Nevertheless, as a woman from an impecunious family, her prospects were very limited. In relatively rapid succession, she was to enter the most likely occupations for someone of her sex and circumstances: a lady's companion, a schoolteacher, and a governess. In , she was engaged as a companion to a Mrs Dawson and lived at Bath.
She returned home to nurse her ailing mother in the latter part of After Mrs Wollstonecraft's death, in the spring of , Mary lived with the Bloods, the impoverished family of her dearest friend, Fanny. In the winter of , Mary left them in order to attend to her sister Eliza and her newly born daughter. There followed the first of the emotionally very difficult episodes in Mary's life. What prompted Mary to intervene as decisively as she did in her sister's marriage remains somewhat of a mystery; but in the course of January , Mary took her sister away, and the two women went into hiding, leaving Eliza's infant daughter behind; the baby died the following August.
By February of that year, the two sisters had already been planning to establish a school with Fanny Blood. Mary's other sister, Everina, joined in the project a little later. They first set their sights on Islington, then moved to Newington Green, where Mary met the moral and political thinker, the Reverend Richard Price, head of Newington's thriving Dissenting community, and heard him preach.
This was a crucial encounter for Mary. Several years later, she was to rise to his defence in a Vindication of the Rights of Men , and it was through her connections to members of this community that she was to gain an introduction to her future publisher, friend, and one might even say, patron, Joseph Johnson.
In November , Wollstonecraft set off on a trip to Lisbon, where her friend Fanny, who had married that February, was expecting her first child. On board the ship, Mary met a man suffering from consumption; she nursed him for a fortnight, the length of the journey. This experience is related in her first novel, Mary, a Fiction She gained a very unfavourable opinion of Portuguese life and society, which seemed to her ruled by irrationality and superstitions.
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Mary's brief stay in Portugal was, furthermore, to be a profoundly unhappy one, for both Fanny and her baby died shortly after the delivery. On her return to England, Wollstonecraft found her school in a dire state. Far from providing her with a reliable income and some stability, it was to be a source of endless worries and a financial drain.
Only Joseph Johnson's advance on her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: with Reflections on Female Conduct in the more important Duties of Life helped ease her considerable financial difficulties. Following the collapse of her school, Wollstonecraft became a governess to the family of Lord Kingsborough for a brief and unsatisfactory period. The position took her to Ireland, where she completed Mary, A Fiction. On her return to London, Joseph Johnson came to the rescue once again by giving her some literary employment. In , she also began, but never completed, The Cave of Fancy.
A Tale. The same year, she wrote Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations, calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness ; it appeared in two other London editions in her life time and , the last of which illustrated by William Blake. To understand the extent to which Wollstonecraft made up for the lack of a formal education, it is essential to appreciate fully that her talents were to extend to translating and reviewing, and that these two activities, quite apart from her own intellectual curiosity, acquainted her with a great many authors, including Leibniz and Kant.
In each case, the texts she produced were almost as if her own, not just because she was in agreement with their original authors, but because she more or less re-wrote them.
Throughout the period covered by these translations Wollstonecraft wrote for the Analytical Review , which her publisher, Joseph Johnson, together with Thomas Christie, started in May She was involved with this publication either as a reviewer or as editorial assistant for most of its relatively short life. Despite her own practice of the genre, her many reviews reveal the degree to which, she, like many other moralists in the eighteenth century, feared the moral consequences of reading novels.
She believed that even those of a relatively superior quality encouraged vanity and selfishness. She was to concede, however, that reading such works might nonetheless be better than not reading at all. Until the end of , her articles were mostly of a moral and aesthetic nature. This address to the Revolution Society in commemoration of the events of partly prompted Burke to compose his very famous Reflections on the Revolution in France, and on the Proceedings in Certain Societies in London Relative to that Event Burke's attack on Price in that work in turn led Wollstonecraft, egged on by her publisher, Johnson, to take up her pen in the aged Reverend's defence.
A Vindication of the Rights of Men was almost certainly the first of many responses Burke's Reflections elicited.
Initially published anonymously at the end of November, the second edition that quickly followed in mid-December bore its author's name and marked a turning point in her career; it established her a political writer. In September , Wollstonecraft began A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects, which elaborated a number of points made in the previous Vindication , namely, that in most cases, marriage was nothing but a property relation, and that the education women received ensured that they could not meet the expectations society had of them and almost certainly guaranteed them an unhappy life.
Following the publication of her second Vindication , Wollstonecraft was introduced to the French statesman and diplomat, Charles Talleyrand, on his mission to London on the part of the Constituent Assembly in February She dedicated the second edition of the A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to him.
As British subjects were increasingly at risk under the Terror, Wollstonecraft passed as Imlay's wife so as to benefit from the security enjoyed at the time by American citizens. They never married.
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Imlay was probably the source of Wollstonecraft's greatest unhappiness, first through his lack of ardour for her, then because of his infidelity, and finally because of his complete rejection of her. Most of all, her love of Imlay brought Wollstonecraft to the realisation that the passions are not so easily brought to heel by reason. Wollstonecraft had a girl by Imlay. A year after Fanny's birth, Wollstonecraft twice attempted suicide, first in May, then in October She broke with Imlay finally in March In April of the same year, she renewed her acquaintance with William Godwin and they became lovers that summer.
