British and Irish Literature Mary Wollstonecraft
by
Catherine Packham
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0071

Introduction

The importance of Mary Wollstonecraft (b. 1759–d. 1797) as a feminist thinker, philosopher, and social and cultural critic, has long been recognized. Her work as a novelist, polemicist, reviewer, historian, travel writer, and correspondent attracts attention across many disciplinary fields, and numerous editions of her many works exist. Primarily remembered as the writer of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, but the author of much more, her work draws on a range of Enlightenment traditions of thought on women, society, politics, and culture; it also provides a bridge from that era to the modern feminism of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Vast amounts of scholarship, especially that stimulated by the second-wave feminism of the second half of the 20th century, address Wollstonecraft’s thinking on Gender and Sexuality; this includes historical contextualizations of her ideas, explanations of their origins and influence, and more theoretical and philosophical analyses. From the 1970s onward, feminist literary scholarship has addressed both her fictional writings and her political works; more recently, her history of the early years of the French Revolution and her travel writing have also received attention. Within historical studies, Wollstonecraft is increasingly being viewed as a serious thinker on a range of topics, as well as an important voice in the political debates of the 1790s. Wollstonecraft’s unconventional life, whose narrative is still compelling today, has attracted numerous biographies; her many letters are equally fascinating. Finally, Wollstonecraft’s shockingly early death during childbirth, the ensuing Struggle Over Her Reputation, and her Legacy in the 19th and 20th Centuries, all form important subfields in Wollstonecraft studies.

Critical Overviews

This section lists a number of important works on Wollstonecraft. Most give overviews of her career as a whole; some are more limited in that they address only one or more of her major works. But, in offering original and distinctive arguments, they have become landmarks in the field, providing essential points of reference for other studies. They also bring different disciplinary perspectives to Wollstonecraft, from literary criticism to theoretically informed feminism, political science, and cultural history. Kelly 1992 is an important critical work that consolidates Kelly’s earlier work on Wollstonecraft and did much to secure Wollstonecraft as a figure of continuing importance to late-20th-century feminism and literary scholarship. The terms by which it reads Wollstonecraft’s texts as works of revolutionary feminism still inform much criticism in the 21st century. Poovey 1984, of equal importance, reads Wollstonecraft in the context of ideologies of femininity, and her (not always successful) negotiation of such codes in her work. Like Kaplan 1986, she sees Wollstonecraft as never fully escaping a misogynistic construction of female sexuality inherited from Rousseau. Johnson 1995 offers a more fully historicized approach to these concerns, reading Wollstonecraft in the context of debates over sex and gender in the 1790s. For more on this context, see Binhammer 1996 and Wahrman 1998 (both cited under Gender and Sexuality). Myers 1982 offered an influential reading of Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication, which many critics have built upon in subsequent years. Taylor 2003 is both a critical study and an intellectual biography: a rigorous historical account of the origins, formation, and nature of Wollstonecraft’s thought. Finally Shapiro 1992 offers a political theorist’s account of Wollstonecraft’s political thought, especially focusing on her negotiation of Rousseau’s social theory.

  • Johnson, Claudia. Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender and Sentimentality in the 1790s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226401799.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads Wollstonecraft in the context of debates over gender identity at the end of the 18th century. Johnson argues that Wollstonecraft presses for women’s access to male reason and self-determination, rather than attempting to transcend sexual difference to appeal to women’s common humanity.

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  • Kaplan, Cora. “Wild Nights: Pleasure /Sexuality/Feminism.” In Sea Changes: Essays in Culture and Feminism. By Cora Kaplan, 31–56. London: Verso, 1986.

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    Influential essay that critiques Wollstonecraft’s failure to address female sexuality and pleasure into her politics. Argues that Wollstonecraft thus replicates a Rousseauvian misogynistic attitude to female sexuality. See Shapiro 1992 for a counter-argument.

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  • Kelly, Gary. Revolutionary Feminism: The Mind and Career of Mary Wollstonecraft. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1992.

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    Book-length study of Wollstonecraft’s life and works, approaching her as a revolutionary feminist who used male and female genres to engage in gender, class, and cultural revolution. Offers influential readings of Wollstonecraft’s works as revolutionary writing, and accounts for the growth of her ideas in the context of her time.

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  • Myers, Mitzi. “Reform or Ruin: ‘A Revolution in Female Manners.’” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 11 (1982): 199–216.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication as primarily concerned with a reformation of women’s domestic roles. Argues that, like her contemporary Hannah More, Wollstonecraft attacks a female middle class corrupted by commercial society and fashionable luxury, to whom a discourse of moral reform and an argument about female potential should be addressed.

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  • Poovey, Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1984.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft against the late-18th-century ideology of “proper” femininity: modest, self-effacing, relegated to the domestic. Considers how Wollstonecraft grapples with such notions in the style and strategies of her work, and suggests she never fully escapes an ideology she both clearly understands and exhaustively attacks.

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  • Shapiro, Virginia. A Vindication of Political Virtue: The Political Theory of Mary Wollstonecraft. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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    Political scientist’s account of Wollstonecraft that defends her from accusations of bourgeois individualism by arguing that she countered Rousseau’s autonomous male political subject with an emphasis on social collectivity and a resistance of the public/private binary.

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  • Taylor, Barbara. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Important study giving detailed attention to Wollstonecraft’s intellectual formation in Rousseau, dissenting thought, but most importantly in religion. Argues that secularizing Wollstonecraft’s thought would be to lose its utopianism; for Taylor, Wollstonecraft’s faith deeply informed her radical political stance.

