Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley: Writing Lives

By Helen M. Buss; D. L. Macdonald et al. | Go to book overview

The Personal Pronoun as Political:
Stylistics of Self-Reference
in the Vindications

D. L. Macdonald

In a famous letter to William Roscoe, Wollstonecraft predicts that a portrait of her that he has commissioned “will [not] be a very striking likeness.” To make up for it, she promises: “I will send you a more faithful sketch—a book that I am now writing, in which / myself … shall certainly appear, head and heart” (CLMW 202–03). This paper is an attempt to understand that promise in as literal a sense as possible. It is a study of the ways in which /, myself, and the other forms of the first-person pronoun, appear in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the book mentioned in her letter, and in its precursor, A Vindication of the Rights of Men. It is a study of self-reference; that is, of the ways in which Wollstonecraft uses those pronouns to refer to herself. By her self, I mean only the referent of her first-person pronouns, not some pre-existent metaphysical entity (cf. Lyons 14).

I am not the first critic to take an interest in this aspect of Wollstonecraft's style. In 1823, Mary Shelley argued that “this /, this sensitive, imaginative, suffering, enthusiastic pronoun, spreads an inexpressible charm over Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters from Norway” (“Giovanni Villani,” NSW 2: 130–31).1 In the vindications,2 however,

Notes are on pp. 41–42.

-31-

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