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Transcript of Mary Wollstonecraft
By: Meghana Nallajerla
British writer, philosopher, and feminist.
Had a brief career, but published many major works, especially in regards to feminist literature.
Best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
o Mary Wollstonecraft was born on April 27th, 1759, in Spitafields, London.
o She was the second of seven children born to John Edward Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dickinson.
o Wollstonecraft’s father was abusive and controlling of her mother.
o He also caused the family to suffer financially and socially; he had inherited a large amount of money from his father, but wasted it on several unsuccessful attempts at farming, moving the family six times in the process.
o At the age of 16, Wollstonecraft met Francis (Fanny) Blood with whom she became the closest of friends.
Only her brother, Edward, received a formal education and became a lawyer.
Wollstonecraft’s informal and disorderly education was typical for a lower-class girl.
However, she managed to learn about the Bible and ancient mythology, as well as the works of famous authors such as Shakespeare.
Part of this education may have been because of Wollstonecraft's neighbor, a retired clergyman, Mr. Clare, and his wife, who showed affection towards Wollstonecraft in her early years and formed a friendship with her.
Because of her sex and social status, however, Wollstonecraft was limited in what she could accomplish at first. She did not have many career options open to her.
Leaving Home and Early Twenties
o At the age of 19, Wollstonecraft left home to start her life. Her abusive father was part of the reason she decided to leave.
o Because of social restrictions, Wollstonecraft didn’t have many career options. She became the Companion of Widow Dawson of Bath.
o She only returned home in 1780 when her mother was sick. In 1782, Wollstonecraft’s ill mother died.
o After her mother’s death and her sister Eliza's wedding, Wollstonecraft moved in with Fanny Blood so she could once again leave home.
School in Islington
o In 1784, Wollstonecraft was once again called to help her family when sister Eliza had a difficult childbirth. Wollstonecraft went to care for her, but then took her sister away and into hiding after discovering that Eliza’s husband was physically abusive.
o This is the point that led into Wollstonecraft’s career in education; the three Wollstonecraft sisters and Fanny Blood opened a school together in Islington.
o After opening the school, Wollstonecraft met many progressive thinkers in the community, such as Dr. Richard Price.
o Shortly after, Fanny married and moved to Portugal. After Fanny became pregnant, Wollstonecraft took time off from the school to take care of Fanny. Unfortunately, Fanny died in Wollstonecraft’s arms after childbirth.
o Wollstonecraft returned to see that school had suffered while she was gone. She could no longer get income from it, and it was a stress to her. She closed the school.
o After closing the school, Wollstonecraft began her writing career and published her first work, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters.
o She then became the Governess for the daughters of Lord Kingsborough in Ireland. She moved to Ireland, but soon found that she was not comfortable with domestic life.
o She moved back to England, but while in Ireland finished her first and only complete novel Mary, a Fiction.
• Start of Writing Career and Governess Position
Returning to England in 1787, Wollstonecraft established herself as a writer.
Joseph Johnson, a long-time friend and the same man who published Thoughts on the Education of Daughters for Wollstonecraft, gave her employment.
She translated and edited his works for him, and then regularly contributed to his Analytical Review.
• Establishment as a Writer
In 1792, Wollstonecraft traveled to Paris, where she met American merchant Captain Gilbert Imlay.
Wollstonecraft fell in love with Imlay, but they did not get married. She instead entered into a common-law marriage with him.
They lived together and Wollstonecraft gave birth to their daughter, Fanny.
Imlay was unfaithful to Wollstonecraft and tried to desert her and Fanny. Wollstonecraft discovered this infidelity and attempted suicide twice. However, after her attempts failed she finally gathered her courage and moved on.
• Captain Gilbert Imlay
Wollstonecraft met her long-time friend William Godwin again shortly after moving on from Imlay; they became lovers.
Although both she and Godwin hated the concept of marriage, they married a year later because Wollstonecraft became pregnant.
On August 30th, 1797, Wollstonecraft gave birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.
Wollstonecraft died a week later due to childbed fever, and her second daughter grew up to become Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.
• William Godwin
Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1786)
Mary, A Fiction (1788)
Original Stories from Real Life (1788)
The Female Reader (1789)
A Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790)
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794)
Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796)
The Wrongs of Woman (1798)
Johnson was well established, and by working for him Wollstonecraft was introduced into the intellectual community in London.
During this time period, Wollstonecraft wrote and published many works, the most important being A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which was published two years after her Vindication of the Rights of Man.
Establishment as a Writer
Wollstonecraft was prominent in the intellectual circles of the time However, outside those elite circles, she was more known for her “scandalous” life choice--such as having children out of wedlock--than for being a writer.
Furthermore, after her death, her husband William Godwin published Memoirs, a book about Wollstonecraft’s life. Although he did it with love, the book damaged Wollstonecraft’s reputation because it described her illegitimate children and suicide attempts.
At the beginning of the 20th century and especially after the emergence of second-wave feminism, Wollstonecraft’s works became important. She became known as one of the earliest English feminist writers and philosophers.
Wollstonecraft made an argument to educate women not just for women, but said that if women were treated equally society itself would improve. However, in doing that she in some ways she limited women only to their roles as wives and mothers.
Eventually, Wollstonecraft’s political writings gained attention as well, and she has now come to be known not just as a feminist writer, but as an Enlightenment thinker.
Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1786): Suggestions on how to raise children, also including Wollstonecraft's thoughts about morality, behavior, and so on.
Mary, A Fiction (1788): A (fictional) story about a woman and her relationships; Wollstonecraft's only complete novel she ever wrote.
A Vindication of the Rights of Man (1790): political writing that Wollstonecraft wrote as a response to Edmund Burke's writing supporting monarchs. She directly criticizes Burke, and also criticizes aristocracy in general, while supporting republicanism.
Brief Explanations of Important Works
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: Brief Summary
Wollstonecraft says: "Women have souls, women are not there simply to please to men," and so on; she basically disputed many beliefs and "facts" about women of the time period.
"Women are socialized to be inferior to men in many ways, but in actuality are not inferior."
"The answer to all these problems is educating women. If women are provided education, and not minimal education but equal education, then women can realize their full potential."
"Educating women will create better wives and lead to better marriages, and also women can be better mothers if they are educated."
Most importantly, Wollstonecraft focused on talking about equal education for women.
She also criticized women who were "too emotional" and not "intellectual."
In relation to other philosophers
In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft argues with the theories many philosophers of the time, especially Rousseau. Although she agreed with Rousseau on many points, she wanted his theories, especially those about education, expanded to include women as well.