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Biographies

More than fifty biographies of Wollstonecraft have been written since her early death during childbirth, beginning with Godwin 1798 in the aftermath of her death; this work shaped her initial posthumous reputation and remains a valuable starting point for any reader interested in Wollstonecraft’s life story. The story of Wollstonecraft’s life is compelling in itself, but biography also provides a valuable means to explore her thought, its origins, and its influence. Of the glut of biographies that have appeared in the 21st century, Todd 2000 is perhaps the most appropriate as a research tool, informed as it is by its author’s extensive scholarship in Wollstonecraft and 18th-century women’s writing. Tomalin 1992 and Gordon 2005 are readable alternatives, though the latter is long, at over 500 pages. Biographies of Wollstonecraft, as of any other subject, of course reflect the preoccupations and attitudes of their time, as Todd 1976 reflects in her survey of biographies at the height of second-wave feminism. Wardle 1951 is the best biography produced in the period preceding this. One recent trend in biography writing has been the “group” or “collective” biography, and Wollstonecraft has received this treatment as well, as for instance in Gordon 2015, which explores parallels between Wollstonecraft’s life and that of her daughter Mary Shelley. Finally, not strictly speaking a biography but a valuable biographical resource for the Wollstonecraft-Godwin circle is William Godwin’s Diary, now available online.

  • Godwin, William. Memoirs of the Author ofThe Rights of Woman.” London: J. Johnson, 1798.

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    Godwin’s memoir of Wollstonecraft, written in the aftermath of her death, constitute her first biography. The book was also a scandal and sensation on publication. They are widely available in a range of modern editions.

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  • Gordon, Lyndall. Mary Wollstonecraft: A New Genus. London: Little, Brown, 2005.

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    More recent than Tomalin 1992, though longer than Todd 2000, this is an alternative option for a reliable and readable biography. Extends to the next generation to consider Wollstonecraft’s influence on her daughters, Mary Shelley and Fanny Imlay, and their step-sister, Claire Clairmont.

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  • Gordon, Charlotte. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. London: Hutchinson, 2015.

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    Devotes alternate chapters to Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley in order to explore comparisons between their lives. This illuminates the influence of Wollstonecraft’s life and ideas on her daughter, as well as their shared struggle with the material conditions constraining their lives as women and writers.

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  • Todd, Janet. “The Biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Signs 1 (1976): 721–734.

    DOI: 10.1086/493252Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Although clearly predating more recent biographies, this mid-1970s study offers a history of two centuries of feminist and antifeminist thought via a survey of existing Wollstonecraft biographies. Her biographies are especially revealing, it is argued, as changing attitudes to Wollstonecraft reflect larger changes in attitudes to women and feminism.

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  • Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2000.

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    Perhaps the leading biography from a plethora published in the last decades of the 20th century. Extensive, detailed, authoritative, and fully referenced biography by a leading scholar and critic of 18th-century women’s writing. Addresses both Wollstonecraft’s life and her work in full. A valuable work of reference for the researcher but also enjoyable and readable.

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  • Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Penguin, 1992.

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    Solid and readable biography by an experienced biographer. Suitable for those wanting an accessible modern biography shorter than the 500-page Todd 2000.

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  • Wardle, Ralph. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Critical Biography. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1951.

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    Readable and authoritative mid-20th-century biography by an editor of Wollstonecraft’s letters, from which the biography draws in detail.

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  • William Godwin’s Diary.

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    Godwin’s diary maps the development of his relationship with Wollstonecraft, as well as being a valuable source of information about the Godwin-Wollstonecraft circle. This digital resource provides high resolution images of the diary pages and transcribes and encodes each entry.

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Letters

Wollstonecraft was an avid correspondent throughout her life, and her many surviving letters offer a valuable supplement to biography for those interested in the details of her full and complex life. They also give access to a more personal and varying voice than is often present in Wollstonecraft’s published works. The correspondence with Gilbert Imlay is especially fascinating as a record of a central relationship in Wollstonecraft’s life. Todd 2002 offers an informative introductory survey of the letters, and Todd 2003 is the standard modern edition. Wardle 1979 is another earlier and important collection; Wardle 1967 focuses on the Wollstonecraft-Godwin correspondence of the last two years of her life.

  • Todd, Janet. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 7–23. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Discusses Wollstonecraft as one of the most distinctive letter writers of her time and argues her value lies as much in her letter writing as in her published works. A valuable guide to Wollstonecraft’s often frank and intimate correspondence.

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  • Todd, Janet. The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

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    Standard edition of Wollstonecraft’s letters, which includes several not included in Wardle’s earlier collection. Fully annotated with informative foot and an editorial introduction by a recognized Wollstonecraft critic. A paperback edition of these letters produced by Penguin (London) now appears to be out of print.

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  • Wardle, Ralph M., ed. Godwin and Mary: Letters of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1967.

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    Collection of around 160 letters from the correspondence of Godwin and Wollstonecraft between 1796 and 1797. Derives from a collection preserved by Godwin after Mary’s death, and contains more from Wollstonecraft than from him. Most are short notes, but they offer a fascinating window into the intimate relationship between the correspondents.

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  • Wardle, Ralph M., ed. Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979.

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    Earlier edition of Wollstonecraft’s letters, now preceded by Todd 2003. Widely drawn on by biographers, and as with all editions of the letters, highly readable, in part or whole, for access to Wollstonecraft’s characteristic and compelling voice.

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Editions

Numerous editions of Wollstonecraft’s major works exist, often with valuable scholarly apparatus such as contextualizing introductions, notes, chronologies, and extracts from supporting materials. There are minor differences between early editions of both Vindications; most, but not all, modern editors prefer to use the second or subsequent editions of these works to incorporate revisions of style, grammar, and expression made by Wollstonecraft herself to correct hastily produced first editions. Hardt 1982 enables comparison of textual variations in the second Vindication. Excellent complete editions of her Vindications and of her fictional works are readily available; these works are also often produced in abridged or compilation editions for the popular or student market. For authoritative published versions of Wollstonecraft’s many lesser works, including her journalism and early works, as well as her Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, see Todd and Butler 1989.

  • Hardt, Ulrich, ed. A Critical Edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Troy, NY: Whiston, 1982.

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    A useful edition for detailed comparisons of variants between early editions of this work. Argues that the third edition (1796) may not be Wollstonecraft’s.

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  • Todd, Janet, and Marilyn Butler. The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. 7 vols. London: Pickering, 1989.

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    This is the standard edition of Wollstonecraft’s writings, which aimed to include all works by Wollstonecraft published during or immeditately after her lifetime. Includes journalism, early writings and the major works, plus some letters. Makes available the only modern printing of Wollstonecraft’s reviews and journalism.

