Thursday, October 30, 2014

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)

Marsha Decker
Dr. Bender
English 5243
30 October 2014
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth-century philosopher, writer, and proto-feminist. She was concerned with individual rights and the social consequences of sexual inequality. The second of seven children, Wollstonecraft was born in London on April 27, 1759, to Edward and Elizabeth Wollstonecraft. Her grandfather was a successful weaver who left a small legacy. However, her father was an abusive man who spent his share of the legacy dragging his family around England and Wales as he tried, unsuccessfully, to be a gentleman farmer. According to Mary, her father was a drunken bully who often abused his wife and children.  Her mother’s submissive acceptance of her husband’s brutal treatment influenced Mary’s opinion that marriage was a form of female bondage.
In 1778, Wollstonecraft became the companion to Mrs. Dawson and lived in Bath. She returned home upon her mother’s illness in 1781. After the death of her mother, Wollstonecraft lived for a brief time with the family of her close friend, Fanny Blood. In 1783, she left the Blood family to take care of her sister, Eliza, and her newborn daughter. Eliza’s marriage was an unhappy one and by January of 1784, Wollstonecraft convinced Eliza to leave her husband and go into hiding. Her daughter was left behind and died a short time later.
Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie, c. 1797
Source: National Portrait Gallery, London
In 1784, Wollstonecraft, her sisters Eliza and Everina, and their friend Fanny Blood, established a school in Newlington Green. It was in Newlington Green where Mary met Reverend Richard Price, who became a mentor, and Joseph Johnson, her future publisher and friend. In 1785, Mary travelled to Portugal to visit her friend Fanny who had left the school and married and was now expecting her first child. Mary did not enjoy Portuguese society and her unhappiness was deepened when Fanny and her baby did not survive childbirth.
By the time Wollstonecraft arrived back home, she found her school in financial difficulties. An advance from her publisher, Joseph Johnson, on her first book Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: with Reflections on Female Conduct, in the more important Duties of Life (1787), saved her from destruction. However, the school ultimately collapsed and Wollstonecraft turned to employment as a governess for Lord Kingsborough’s family. This short employment led to a trip to Ireland where Wollstonecraft would complete her first novel, Mary, a Fiction.
After Wollstonecraft’s return from Ireland, Joseph Johnson offered her a position as a translator and advisor for the Analytical Review.  In 1788, she completed Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations, calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness and in 1789, The Female Reader: Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Verse; Selected from the Best Writers, and Disposed under Proper Heads; for the Improvement of Young Women which was published under the pen name of Mr. Cresswick, a teacher of Elocution.
In December, 1789, Wollstonecraft reviewed a speech by Dr. Price on English patriotism. Edmund Burke attacked Dr. Price’s speech in his 1790, Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event. Encouraged by Mr. Johnson, Wollstonecraft came to his defense in her 1790 publication of the Vindication of the Rights of Men. The first edition was published anonymously, but the second was published under her own name and established her as a political writer. She followed this work with A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. In the book Wollstonecraft attacked the educational restrictions that kept women in a state of childlike ignorance with slavish devotion to male admiration.  She was especially critical of a society that encouraged women to be passive and overly concerned with their looks. She stated that women acted foolish and vain because society taught them to be. Wollstonecraft argued for a society where women could be educated in the same manner as men with a focus on the development of reason. Wollstonecraft argued this would make them better companions, wives and mothers. She also argued that the moral corruption of society was due to the acquisition of property and its ostentation display of it instead of the pursuit of reason and the protection of natural rights for both sexes.
