Study Guide

Mary Wollstonecraft Revolution & Vindication

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Revolution & Vindication

With her school gone and her governess job on the brink, Wollstonecraft was in dire need of income. Her publisher friend Joseph Johnson gave her an advance on a book about girls' education. The result, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, was an early foreshadowing of themes Wollstonecraft would develop later in the Vindication, her most famous work. Rather than coddling daughters, Wollstonecraft urged parents to help them develop the inner strength to handle the challenges of life. Having learned early how difficult life could be, Wollstonecraft was adamant that girls as much as boys needed the mental resilience to handle problems independently. The book received a little attention, but not enough to put Wollstonecraft on the radar of important new writers.

Her next works were her first and only completed novel, Mary, A Fiction, and a children's book entitled Original Stories from Real Life. Ironically, though critics later chastised Wollstonecraft for her allegedly scandalous personal life, her writing was fiercely moralistic. Her two books of 1788 hammered on her most frequent theme: parents had a duty to teach their children (boys and girls) the skills necessary to be virtuous citizens. This important task should begin as soon as possible in a child's education, Wollstonecraft argued, and not be farmed out to sub-par servants.

Thanks to the assignments Johnson gave her, Wollstonecraft had a busy writing career. She translated books by French philosophers, wrote literary reviews for Johnson's Analytical Review magazine, and penned numerous essays on a variety of subjects. In 1789, the French Revolution got underway in nearby France. Like many English intellectuals, Wollstonecraft was captivated by the Romantic idealism being put into practice across the English Channel. (This was before things got crazy and they started chopping heads off.) She kept a close eye on the debates surrounding the revolution. In 1790, the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke published a treatise called Reflections on the Revolution in France. It contained an attack on Richard Price, Wollstonecraft's friend from Newington Green. Price, like Wollstonecraft, supported the revolution. Outraged, Wollstonecraft picked up her pen and wrote a long rebuttal to Burke's arguments entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Man. The pamphlet brought her first real notoriety as a writer. William Godwin, a political philosopher who later became her husband, noted the "vehemence and impetuousness of its eloquence."

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