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  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Mary and The Wrongs of Woman. Edited by Gary Kelly. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

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    Useful edition of Wollstonecraft’s two fictions, edited and introduced by an influential Wollstonecraft critic. Text of Mary follows Joseph Johnson’s 1788 edition; text of The Wrongs of Woman is that of the first edition of 1798. Full annotation, bibliography, and chronology also included.

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  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Edited by Miriam Brody. London: Penguin, 1992a.

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    Unabridged edition of the Vindication that follows the corrected second edition of Wollstonecraft’s text (1792). Footnotes, further reading, and editorial introduction included.

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  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Mary and Maria, and Shelley, Mary, Matilda. Edited by Janet Todd. London: Penguin, 1992b.

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    Wollstonecraft’s fictional works are here paired with one by her daughter, Mary Shelley, with which it shares certain thematic preoccupations. Texts of Wollstonecraft’s works are those given in Todd and Butler 1989. Short introduction and footnotes included.

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  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Political Writings. Edited by Janet Todd. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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    A compendium edition of the two Vindications, reprinting the second editions of each (1790 and 1792 respectively). Selections from Wollstonecraft’s A Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution also included, as are an editorial introduction, select bibliography, chronology, and explanatory notes.

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  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. The Vindications. The Rights of Men. The Rights of Woman. Edited by D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 1997.

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    Wollstonecraft’s two Vindications are here presented alongside a selection of contextual materials, on “The Revolutionary Moment,” “The Education Debate,” and “Contemporary Reviews.” Also includes Wollstonecraft’s “Hints” toward further extended parts of her second Vindication.

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  • Wollstonecraft, Mary, and William Godwin. A Short Residence in Sweden, and Memoirs of the Author of “The Rights of Woman.” Edited by Richard Holmes. London: Penguin, 1987.

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    Authoritative edition of Wollstonecraft’s letters from Sweden, with authorial and editorial footnotes, map, and introduction. Paired in this edition with Godwin’s Memoirs of Wollstonecraft.

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Studies of Wollstonecraft’s Work

Wollstonecraft’s writings have attracted critical attention from a variety of disciplinary perspectives: as the works listed in the sections below attest, she has received attention from historians of political thought, feminist thinkers, cultural historians, and literary critics. Undoubtedly, her second Vindication, as her most famous work, is the most studied of her works; but since the important feminist revisionary work of the 1970s onward, her literary writings have also been much considered. These include not only her fictional works but also her Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, now recognized as a significant contribution to the genre of Romantic travel writing. Wollstonecraft’s history of the French Revolution remains perhaps her least-studied work but has nevertheless been the focus of some illuminating studies. Also listed below are studies of Wollstonecraft’s first Vindication—her first mature publication, and the work that made her name—as well as her journalism (largely review essays for Joseph Johnson’s Analytical Review) and her earlier writings on education and for children. A final section collects studies of Wollstonecraft’s formal methods: her language, rhetoric, and style.

A Vindication of the Rights of Men and the Dispute with Burke

Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Men has attracted less critical attention than her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, but it remains an important text, not only within the trajectory of her life’s works but also in its own right as an early, powerful, and influential critique of Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution. Wollstonecraft’s response to Burke initiated the pamphlet war of the 1790s and is the keynote of studies such as Blakemore 1997. Rhetoric and style were key weapons in this “war” of words and are often at the forefront of critical studies of the work. Myers 1977 is an important early defense of the Vindication’s formal coherence from denunciations of it as merely formless, “female” writing. Kaufman 1998 takes such an approach further into an extended account of the aesthetic differences that accompanied and articulated political opposition. While such formal concerns can never entirely be set aside, other studies focus more on Wollstonecraft’s political and philosophical ideas, as articulated in the first of her major works. Bromwich 1995 and Jones 2002 are both valuable in this context, the latter being especially appropriate for those wishing to identify the central ideas in this text that informed Wollstonecraft’s thinking as a whole. O’Neill 2007 and Conniff 1999 are among studies that address the first Vindication’s place in the context of contemporary political philosophy by exploring the precise nature of Wollstonecraft’s differences with Burke. For Conniff the split with Burke announces a split in progressive thinking that would continue into the next century. Finally, Poovey 1984 (which, like Jones 2002, takes the two Vindications together) explores the text within a landmark book-length study of Wollstonecraft’s struggles with 18th-century ideologies of femininity. Hers is an exemplary and important instance of critical approaches to the Vindication that yoke it to the dominant themes of Wollstonecraft studies: Gender and Sexuality.

  • Blakemore, Steven. Intertextual War: Edmund Burke and the French Revolution in the Writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine and James Mackintosh. London: Associated University Presses, 1997.

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    Approaches the revolution controversy as a discursive conflict. Offers three chapters (pp. 26–83) on Wollstonecraft’s engagement, in her first Vindication, with Burke’s Representation of Revolution: addresses her representation of Burke, including her feminization of him and her critique of his language. Also addresses Paine and Mackintosh on Burke.

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  • Bromwich, David. “Wollstonecraft as a Critic of Burke.” Political Theory 23 (1995): 617–634.

    DOI: 10.1177/0090591795023004003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Detailed and historically rigorous account of Wollstonecraft’s first Vindication as among the most original of an array of anti-Burke pamphlets. Reads Wollstonecraft as a serious moralist, and a deep thinker, and traces her response to Burke through a series of close textual readings.

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  • Conniff, James. “Edmund Burke and his Critics: The Case of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Journal of the History of Ideas 60 (1999): 299–318.

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    Considers Wollstonecraft’s Vindication within the context of a split in Whig opinion at the time of the revolution. Wollstonecraft is considered as a moderate Whig through her links to such circles; through her, the ambivalence toward Burke characteristic of that group is illuminated. Her stance is presented as prefiguring later splits in reformist opinion.

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  • Jones, Chris. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindications and their political tradition.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 42–58. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Addresses both Vindications to illuminate the nature of Wollstonecraft’s political beliefs and especially her republicanism. Useful accounts of how notions of sensibility, natural rights, citizenship, and progress inform her political arguments, addressing the influence of (and her differences with) other thinkers of her time and milieu.

