Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Close Reading Questions for Wollstonecraft's A Vindication for the Rights of Woman (handout--go to my door if you missed last class)

(Above: John Opie's painting of Mary Wollstonecraft, a suitably Gothic image of this pioneering Feminist writer.  Besides the Vindication, she was also a noted travel writer, publishing a celerbrated book entitled Letters Written During A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (1796), which reflected on the state of women outside of England.  This is the book that reportedly made William Godwin fall in love with her, and remained Mary Shelley's favorite book to the end of her days.  Her reputation--for bad and good--however was made by A Vindication of the Rights of Woman). 

Answer TWO of the following...

1. In a passage that plays with ideas of innocence and experience, Wollstonecraft writes, “for if men eat of the tree of knowledge, women will come in for a taste; but, from the imperfect cultivation which their understandings now receive, they only attain a knowledge of evil” (238). What does she mean by this, and how does it relate to eighteenth-century practices of educating women?

2. Wollstonecraft is very critical of the contemporary notion of passion (or romantic love) in marriage. As she writes, “a master and mistress of a family ought not to continue to love each other with passion…they ought not to indulge those emotions which disturb the order of society, and engross the thoughts that should be otherwise employed” (245). Why (to her) is passion such an invasive force in marriage, and potentially devastating to a woman’s role as wife and mother?

3. How does Wollstonecraft implicate literature—and in particular, novels—as contributing to the general ignorance of women and their deplorable state in eighteenth-century society? What does she see as the terrible “moral” of most literature…and do you feel she would lump Walpole and Austen into this argument?

4. Though a hallmark of feminist thought, how might A Vindication of the Rights of Woman also be read as a Marxist text? In what ways might it contribute politically to the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Gothic/Romantic concern for the “rights of man”?

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