Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Wollstonecraft's Legacy

Mary Wollstonecraft fascinates me. I just think she was shockingly, mind-alteringly ahead of her time. She supported her sister (Eliza) and best friend (Fanny) and best friend's sister, starting a school in a progressive community--in 18th Century England, no less. She lived in Ireland, France, and Scandinavia, too, had two illegitimate children and several lovers, wrote passionately about women's education, and was essentially marginalized and forgotten because of her autobiographical works (published by Godwin after her death), which convinced many people of her day that she was a "loose" woman, even a "prostitute," and not worthy of their consideration. 


In class, we've been wondering about Wollstonecraft's revolutionary choices in her personal life relative to the messages in her Vindication. On one hand, she says things like, "Women [...] all want to be ladies, which is simply to have nothing to do," implying that women are at least complicit in--if not wholly responsible for--their fragility and ennui; on the other, she describes instances of chivalry, saying, "when the lady could have done it herself," suggesting women's capacity if only they could have agency (100, 63).

Perhaps because Wollstonecraft did a lot of her writing at my age (and died after childbirth complications just five years later), I am thinking about ideas and identity--how Wollstonecraft knew enough about her beliefs and passions in her twenties and thirties to leave an extraordinary legacy in spite of her social, historical, political context. This is more than exciting (and relevant) for us in education, a kind of call to act on what we see and to name that which has not been named. 

It is so moving to learn that Wollstonecraft, in 1792, wrote, "Every individual is in this respect a world unto itself" and "I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves" (58, 70). She could see and think into the future, understanding and articulating what needed to happen. 

It seems especially ironic for Wollstonecraft to have been ignored and forgotten for decades because of her unconventional (wild) behavior. Even though her ideas were inconsistent with her life choices to some extent, what the world needed in both cases was a little more wildness but wasn't ready. 


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