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  • Kaufman, Robert. “The Madness of George III, by Mary Wollstonecraft.” Studies in Romanticism 37 (1998): 17–25.

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    On the “anti-theatre” of Wollstonecraft’s first Vindication as a response to the theatricality of Burke’s rhetoric in his Reflections. At stake is a both a radical rewriting of the aesthetic and the imagination as categories of experience, and also a resistance to aestheticization as mystification or false consciousness.

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  • Myers, Mitzi. “Politics from the Outside: Mary Wollstonecraft’s First Vindication.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 6 (1977): 113–132.

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    Valuable examination of Wollstonecraft’s first Vindication as a rhetorical, stylistic, as well as political and moral confrontation with Burke. Myers is especially attentive to the work’s form, tone, method of attack, and argumentative structures, which she defends from accusations of merely “personal” and unorganized writing.

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  • O’Neill, Daniel. The Burke-Wollstonecraft Debate: Savagery, Civilisation and Democracy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

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    Approaches Wollstonecraft’s dispute with Burke, manifested initially in her first Vindication, in the context of their differing responses to the political thinking of the Scottish Enlightenment, especially its theories of the civilizing process. Argues that for Burke, democracy represents a regression from civilization to savagery; for Wollstonecraft, it is precisely the opposite.

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  • Poovey, Mary. “Man’s Discourse, Woman’s Heart: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Two Vindications.” In The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, and Jane Austen. Edited by Mary Poovey, 48–81. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1984.

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    Explores the two Vindications within a book-length study of Wollstonecraft’s struggles with, and defense of, female feeling against an 18th-century ideology of female propriety. Attends closely to arguments around female sexuality in both texts.

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

The Vindication of the Rights of Woman lies at the heart of Wollstonecraft studies, as the work she was most famous for in her lifetime, and as the central articulation of her ideas on female “rights,” which are also traceable in her other writings. As such, there is an overwhelming mass of critical and historical studies of the work, from a variety of perspectives and disciplines: feminist, historical, theoretical, literary critical, philosophical, and political. Janes 1978 reminds us that the work was originally received as part of a well-established debate on female education. Craciun 2002, aimed primarily at literature and history students though useful to others as well, is a valuable guide through this welter of secondary material, and with its compilation of relevant primary materials, also serves as a good introduction to the text and its context. For Janes 1978 and Mellor 2002, the Vindication is best understood via its historical context: the former was an important counter to an earlier sense that the work was not well received when first published, the second offers a useful contextualization of Wollstonecraft’s ideas against those of other women writers of her day. Myers 1982 is similarly historicist, presenting the Vindication as engaging with contemporary debates about women’s domestic roles. Approaching the text as a work of political philosophy, by contrast, its themes of rights, equality, virtue, and power are examined in Shanley 1998. But, as is shown in Simpson 1993, the text can equally be seen to inflect key Romantic preoccupations with the (gendered) relations of reason and feeling, philosophico-theoretical concerns that draw the work more into the orbit of literary critical scholarship. For attention to its rhetorical strategies of self-legitimation, see Gallagher 2000 (cited under Studies of Language, Rhetoric, and Style); for close attention to its language and style see Hodson 2007 (cited under Studies of Language, Rhetoric, and Style). Finally, of course the Vindication has had an important role in the two centuries since its first appearance as a touchstone of feminist thought. Wilcox 2009 accounts for the ways in which the Vindication manages to be both of its time, and of the 21st century; Poston 1996, meanwhile, explores the extent to which the text can be read through the lens of current feminist concerns with the physical and sexual abuse of women and children.

  • Craciun, Adriana, ed. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    Collects a range of supporting materials, including exerpts from Rousseau and Macaulay; letters by Wollstonecraft; contemporary, 19th-, and early-20th-century responses; and selections from criticism. Key textual exerpts and suggested further reading are also provided. Invaluable for students new to this text and its scholarship.

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  • Janes, Regina M. “On the Reception of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.” Journal of the History of Ideas 39 (1978): 293–302.

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    Usefully detailed survey of reception of Wollstonecraft’s first Vindication, in contemporary reviews and beyond. Contrasts the favor this work initially received with the later opprobrium in which Wollstonecraft was held.

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  • Mellor, Anne. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and the Woman Writers of Her Day.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 141–159. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s Vindication in the context of other radical, liberal, and conservative women writers of the time, including Mary Hays, Mary Robinson, Hannah More, and Anna Barbauld. Contrasting ideas on female education, domestic roles, and marriage are especially highlighted.

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  • Myers, Mitzi. “Reform or Ruin: ‘A Revolution in Female Manners.’” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 11 (1982): 199–216.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication as primarily concerned with a reformation of women’s domestic roles. Argues that, like her contemporary Hannah More, Wollstonecraft attacks a female middle class corrupted by commercial society and fashionable luxury, to whom a discourse of moral reform, and an argument about female potential, should be addressed.

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  • Poston, Carol. “Mary Wollstonecraft and ‘The Body Politic.’” In Feminist Interpretations of Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Maria Falco, 85–104. University Park: Pennsyvania State University Press, 1996.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication as reflecting concerns with, and experience of, female physical vulnerability. Argues that the text reflects Wollstonecraft’s consciousness of physical and emotional abuse of women; its inability to fully formulate a powerful female subject is read as a consequence of possible childhood physical abuse and powerlessness.

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  • Shanley, Mary Lyndon. “Mary Wollstonecraft on Sensibility, Women’s Rights and Patriarchal Power.” In Women Writers and the Early Modern British Political Tradition. Edited by Hilda Smith, 148–167. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft’s understanding of the relationship between social practices and political power, and between virtue and politics, as expressed in the Vindication. Sensibility, sexuality, rights, and legal equality are shown to be at the heart of her thought.

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  • Simpson, David. “Engendering Method.” In Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt Against Theory. Edited by David Simpson, 104–125. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft within a book-length study of the Romantic turn from theory and systematic modes of thought. Focuses on Wollstonecraft’s engagement with the question of female reason in the Vindication, and her attempt to recover methodical thinking in and for women.