In December 1792, Wollstonecraft traveled to France where she met Gilbert Imlay, an American merchant and author. She fell in love with him and posed as his wife in order to avoid the persecution of British subjects during the Terror.  Although Imlay and Wollstonecraft never married, they had a daughter, Fanny, in 1794. Her relationship with Imlay was often turbulent; at several times during their relationship, she caught him cheating on her. These encounters would lead to bouts of depression and attempted suicide. By 1796, the relationship was over and she returned to London.  
In 1796, Wollstonecraft renewed an earlier friendship with William Godwin. They became close friends and then lovers. When she found herself pregnant for the second time, she worried about public censure as an unwed woman and the lovers married. During their brief time together as husband and wife, Wollstonecraft worked on her last book, The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria. Wollstonecraft died on September 10, 1797 after giving birth to her daughter, Mary, who would grow up to be Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
At the time of her death, Wollstonecraft was often vilified by society for what it saw as her scandalous personal life. Her reputation was further damaged after Godwin, out of love for his wife, published an account of her life in Memoirs of the Author of ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1798). The Memoirs reveals her turbulent history with Imlay, her multiple suicide attempts, and her illegitimate child. As a result, her reputation was destroyed and often used as a reason to dismiss her ideas. However, authors such as Virginia Woolf and suffragettes such as Margaret Fuller, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were all inspired by her work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Book Review
Lyndall Gordon’s Vindication opens with a description of Mary Wollstonecraft’s arrival in France in December 1972. She recalls Wollstonecraft’s impression of the eerily silent city during the Revolution and before the beginning of The Terror. Wollstonecraft records the stillness of the streets, the abandoned stores, the drums of the National Guard, and the dignity of Louis XVI on the way to his execution.
Gordon’s book is the story of a remarkable woman who is intelligent, outspoken, passionate, egotistical, compassionate, resilient, and fiercely independent. She is a woman who wished “to see women neither heroines or brutes, but reasonable creatures”(2). Gordon presents a study of Wollstonecraft that moves beyond the traditional recounting of her personal life. Gordon seeks to present Wollstonecraft as a woman who tried out a variety of roles: the uneducated school teacher; unrequited lover; discarded mistress; the scribe; the fallen woman; the traveler; the pregnant wife, each time reinventing the roles in her quest for genius.
Gordon argues Wollstonecraft’s cause started with her childhood where she was raised by an alcoholic abusive father and an emotionally distance mother. The first part of the book describes Mary’s home life and how, as a victim of domestic violence and maternal neglect, she strove to prove herself, both to her parents and to society.  The reader finds out that through the generous help of benevolent adults such as John Arden and the Reverend, Mr. Clare, Mary was able to acquire a modest education. Gordon also describes how Mr. Clare introduced Wollstonecraft to Francis Blood who would become a close friend of Wollstonecraft and the person responsible for showing her the power of writing. Gordon argues the result of these friendships was the creation of a searching intelligence in Mary. 
Gordon’s book continues the journey of Mary Wollstonecraft through the rough periods of her life and gives the reader a glimpse of the struggles facing a single woman in the patriarchal world of eighteenth-century England. Gordon confronts and discusses the speculations surrounding Wollstonecraft’s affairs with Fuseli and Imlay as well as the influence of her involvement as an observer of the French Revolution and as a contributor to the heady philosophical arguments of her day. The result is a story of the adventurous, and often times tragic, life of a woman who is determined to rise above her situation and with intelligence, determination, and unique insight, bravely forge a groundbreaking path towards female equality and independence.
Additional Book Resources

