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Mon Sep 10, 2012, 06:43 PM

mary wollstonecraft--a vindication of the rights of women

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (play /ˈwʊlstən.krɑːft/; 27 April 1759 10 September 1797) was an eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.

Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships, received more attention than her writing. After two ill-fated affairs, with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay (by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay), Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement. Wollstonecraft died at the age of thirty-eight, ten days after giving birth to her second daughter, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. Her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, later Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, would become an accomplished writer herself.
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Wollstonecraft has had what scholar Cora Kaplan labelled in 2002 a "curious" legacy: "for an author-activist adept in many genres ... up until the last quarter-century Wollstonecraft's life has been read much more closely than her writing". After the devastating effect of Godwin's Memoirs, Wollstonecraft's reputation lay in tatters for a century; she was pilloried by such writers as Maria Edgeworth, who patterned the "freakish" Harriet Freke in Belinda (1801) after her. Other novelists such as Mary Hays, Charlotte Turner Smith, Fanny Burney, and Jane West created similar figures, all to teach a "moral lesson" to their readers. (Hays had been a close friend, and helped nurse her in her dying days.) Scholar Virginia Sapiro states that few read Wollstonecraft's works during the nineteenth century as "her attackers implied or stated that no self-respecting woman would read her work". (In fact, as Craciun points out, new editions of Rights of Woman appeared in the UK in the 1840s, and in the US in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s.) One of those few was Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who read Rights of Woman aged 12, and whose poem Aurora Leigh reflected "Wollstonecraft's unwavering focus on education". Another was Lucretia Mott, a Quaker minister and activist against slavery who helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention, an influential women's rights convention held in 1848. Another who read Wollstonecraft was George Eliot, a prolific writer of reviews, articles, novels, and translations. In 1855, she devoted an essay to the roles and rights of women, comparing Wollstonecraft and Margaret Fuller. Fuller was an American journalist, critic, and women's right activist who, like Wollstonecraft, had travelled to the Continent, been involved in the struggle for reform (in this case the Roman Republic), and had a child by a man without marrying him. Wollstonecraft's children's work was adapted by Charlotte Mary Yonge in 1870.
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With the emergence of feminist criticism in academia in the 1960s and 1970s, Wollstonecraft's works returned to prominence. Their fortunes reflected that of the second wave of the feminist movement itself; for example, in the early 1970s, six major biographies of Wollstonecraft were published that presented her "passionate life in apposition to radical and rationalist agenda". In the 1980s and 1990s, yet another image of Wollstonecraft emerged, one which described her as much more a creature of her time; scholars such as Claudia Johnson, Gary Kelly, and Virginia Sapiro demonstrated the continuity between Wollstonecraft's thought and other important eighteenth-century ideas regarding topics such as sensibility, economics, and political theory.

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"a vindication of the rights of women available free online at http://www.bartleby.com/144/

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