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  • Wilcox, Kirstin R. “Vindicating Paradoxes: Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Woman.’” Studies in Romanticism 48 (2009): 447–467.

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    Attempts to counter a perceived reluctance by contemporary feminism to draw in detail on Wollstonecraft’s thought, by championing her “prescient engagement” with the question of “what is a woman?” Argues that Wollstonecraft invokes a female subject who can be understood independently of the “oppressive contingencies” of her (and our) times.

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Mary and The Wrongs of Woman

Wollstonecraft’s body of work as a fiction writer, consisting of one novella its author later dismissed as a failure, and one novel left unfinished at her death, is remarkably limited for a figure who often features prominently in the curriculums of literature courses. Nevertheless, it has attracted some important criticism: although The Wrongs of Woman is addressed significantly more than the earlier Mary, which critics, following Wollstonecraft herself, struggle to see as a successful work. In addition to what is listed here, Kelly 1992, Poovey 1984, and Johnson 1995 (all cited under Critical Overviews) contain landmark discussions of Wollstonecraft’s fiction. Criticism of her novels addresses a number of issues, not least why she wrote in this form, given the opposition to novels expressed in the second Vindication. (For her treatment of novels in her reviews, see Myers 1990 (cited under Journalism and Other Writings); for another exploration of her difficulties with the novel form, see Poovey 1982 (cited under Studies of Language, Rhetoric, and Style). O’Quinn 1997 and Poovey 2002 both offer answers here. Both link Wollstonecraft’s fiction writing to her larger project of social and cultural critique; for both, this critique necessarily involves a reworking of existing fictional forms and genres. Wollstonecraft’s refashioning of the genre of sentimental romance is addressed further in Jones 1994 and Watson 1994. While the latter focuses on the epistolary novel, and especially Wollstonecraft’s engagement with the model of fiction offered by Rousseau, Jones 1994 links Wollstonecraft’s fictional work to the concerns of the second Vindication, to read The Wrongs of Woman as part of an attempt to rewrite narratives of female subjectivity and sexuality. Todd 1980 also approaches the fiction in relation to the larger preoccupations of Wollstonecraft’s work as a whole; in her case, The Wrongs of Woman can be read as an investigation of the complexity of Wollstonecraft’s relation to sensibility. Historical rather than literary contexts are more foregrounded in Robinson 1997 and Komisaruk 2004. Robinson 1997 considers Wollstonecraft’s two fictions in the light of her religious faith, tracing a movement from faith to feminist political critique between the two works. His attention to the role of religion in Wollstonecraft builds on the important work of Barbara Taylor on this topic; see Taylor 2003, (cited under Critical Overviews) Taylor 2002, and Taylor 1997 (both cited under Formative Influences). Komisaruk 2004 by contrast reads The Wrongs of Woman in the context of 18th-century civil trials for adultery. Finally, Rajan 1988 offers a more theoretical approach to Wollstonecraft’s fiction, considering the hermeneutics and the role of the reader in each text. Although rigorously theoretical, Rajan’s reading nevertheless links back to recurring themes in Wollstonecraft criticism: the possibility of liberation, individual freedom, improvement, and progress.

  • Jones, Vivien. “‘The Tyranny of the Passions’: Feminism and Heterosexuality in the Fiction of Wollstonecraft and Hays.” In Political Gender: Texts and Contexts. Edited by S. Ledger, 173–188. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994.

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    Reads The Wrongs of Woman, and its refashioning of the 18th-century sentimental romance, as an attempt to rewrite the established narrative of female sexual subjectivity, and to alter its psychic structure.

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  • Komisaruk, Adam. “The Privatization of Pleasure: ‘Crim. Con.’ In Wollstonecraft’s Maria.” Law and Literature 16 (2004): 33–63.

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    Explores Maria in the context of 18th-century civil trials for adultery or “criminal conversation” which, it argues, upheld sexual propriety and middle-class property rights, whilst marginalizing female will and the servant class. Komisaruk explores how much Wollstonecraft’s novel has in common with this tradition, despite apparently deploring it.

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  • O’Quinn, Daniel. “Trembling: Wollstonecraft, Godwin and the Resistance to Literature.” ELH 64 (1997): 761–788.

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    Reads The Wrongs of Woman in the context of Wollstonecraft’s resistance to literature, and novels in particular, as offered in her second Vindication. Wollstonecraft’s novel offers a critique of the dangers of literature, and a critique of sentimental fiction that is partially disguised by Godwin’s textual edits.

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  • Poovey, Mary. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Novels.” The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 189–208. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Accessible and illuminating readings of her fiction by a leading Wollstonecraft critic, which explicate these attempts to mobilize the novel form, despite her reservations, as a vehicle for cultural and social critique. See Poovey 1984 (under Critical Overviews) for more extended discussion from this critic.

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  • Rajan, Tilottama. “Wollstonecraft and Godwin: Reading the Secrets of the Political Novel.” Studies in Romanticism 27 (1988): 221–251.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s novels within the context of the rise of hermeneutics and explores how the role of the reader complicates textual meaning. Contrasts the “closed” nature of Mary with the stress on the role of the reader and reading in The Wrongs of Woman.

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  • Robinson, Daniel. “Theodicy Versus Feminist Strategy in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Fiction.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 9 (1997): 183–202.

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    Addresses apparent conflict between religious faith and feminist concerns in Wollstonecraft’s fiction, and contrasts Mary, which it sees as a “literary theodicy” and The Wrongs of Woman in this light. Argues the latter text abandons the approach of the earlier one in favor of a political analysis of social evil.

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  • Todd, Janet. “Reason and Sensibility in Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Wrongs of Woman.” Frontiers 5 (1980): 17–20.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s novel to counter the accusation that she retreated from the earlier opposition to sensibility present in Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Argues through plot exposition that The Wrongs of Woman is equally alert to the dangers of sensibility that it sees as necessarily combined with reason.

