Review Of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman

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Mary Wollstonecraft’s book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was written as a response to the proposed state-supported system of public education that would, according to Mary Wollstonecraft, allow women “to remain in ignorance, and slavish dependence” (Wollstonecraft 309). This is a strong statement made by an empowered woman against a proposal, introduced by the French minister of education that would only seek to educate women to be “pleasing” partners to men.1 It was in the context of the French Revolution that Mary Wollstonecraft proposed a solution to what she saw as a growing concern for the “conduct and manners” of her “fellow creatures.” She sought to put an end to a “false system of education” and extend to women the same …show more content…
Vindication was described as “an elaborate treatise of female education” and a work of philosophy. William Enfield wrote in the Monthly Review that Vindication was evidence that “women are no less capable of instructing than of pleasing” (Taylor 27). According to Barbara Taylor, the radical press was “most enthusiastic” and embraced the book, while more conservative journals managed to “ignore or understate her [Wollstonecraft’s] challenge to men’s authority” (27). However as England and France moved closer to war, criticism of Wollstonecraft’s “philosophical treatise on education” became harsh. As Barbara Taylor points out “philosophy had become a synonym for revolutionary zealotry” (28). Mary Wollstonecraft was referred to by critics, such as Horace Walpole and Richard Polwhele, as a “hyena in petticoats” and an “unsexed female” (Johnson 1). Additionally, William Godwin, Wollstonecraft’s husband, published a memoir of her life that was meant to reflect his deep affection for her, but ultimately further destroyed her reputation for many years. Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Memoirs) exposed Mary Wollstonecraft as the imperfect, vulnerable human she was. Much of her controversial life that had been kept private was at once public. To the critics who had been hard on her before Godwin’s Memoirs were published she was an example of how “adhering to the ‘new order’” could bring “pernicious consequences” to society (Janes 298). Others who had been supportive of Wollstonecraft’s ideas moved away from her writings so as not to be associated with her ideology. Although, as Anne Mellor pointed out, many women writers did not want to be “tarred with the blackened brush of Wollstonecraft’s reputation,” they continued to advocate many of her ideas

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