A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution

A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution

A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution

A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution

Synopsis

This volume brings together the major political writings of Mary Wollstonecraft in the order in which they appeared in the revolutionary 1790s. It traces her passionate and indignant response to the excitement of the early days of the French Revolution and then her uneasiness at its later bloody phase. It reveals her developing understanding of women's involvement in the political and social life of the nation and her growing awareness of the relationship between politics and economics and between political institutions and the individual. In personal terms, the works show her struggling with a belief in the perfectibility of human nature through rational education, a doctrine that became weaker under the onslaught of her own miserable experience and the revolutionary massacres. Janet Todd's introduction illuminates the progress of Wollstonecraft's thought, showing that a reading of all three works allows her to emerge as a more substantial political writer than a study of The Rights of Woman alone can reveal.

Excerpt

The works published in this volume are all parts of a controversy concerning the French Revolution. All were written between 1790 and 1794, a peculiar period in English culture which, in its richness of theoretical writing and enthusiasm for political discussion, can be compared only with the turbulent mid-seventeenth century. It was a period in which neighbouring France followed seventeenth-century England in trying to act out political and social theories. For its part, the English government, noting the direction of those theories, tried to limit the spread of activity by controlling the dissemination of ideas. The men and women who wrote on socio-political issues in such a context were not the sages of more peaceful periods but engaged polemicists who believed that their ideas might soon be put into practice; they also knew that their publishing might have political and social consequences for their personal lives.

The two works printed here in full, A Vindication of the Rights of Men and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and An Historical and Moral View . . . of the French Revolution printed in part, were all reactive and provocative, elements in a series by people who knew or knew of each other; they make points in a debate about a single phenomenon, the French Revolution. When this event had begun in 1789, most liberal-thinking people in England judged it comparable with the English revolution of 1688. If the works here do not breathe this moderate acceptance, it is mainly because, after the publication in 1790 of Burke's vehement and emotional denunciation, Reflections on the Revolution in France, political alignments became both more problematical and more positive. In certain fundamental respects it is possible to see all Wollstonecraft's political works in dialogue with Burke's ideas and rhetorical stance.

A Vindication of the Rights of Men

Wollstonecraft was ready to enter the political fray with her first Vindication in 1790 because her life had provided a preparation for it. She was born in 1759 just before George III came to the throne and his emphasis on domestic policies must have highlighted the . . .

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