The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft

The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft

The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft

The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft

Synopsis

Once viewed solely in relation to the history of feminism, Mary Wollstonecraft is now recognized as a writer of formidable talent across a range of genres, including journalism, letters and travel writing, and is increasingly understood as an heir to eighteenth-century literary and political traditions as well as a forebear of romanticism. This Companion is the first collected volume to address all aspects of Wollstonecraft's momentous and tragically brief career. The diverse and searching essays specially commissioned for this volume do justice to Wollstonecraft's pivotal importance in her own time and since, paying attention not only to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, but to the full range of her work. A chronology and guides to further reading offer further essential information for scholars and students of this remarkable writer.

Excerpt

The republican milieu

When she set up her school in Newington Green in 1784, Wollstonecraft joined a circle rich in adversarial political experience. As religious Dissenters, they were opposed to the established Church of England. Dissenters could not take the oaths necessary to secure offices under the Crown or even to take degrees at English Universities. Politically they debated the terms of the Whig triumph of 1688 when parliament had seemingly affirmed its paramount power by dismissing James II and calling a Protestant monarch, William of Orange, to the throne. “Real, ” or “true, ” Whigs complained that Parliament, instead of extending its power and becoming more representative of the people, had used the influence of the throne to establish a monopoly of power in the hands of great landowners. James Burgh, whose widow was Wollstonecraft's personal friend, had compiled a damning dossier on the oligarchy of “borough-mongers, ” its manipulation of elections, its system of patronage and nepotism. Republican ideas, from a tradition including Greece, Rome, and Renaissance Italy as well as the seventeenth-century English Commonwealth, were frequently used to attack courtly corruption and democratic arguments were voiced, especially after the American Revolution. Many saw a remedy for corruption in extending parliamentary representation to newly populous towns and widening the franchise to make bribery and intimidation less common. However radical their ideas, few ventured to actually propose dismantling rather than reforming a constitution that purported to balance monarchical, republican, and democratic principles and had brought peace and prosperity to Britain. Richard Price, another close friend and Wollstonecraft's mentor in moral philosophy, was a member of the Real Whig club and a correspondent of Tom Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. He had opposed the American War and joined with Catharine Macaulay in the battles for “Wilkes and Liberty” against the power of the Crown, keeping alive the republican traditions of . . .

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