Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft is a polemical work; it tries to convince. Nowadays if you have a non-zero chance of reading the book, you will already agree with the argument it's trying to make: that women should be given a good education, the equivalent of anything given to men; that both the women themselves and society at large will be better off for women having a good education; and that anyone educated to be silly and manipulative, well, will be silly and manipulative.
"Contending for the rights of women, my main argument is built on this simple premise, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice."
Maybe in 1792 there were people who might read this book and learn from it. It's not that there aren't people now who could to stand to learn these things--I could name a few--but they won't be reading this book. Alas.
I enjoyed it. It's always flattering to be told things you already believed are in fact true. 😉
Wollstonecraft has a few targets in writing this. There's a couple of Scottish moralists that I had to look up to find out who they were: Dr. John Gregory, James Fordyce. I suspect nobody would read them now except for Mary Wollstonecraft. The big target--and the one she spends most of her firepower on--is Rousseau. Well, Rousseau's idea of female education, given at the end of Émile is pretty awful, and Rousseau is a bit weird about women in general--cf. The Confessions, fascinating though that work may be--or in his relationship with Thérèse Levasseur. Wollstonecraft gets the better of this argument by far.
I learned that the first English translation of Émile is titled Emilius, and it's the version Wollstonecraft quotes. Sophie becomes Sophia.
At several points I thought Jane Austen knows this book well. Wikipedia tells me Austen doesn't ever mention Wollstonecraft, but it seems I'm not the only person to have decided Austen liked the book.
A few quotes:
"I do earnestly wish to see the distinction of sex confounded in society, unless where love animates the behaviour."
"Happy is it when people have the cares of life to struggle with; for these struggles prevent their becoming a prey to enervating vices, merely from idleness."
"Strength of body, and that character of countenance, which the French term a physionomie, women do not acquire before thirty, any more than men."
"From the respect paid to property flow, as from a poisoned fountain, most of the evils and vices which render this world such a dreary scene to the contemplative mind."
"I know not what is wanted to render this the happiest as well as the most respectable situation in the world, but a taste for literature, to throw a little variety and interest into social converse, and some superfluous money to give to the needy, and to buy books."
This post has been in draft mode for a very long time now. (It was the last spin book & I finished the book on time.) There's a print copy (a Penguin) somewhere in the house, but I couldn't find it when I was about to start reading the book, so I grabbed a copy from Project Gutenberg. I finished it on the eReader. I started writing this post, but then thought I should read the introduction before posting.
I still haven't found the Penguin so I'm just publishing this post anyway. I'm sorry to report this is the sort of house where books can get lost among their brethren and then are impossible to find...
I was reading a Trollope novel a few years ago and realized that something like 20 pages were missing. I panicked! And then realized I could just go on Project Gutenberg to read the missing pages. Hurray!ReplyDelete
I also recently found a book I knew I owned but could not find that had slipped behind other books on the shelf, so I'm sure the Penguin will turn up OR it has been there the whole time and you just missed it. That has happened to me before too.
I probably won't read this manifesto. So thanks for the great blog post so I don't have to. :D
The first time I read Nostromo I discovered my edition was missing the ending--and it was pre-Gutenberg. Argh!Delete
You sort of know what it's going to say; still she said it well & forcefully.
nowadays it seems most men are uneducated and not suitable for ladies or anyone else... i know about the coy book thing and how they like to avoid being read, poor things... something about the pain of page turning, i think... hence the great SPCBA, also known as Gutenberg...ReplyDelete
I always like to think of my books as enjoying the attention--they spend so long neglected while I'm engaged with their fellows--bit like how any individual cat must feel in a cat lady's house.Delete
But then there is always that shy cat, too, isn't there?
I started this book for Ruth's read-along and am ashamed not to have finished it. I spite of my distaste for certain segments of feminism, I really enjoyed Wollstonecraft's thoughts and ideas and thought they were balanced and practical. I'm looking forward to picking it up again.ReplyDelete
I know! Books disappear all the time at my place. 17 bookshelves and they still all don't have homes!
I suspect the reason it's not on the shelf in its proper place was because I took it off for Ruth's readalong. I didn't ever start it then, but it never got put back.Delete
Our COVID project was new bookshelves. That, plus I got rid of a bunch of old computer books that I wasn't ever going to use again means that every book has shelf space. Not that they're all lined up in it...
Interesting connection between Jane Austen and this book! I more familiar with her daughter's writing than with Wollstonecraft's sad to say.ReplyDelete
I suspect *everybody* knows Frankenstein better than they know this... ;-)Delete
I'm having that trouble with Anne Tyler at the moment. Lyzzy has just announced a Tyler reading project for 2021 and i KNOW i have several unread Tyler's lying around somewhere! I've found 2 but I'm confident there should be more *shrugs*ReplyDelete
The thing is I think I'm going to read something in the next week, month, six months, & I pull it off the shelf and then never put it back...Delete
Well so long as they're all having fun while they're lost, then that's one thing. :)ReplyDelete