Preparations for Happiness: Mary Wollstonecraft and Imagination

  • John Whale


There is an obvious clash between reason and emotion in the works of Wollstonecraft. She looks like an exponent of Enlightenment reason struggling to control her surges of Romantic sensibility. There is much to this story of conflict between reason and emotion. Cora Kaplan has drawn attention to Wollstonecraft’s puritanical suppression of sexuality in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and to the illicit Gothic pleasure that haunts the text. Frequently, the construction of Wollstonecraft as an early feminist has been possible only by assuming the antithetical relationship between reason and feeling in her work. I hope to show that the connection between these two is equally important. Wollstonecraft does not just suppress fantasy in her work, she also writes her own version of it in the form of deferred spiritual ecstasy. Much of her writing consists of an attempt to reconstruct the prevailing hierarchy of emotions and feelings in line with a moralistic code of conduct and a perfectibilist optimism in the progress of civilisation. As one would expect from a writer on education well schooled in women’s conduct literature, the moral discourses of Wollstonecraft’s prose present models of behaviour based on the union of affective and rationalistic qualities. To avoid this configuration of moral discourses is to play down the spiritual impact of Wollstonecraft’s work and to miss important connections in her contradictory combination of Enlightenment radicalism and agonised Romantic sensibility.


French Revolution Moral Discourse Moral Progress Ideal Delusion Creative Genius 
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Works cited

  1. Kaplan, Cora, Sea Changes (London: Verso, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. Wollstonecraft, Mary, The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft., 7 vols, ed. Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1989).Google Scholar
  3. Wollstonecraft, Mary, Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft, ed. Ralph M. Wardle (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1979).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Whale

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