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  • Watson, Nicola. Revolution and the Form of the English Novel, 1790–1825. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198112976.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contains a short but important account of Wollstonecraft’s novel within a study of the fate of the epistolary novel at the end of the 18th century. Valuable for its insight into the influence of Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse on Wollstonecraft and others, and on Wollstonecraft’s attempt to rewrite its sentimental narrative.

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An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution

Although the French Revolution is widely recognized as the defining historical event of Wollstonecraft’s time, her historical account of the early years of the Revolution, written while she was in France witnessing some of its key events firsthand, has received relatively little attention. Her Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progess of the French Revolution was the first work she wrote following the major success of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The only full modern text of this work is in Todd and Butler 1989 (cited under Editions). As Rendall 1997 powerfully demonstrates, it is a work fully informed by the Scottish tradition of philosophical history, with which Wollstonecraft was familiar through her work as a reviewer for Joseph Johnson’s Analytical Review. Rendall 1997 remains the most complete account of Wollstonecraft’s concerns in this work. More introductory, but equally useful, accounts are offered in Furniss 2002 and Jump 1991; Furniss 2002 attends not only to the Historical and Moral View but also to representations of the revolution in Burke and Wollstonecraft’s earlier writings. For an account of how political and economic concerns inform Wollstonecraft’s historical writing, see Packham 2014. For the Analytical Review’s response to the French Revolution, see Rigby 1989 (cited under the 1790s and the Revolution Controversy). In Jones 1992, Wollstonecraft is considered more through the lens of Romanticism than the Enlightenment context foregrounded in Rendall 1997. Jones 1992 identifies the more fictional, Gothic elements of Wollstonecraft’s history writing, while also addressing Wollstonecraft’s recurring concerns with sensibility and sexuality. Also more thematically concerned is Tauchert 1997, which traces figures of motherhood in Wollstonecraft’s writing on revolution.

  • Furniss, Tom. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s French Revolution.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 59–81. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Addresses not just Wollstonecraft’s Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution, but also her attitude to the revolution as evident in her earlier writings, especially the Vindications. Also locates her writings within her life and reads them against the unfolding events of the revolution itself.

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  • Jones, Vivien. “Women Writing Revolution: Narratives of History and Sexuality in Wollstonecraft and Williams.” In Beyond Romanticism. Edited by Stephen Copley and John Whale, 178–199. London: Routledge, 1992.

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    Argues Wollstonecraft’s “rationalist” historical narrative is supplemented by “novelistic paradigms,” in particular the Gothic, marking the revolution’s disruption of Enlightenment progress. More broadly, Jones argues that historical necessity is written by Wollstonecraft in terms of confrontations between sensibility, sublimity, class, and sexuality.

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  • Jump, Harriet Devine. “‘The Cool Eye of Observation’: Mary Wollstonecraft and the French Revolution.” In Revolution in Writing: British Literary Responses to the French Revolution. Edited by Kelvin Everest, 101–120. Milton Keynes, UK: Open University Press, 1991.

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    Gives the historical and biographical context of Wollstonecraft’s history of the French Revolution and surveys contemporary reviews. Also addresses the fate of Wollstonecraft’s philosophical optimism, and of reason in the text. A useful overview for beginning students that opens up important interpretative issues.

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  • Packham, Catherine. “‘The Common Grievance of the Revolution’: Bread, the Grain Trade, and Political Economy in Mary Wollstonecraft’s View of the French Revolution.” European Romantic Review 25 (2014): 705–722.

    DOI: 10.1080/10509585.2014.963843Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers Wollstonecraft’s history of the French Revolution in the context of contemporary arguments for and against free trade. The securing of a free trade in grain after the march on Versailles operates as a case study in how measures toward political liberty might be attained despite the limitations of political knowledge among such people as the Parisian “mob.”

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  • Rendall, Jane. “‘The Grand Causes Which Combine to Carry Mankind Forward’: Mary Wollstonecraft, History and Revolution.” Women’s Writing 4 (1997): 155–172.

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    Important study of Wollstonecraft’s history of the French Revolution. Places her in the Scottish tradition of philosophical history, while arguing that the realities of the revolution prevent her reading the event via a progressivist history of improvement. Wollstonecraft’s ambivalence about the possibility of social progress in commercial society emerges strongly.

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  • Tauchert, Ashley. “Maternity, Castration and Mary Wollstonecraft’s Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution.” Women’s Writing 4 (1997): 173–203.

    DOI: 10.1080/09699089700200017Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reads Wollstonecraft’s history of the French Revolution as a challenge to our view of Wollstonecraft the feminist champion. Explains what it sees as the impersonality of its narrative with reference to Wollstonecraft’s experience of motherhood, and, via Judith Butler and Kristeva, suggests it records the woman writer’s struggle with definitions of femininity.

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A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark

Wollstonecraft’s A Short Residence can in some ways lay claim to be her most successfully realized literary work. It certainly lends itself to be discussed in line with preoccupations around Romantic subjectivity and aesthetics; it has also benefited from a resurgence of critical interest in travel writing. Rousseau remains a central reference point for this text, highlighted in different ways by Adelman 2011, Yousef 1999, and Schlick 2012. In Yousef 1999 and Adelman 2011, Wollstonecraft is considered as refashioning a Roussauvian solitariness; for Adelman 2011, who emphasizes the pull of an aesthetic idleness in the text, Cowper’s “brown study” is also an important intertext. Schlick 2012 takes off from Rousseau’s Emile, rather than his Solitary Wanderer, to offer an original account of Wollstonecraft’s travel writing as a return to her preoccupations with education and gender. Here the restlessness of Wollstonecraft’s text is read as embodying a deliberate resistance to Rousseau’s writing of women as passively excluded from the cultural authority of the educated male. Favret 2002 and Packham 2012 also emphasize the text’s restlessness, which both link to its ambivalence and sense of entrapment. Packham 2012 extends this into a reading of the text’s preoccupations with commercial society and its possible futures, drawing on the account in Rendall 1997 (cited under An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution) of Wollstonecraft’s knowledge of progressivist histories of improvement, while reading the Short Residence as ambivalently positioned in relation to such narratives. Verhoeven 2006 provides an insightful account of the commercial motivations that informed Wollstonecraft’s Scandinavian travels, undertaken in pursuit of a lost “treasure ship” related to the business dealings of her American lover, Gilbert Imlay. Verhoeven’s account is all the more fascinating due to Wollstonecraft’s own rigorous exclusion from her text of any detail of this particular form of personal motivation. For still more detail on Imlay’s various commercial adventures, see Verhoeven 2006; for further details on Wollstonecraft’s travels, see Nyström 1980. Finally Weiss 2006 brings the text back into touch with familiar themes in Wollstonecraft studies: sentimentalism and gender. Just as Jones 1994 and Watson 1994 (both cited under Mary and The Wrongs of Woman) read her fiction as rewriting the 18th-century sentimental novel, Weiss 2006 reads the Short Residence as a refashioning of the sentimental journey, exposing that genre’s persistent foregrounding of female as an object for the production of feeling.

