the political climate changed, the book’s understanding changed. Much of the book however was not ‘anti-man’. Women are actually attacked; they are put in gilded cages, and value beauty over intellectualism, and Wollstonecraft believes that these women should refrain from modelling their aspirations on flimsy novels and instead, embrace their minds.

Wollstonecraft often struggled with her own sexuality and sensuality. She believed that there was a right and wrong kind of femininity; women should be human first, and feminine afterwards. The power that comes from beauty is a false kind of power and should only really be used within the context of a relationship; not within the public arena. She perceived love as an obstacle for rational thinking. Wollstonecraft was probably a virgin at the time of writing of the vindication.

There is however a very powerful theme of love in the book; the love of God. Sexual passion in any relationship should not last long; friendship is the basis of a long-term and successful relationship. When Wollstonecraft arrived in Paris, the revolution was in full swing, and she places herself in a perilous position by writing an early history of the revolution. The Vindication does not dwell on political rights of women, however Wollstonecraft does attack political rights in her piece on the French revolution, and so she can be viewed as a political activist in a certain sense. Eventually however she became alienated by the ideology of the revolution.

Mary Wollstonecraft theorised motherhood as a fundamental element of the role of women. Godwin reveals much about Wollstonecraft after her death, detailing everything from her suicide attempts to her illegitimate child; people were alienated by this revelation. Her unfinished book also was far more radical than her previous works, and alienated her erstwhile followers. She became more important in the post Woolf era, becoming a foundational figure in the underground feminist movement, and was influenced by her husband in terms of his left-wing communist beliefs; this certainly would have broadened her mind politically.

Thank you to Radio Four for the programme and all its associated content.

(:

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4 thoughts on “Mary Wollstonecraft: The First Feminist Writer

    • It looks amazing but I’m awhile away from London at the moment. I do enjoy historical walks and wanders around museums though, so maybe I’ll get to do some more over Christmas. Hopefully they’ll give me some more stuff to write about.
      Thanks for reading!
      Sarah (:

  1. You chose a good day to cover Wollstonecraft — she was beamed onto the Houses of Parliament yesterday, to drum up support for Mary on the Green, the campaign to get her a statue. (The website here has glorious photos.)

    I have heard the In Our Time programme, and in fact Melvyn Bragg is something of a fan of hers; just see his recent Twelve Books that Changed the World, of which her second Vindication was one. I run a blog devoted to Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Mary. Perhaps I could share this wonderfully detailed post of yours there?

    • I’d be happy to share the post with you! I’m really glad you liked reading it at least. I definitely think she should be allowed a statue, especially considering the role she played in the early feminist years. Feel free to use the post, and I will read much more of your blog in the future! Thanks for reading, come back soon!
      Sarah (:

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