Brody, Miriam. Mary Wollstonecraft: Mother of Women’s Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.
Gordon, Charlotte. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley. New York: Random House, 2015. Print.
Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000. Print.
Wardle, Ralph, M. Godwin and Mary: Letters of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977

Primary Sources

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Man. New York: Prometheus Book, 1996. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. New York: Dover Thrift Editions, 1996. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (Oxford World Classics). Eds. Tonne Brekke and Jon Mee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary. Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman. Ed. Carol H. Poston.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1975. Print.
Wollstonecraft, Mary, and Gilbert Imlay. The Love Letters from Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay. Charleston: Nabu Press, 2010. Print.

 Secondary Sources 2004-2014

Coffee, Alan M. S. J. "Freedom as Independence: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Grand Blessing of Life." Hypatia 29.4 (2014): 908-924. SocINDEX . Web. 28 Oct. 2014
Field, Corinne. “ ‘Made Woman of When they are Mere Children’: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Critique of Eighteenth-Century Girlhood.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 4.2 (2011):198-221. Project Muse. Web. 26 October 2014.
Friedman, Dustin. “Parents of the Mind: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Aesthetics of Productive Masculinity.” Studies in Romanticism 48.3 (2009):423-447. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 October 2014.
Freitas Boe, Ana de. "'I Call Beauty A Social Quality': Mary Wollstonecraft And Hannah More's Rejoinder To Edmund Burke's Body Politic Of The Beautiful." Women's Writing 18.3 (2011): 348-366. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Garner, Naomi Jayne. "'Seeing Through a Glass Darkly': Wollstonecraft and the Confinements of Eighteenth-Century Femininity." Journal Of International Women's Studies 11.3 (2009): 81-95. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 28 Oct. 2014
O'Neill, Daniel I. "John Adams Versus Mary Wollstonecraft on the French Revolution and Democracy." Journal of The History of Ideas 3 (2007): 451. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Packham, Catherine. "Domesticity, Objects and Idleness: Mary Wollstonecraft and Political Economy." Women's Writing 19.4 (2012): 544-562. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Palumbo, David M. "Mary Wollstonecraft, Jonathan Swift and the Passion in Reading." Studies In English Literature, 1500-1900 3 (2011): 625. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Reuter, Martina. “ ‘ Like a Fanciful Kind of Half-being’: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Criticism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.” Hypatia 29.4 (2014):925-941. Humanities. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
Rzepka, Charles J. "Julie Carlson. England's First Family of Writers: Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Mary Shelley." Wordsworth Circle 4 (2008): 152. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Sessler, Randall. "Recasting the Revolution: The Media Debate Between Edmund Burke, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Paine." European Romantic Review 25.5 (2014): 611-626. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Seval, Hale. "The Woman From The North Wind: Travel Letters by Mary Wollstonecraft/ Kuzey Ruzgarinin Kadini: Mary Wollstonecraft' In Gezi Mektuplari." Kadin/Woman 2000 2 (2011): 75. General OneFile. Web. 24 Oct. 2014.
Tegan, Mary Beth. "Mocking the Mothers of the Novel: Mary Wollstonecraft, Maternal Metaphor, and the Reproduction of Sympathy." Studies in the Novel 4 (2011): 357. Project MUSE. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Volkova, Inna. “ ‘I Have Looked Steadily Around Me’: The Power of Examples in Mary Wollstonecraft’S A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman.” Women's Studies 43.7 (2014): 892-910. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 28 Oct. 2014.
Waters, Mary A. "'The First of a New Genus': Mary Wollstonecraft as a Literary Critic and Mentor to Mary Hays." Eighteenth-Century Studies 37.3 (2004): 415-434. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Wilcox, Kirstin R. "Vindicating Paradoxes: Mary Wollstonecraft's 'Woman'." Studies in Romanticism 3 (2009): 447. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Oct. 2014

Online Resources

BBC Online is a UK based, international public service broadcaster. Their online presence, BBC Online, offers a comprehensive schedule of news, programs, articles, timelines, and archives on British History.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a scholarly reference resource that includes entries on philosophy and related disciplines with the goal to create an update reference source. All entries are maintained and updated by an expert or group of experts in the field. Each update is reviewed by a member of the editing board to insure quality and maintain academic standards.
            The Victorian Web is an academic and scholarly site that encourages multiple points of view and debate. It presents its images and text, including complete books and paintings, as part of a network of linked information.

Works Cited for Bibliography Section

“Mary Wollstonecraft”. Bio. A&E Television Networks. 2014. Web. 25 October 2014.
“Mary Wollstonecraft”. Ed. Stuart Corran.  English. University of Penn. N.d. Web. 25 October 2014.

Taylor, Barbara. “Wollstonecraft, Mary (1759-1797).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 2014. Web. 28 October 2014.

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