  • Adelman, Richard. “Cowper, Coleridge and Wollstonecraft.” In Idleness, Contemplation and the Aesthetic, 1750–1830. Edited by Richard Adelman, 68–101. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft’s Short Residence within a study of Romantic notions of idle contemplation and aesthetic thought. Close textual readddress Wollstonecraft’s remodeling of the Rousseavian solitary wanderer, her relationship with Cowper, and her exploration of the “dangerous emotional and sensual anarchy” (p. 93) located at the heart of idle contemplation.

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  • Favret, Mary. “Letters Written During a Short Residence In Sweden, Norway and Denmark: traveling with Mary Wollstonecraft.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 209–227. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Explores the restlessness of Wollstonecraft’s travel writing and how it informs the author’s self-presentation in this text. Argues that mobility, initially liberating and creative, modulates into something compromised and inescapable, in a test of the possibilities of faith and happiness.

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  • Nyström, Per. Mary Wollstonecraft’s Scandinavian Journey. Vol. 17. Gothenburg: Kungliga Vetenskaps- och Vitterhets-Samhället, 1980.

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    Presents valuable archival research into the details of Wollstonecraft’s travels in Scandinavia.

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  • Packham, Catherine. “Domesticity, Objects and Idleness: Mary Wollstonecraft and Political Economy.” Women’s Writing 19 (2012): 544–562.

    DOI: 10.1080/09699082.2012.718206Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that Wollstonecraft’s “revolution in manners” links a concern with the domestic to a critique of commercial society. Reads her Vindication of the Rights of Woman as deeply involved in the critique of the culture of property new consolidated in political economy; traces similar preoccupations in her Letters from Sweden.

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  • Schlick, Yaël. “The Sex of Travel: Sexual Contract and Enlightenment Travel in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft.” In Feminism and the Politics of Travel after the Enlightenment. Edited by Yaël Schlick, 19–50. Lanham, MD: Bucknell University Press, 2012.

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    Connects Rousseau’s linking of travel with education in Emile to the asymmetry of his thinking on gender: female stasis is the necessary counter to educative, active male travel. Wollstonecraft’s travels thus rewrite Rousseau to insist on woman as active and self-educating cultural participant.

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  • Verhoeven, Wil. “Gilbert Imlay and the Triangular Trade.” William and Mary Quarterly 63.4 (2006): 827–842.

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    Rigorously researched to provide a detailed account of Imlay’s various American projects and speculations including involvement in the slave trade. Sets this against Wollstonecraft’s objections to commercialism in Letters from Sweden.

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  • Weiss, Deborah. “Suffering, Sentiment, and Civilization: Pain and Politics in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Short Residence.” Studies in Romanticism 45 (2006): 199–221.

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    Explores the complexity of Wollstonecraft’s use of sentimentalism in this text, in which she critiques a culture where the production of feeling is predicated on female suffering. Wollstonecraft disrupts generic conventions to rewrite the sentimental journey, to expose the abuse of women foundational to society.

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  • Yousef, Nancy. “Wollstonecraft, Rousseau and the Revision of Romantic Subjectivity.” Studies in Romanticism 38 (1999): 537–557.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s Letters from Sweden against accounts of Romantic subjectivity as set against and and at peace with its surroundings. Instead, Yousef finds in Wollstonecraft a subjectivity produced through an isolated imaginative process of creative self-fashioning. Also discusses Wollstonecraft’s engagement with Rousseau in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

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Journalism and Other Writings

As well as her major and better known works, Wollstonecraft also produced a number of other works, particularly in the early stages of her writing career. Most prominent among these are the hundreds of reviews written for Joseph Johnson’s Analytical Review. Wardle 1947 is an early introductory account of these, written by a Wollstonecraft scholar who later collected her letters and wrote her biography. Myers 1990 and Myers 2002 offer more analytical discussion. Myers 1990, which may be difficult to locate, reads the evidence of the reviews in relation to the perennial debate over Sensibility; Myers 2002 offers a later reexploration of this argument. As Wardle 1947 notes, many of Wollstonecraft’s reviews relate to motherhood, education, and children, and these interests bore fruit in her other early works, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, Original Stories, and the edited anthology, The Female Reader. These are explored in varying ways in Jones 2002, Richardson 2002, and Myers 1986. Richardson 2002 considers the works within the context of 18th-century educational theory, especially works on the education of women, a recurring concern of Wollstonecraft’s. (More on Wollstonecraft and educational theory is offered in Frazer 2011, cited under Formative Influences). Jones 2002 explores Wollstonecraft’s relation to conduct writing and the literature of instruction, a tradition she both inhabits and critiques. Myers, a specialist on children’s literature, explores Wollstonecraft’s stories for children (Original Stories) for their cultural attitudes to children and motherhood. Finally, Devine 1997 focuses on a text from the other end of Wollstonecraft’s life, a late overlooked essay, “On Poetry,” to explore Wollstonecraft’s ideas about the poetic imagination.

  • Devine, Harriet Jump. “‘A Kind of Witchcraft’: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Poetic Imagination.” Women’s Writing 4 (1997): 235–245.