They were married at St Pancras church in March These reveal the profound influence John Locke had on Wollstonecraft's thought, and several of the arguments of his Some Thoughts Concerning Education are echoed in Wollstonecraft's conception of morality and the best manner to inculcate it in individuals at the earliest possible age. Wollstonecraft's prescriptions to counter the deplorable education she thought her contemporaries were inflicting on their children takes the form of a tale about two girls, Mary and Caroline. At the beginning of the story, the reader finds the girls left to the management of ignorant servants one of Locke's great bugbears , but they are eventually placed under the tuition of a woman of tenderness and discernment.
The book shows how the latter succeeds in teaching contemptuous Mary and vain Caroline to avoid anger, exercise compassion, love truth and virtue, and respect the whole of God's creation. That reason must rule supreme is a running theme of Wollstonecraft's works written prior to her sojourn in Revolutionary France and, all the more, prior to her travels through Scandinavia. It is stressed in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman The Thoughts also reveals Wollstonecraft's conviction that universal benevolence is the first virtue, as well as her faith in a providentially ordained universe.
Self-mastery was thus the aim of education and it was the duty of parents to ensure that their children received it. That mind and body needed to be exercised and shaped so as to face the hardships of life is a running theme in much of her writings. She endorsed his view of liberty of conscience as a sacred right and wrote sympathetically about his plea for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, which imposed civil disabilities on Dissenters. She also seemed to support his claim that the political Settlement of was wanting in that it did not make for full representation of the people and hence made only for partial liberty.
Finally, Wollstonecraft reproduced the passage in which Price linked the American and French revolutions and clamoured for the end of despotism throughout Europe.
Women's Rights - The Work of Mary Wollstonecraft
When not so long thereafter she came to write her Vindication of the Rights of Men , Wollstonecraft attacked Edmund Burke for having set upon an harmless elderly preacher in his Reflections ; yet her own review justifies Burke's depiction of Price's sermon as inflammatory. Far from thinking that the events taking place in France gave grounds for rejoicing, Burke feared their consequences from the very start.
The National Assembly's confiscation of the Church's property, he predicted, would lead to further confiscations, undermine the fundamental right to property, and result in anarchy, which only the rise of a charismatic figure could bring to an end. Of the many disagreements between Price and Wollstonecraft, on the one hand, and Burke, on the other, one of the deepest was over their respective view of the nature of civil society and of political power in general.
The two friends believed that government, the rule of law, and all human relations could be simplified, explicated, and rendered transparent, and both were convinced that this was the task ahead for all lovers of liberty. For Burke, on the contrary, civil society consisted of countless ineffable links between individuals. The latter's relationship to authority was for the most part no less ineffable; moreover, he believed sound political judgement to be the product of experience, and he cautioned prudence.
To sweep away established practices and institutions and think of politics as a mere matter of administrating in accordance with a set of abstract rules or rights uninformed by the customs and culture, and hence the national character, of a people was, in his view, to demonstrate a crass disregard for the most obvious facts of human nature and history. Burke's argument led him to dwell on France's financial position in some detail, and he defended its royal family and its Church; he insisted, moreover, that it was already benefiting from a policy of gradual reform.
The over-all effect he sought to achieve was to depict his opponent as theoretically confused, politically naive, generally misinformed, and, most damnable of all, his sermon on the Love of our Country with all its affirmation of feelings for humanity proved him to be unpatriotic.
Wollstonecraft's Vindication was the first of many replies. Amongst those that followed was one by Catherine Macaulay, who had influenced Wollstonecraft's pedagogy and was much admired by her. Wollstonecraft's riposte is an interesting and rhetorically powerful work in its own right as well as a necessary introduction to the Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It consists mostly of a sustained attack on Burke rather than a defence of the rights of man. This is partly because Wollstonecraft took for granted a Lockean conception of God-given rights discoverable by reason, except when the latter was warped by self-love.
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Wollstonecraft further believed that God made all things right and that the cause of all evil was man. In her view, Burke's Reflections showed its author to be blind to man-made poverty and injustice; this she attributed to his infatuation with rank, Queen Marie-Antoinette, and the English Constitution.
Demonstrating her familiarity with Burke's other works and speeches, especially A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and the Speech on Conciliation with America , she also argued that he was inconsistent, if only because of the impossibility, as she saw it, of reconciling his sympathy for the American cause with his reaction to events in France. In this, Wollstonecraft was far from alone and many who had followed Burke's parliamentary career and heard his Speeches to the House of Commons were astonished by what they thought was a radical and inexplicable change of position.
As she was to do in her next and more famous Vindication , Wollstonecraft did not simply clamour for rights, but emphasised that these entail duties; but she also insisted that none could be expected to perform duties whose natural rights were not respected. Furthermore she used David Hume's History of England —62 to contend that England's laws were the product of historical contingency and insisted that only those institutions that could withstand the scrutiny of reason and be shown to be in conformity with natural rights and God's justice merited respect and obedience.
There was no question of blanket reverence for the past and its juridical legacy. As for civilization, she thought its progress very uneven and dismissed the culture of politeness and polish as nothing but a screen behind which hypocrisy, egotism and greed festered unchecked.
Finally, opposing nature and reason to artifice and politeness, she made herself the true patriot and Burke the fickle Francophile. She was the clear-headed independent thinker, he the emotive creature of a system of patronage. She exhibited manly virtues, he effeminacy. In the midst of her tirade she turned, rather unexpectedly, to the subject of family life and the limits of parental authority, especially in relation to arranged marriages.
She condemned marriages of convenience together with late marriages: both fostered immorality in her view.
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