Wollstonecraft, Mary (1759–97)
Mary Wollstonecraft was, and is, best known as the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). She was an active member of the radical circle of intellectuals centred around the publisher Joseph Johnson’s bookshop (which included at various times, Richard Price, Joseph Priestley, Home Tooke, Tom Paine, Godwin, Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge). In many ways, the Vindication extends the radical arguments of that group to the cause of women and shows that ‘the rights of men’ necessarily include the rights of women. Wollstonecraft’s book can therefore be seen as offering a critique of the radical movement in its own terms: although her political thought is grounded in an admiration of Rousseau’s egalitarian politics, one of the main targets of the Vindication is the discussion of women in Emile (1762). Wollstonecraft sets out to disprove the contemporary view that women were ‘naturally’ weak, vain and frivolous by pointing out that society systematically educates and conditions them to be so. She turns against itself Rousseau’s argument — which was shared by conservatives who would have repudiated his egalitarian politics — that women would lose their ‘power’ over men if they became more rational and robust: ‘This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves’ (Vindication, p. 154).
KeywordsFemale Manner French Revolution Political Thought Economic Independence Radical Argument
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