    DOI: 10.1080/09699089700200013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses Wollstonecraft’s essay “On Poetry, and Our Relish for the Beauties of Nature” (1797), to discuss her developing ideas about the poetic imagination, traced from early disapproval to its central role in her later thought. Also addresses Godwin’s later editing of the essay where significant alterations are made.

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  • Jones, Vivien. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Literature of Advice and Instruction.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 119–140. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft’s early works, including Thoughts on the Education of Daughters and her anthology The Female Reader, within context of 18th-century conduct manuals and instruction literature. Also traces this element of Wollstonecraft’s writing through to her second Vindication.

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  • Myers, Mitzi. “Impeccable Governesses, Rational Dames, and Moral Mothers: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Female Tradition in Georgian Children’s Books.” Children’s Literature 14 (1986): 31–59.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft’s writings for children in a period that saw the emergence of children’s literature as a distinct genre. Resists the usual characterization of such texts as purely didactic to instead find clues to cultural changes in attitude, values, and behaviors, especially relating to motherhood.

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  • Myers, Mitzi. “Sensibility and the ‘Walk of Reason’: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Literary Reviews as Cultural Critique.” In Sensibility in Transformation. Edited by S. M. Conger, 120–146. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.

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    Argues that Wollstonecraft’s reviews illustrate her development as a theorist of gender and represent an important document in the history of sensibility. They show how Wollstonecraft’s gendered perspective shapes her sociocultural analysis. Wollstonecraft’s opposition to novels emerges as founded on their affected sentimentalism, not the imaginative basis.

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  • Myers, Mitzi. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s Literary Reviews.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 82–98. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Attempts to redress the critical overlooking of Wollstonecraft’s substantial writings as a reviewer for Joseph Johnson’s Analytical Review, which illuminate the breadth of her reading and the development of her ideas. Argues that the reviews show Wollstonecraft’s transition from a tentative confessional author to an authoritative public figure.

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  • Richardson, Alan. “Mary Wollstonecraft on education.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 24–41. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Discusses the early Thoughts on the Education of Daughters and Original Stories, as well as Wollstonecraft’s responses to Catharine Macaulay’s Letters on Education and other educational theorists. Also addresses the second Vindication as a work on female education.

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  • Wardle, Ralph. “Mary Wollstonecraft, Analytical Reviewer.” PMLA 62.4 (1947): 1000–1009.

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    Detailed account of Wollstonecraft’s probable 412 reviews in Joseph Johnson’s Analytical Review, especially highlighting her reviews of works on children, motherhood, and education. Her reviewing career is placed within the context of events in Wollstonecraft’s own life, and of her developing views and outlook.

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Studies of Language, Rhetoric, and Style

Listed below are critical works that are especially focused on issues of form, genre, rhetoric, language, and style in Wollstonecraft. Since the rhetorical and stylistic innovations of her first major publication, the Vindication of the Rights of Men, studies of her writing have often included significant attention to such concerns: Wollstonecraft’s formal strategies, her willingness to rework generic conventions to give voice to her critique of social, political, and textual norms, are often central to critical responses to her work. Indeed, works such as Kelly 1992 and Poovey 1984 (both cited under Critical Overviews) place formal, generic, and stylistic struggle at the heart of their accounts of Wollstonecraft’s work. Listed below are a number of further studies where special attention is given to language and form. Boulton 1963 is a foundational study of the language of Wollstonecraft and her political peers; its perception of disorderliness in Wollstonecraft’s writing was countered in an important intervention by Myers 1977 (cited under A Vindication of the Rights of Men and the Dispute with Burke). Hodson 2007 is a study in the tradition of Boulton 1963, focusing on the politics of language as well as considering specific instances of language practice. Gallagher 2000 addresses the preface to the Vindication to the Rights of Woman to consider the rhetorics of self-legitimization in Wollstonecraft and other women writers. Meanwhile genre is at the heart of the approaches of Poovey 1982 and Burgess 2000. Poovey 1982 is an early exploration of the links between genre (in this case sentimental fiction) and the social institutions of gender, an analysis that would later be elaborated on in Poovey 1982. This approach is extended in Burgess 2000, which especially addresses parody as a strategy for displacing oppressive generic norms.

  • Boulton, James. The Language of Politics in the Age of Wilkes and Burke. London: Routledge, 1963.

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    Early study of the rhetoric and style of Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries. Reads her as a political pamphleteer but accuses her of lacking “strict orderliness” and writing under pressures of “strong feelings” without an “organised plan.” Some useful attention to Wollstonecraft’s use of pastoral and Shakespearean references.

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  • Burgess, Miranda. “Wollstonecraft and the Revolution of Economic History.” In British Fiction and the Production of the Social Order 1740–1830. Edited by Miranda Burgess, 113–149. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Part of a book-length study of the romance genre, Burgess’s chapter on Wollstonecraft discusses a range of her writings especially in relation to genre and generic parody. For Burgess, Wollstonecraft produces “ironic counter-romances” that contest the gendered injustices of a social order produced by the genre of romance.

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  • Gallagher, Catherine. “A History of the Precedent: Rhetorics of Legitimation in Women’s Writing.” Critical Inquiry 26 (2000): 309–327.

    DOI: 10.1086/448968Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the preface to Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman within the context of questions of legitimation in women’s writing. Argues that Wollstonecraft justifies her female voice on the ground of rational authority, occupying a “rational discursive mode” which “legitimises her” and excuses her from attending to earlier female voices.

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  • Hodson, Jane. Language and Revolution in Burke, Wollstonecraft, Paine and Godwin. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

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    Chapter on the style of Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication within a book-length study of the language of politics, and the politics of language, in the 1790s. Addresses Wollstonecraft’s exclamatory style alongside her views on language. Other chapters address Burke, Paine, and Godwin, and stylistic prescriptions of the period.

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  • Poovey, Mary. “Mary Wollstonecraft: The Gender of Genres in Late Eighteenth-Century England.” Novel 15 (1982): 111–126.

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    Considers Wollstonecraft’s use of fiction to address the “Wrongs of Woman” already expressed in her second Vindication. Her difficulties with the novel form are linked to her insights to the relationship between sentimental fiction, the institution of marriage and female sexuality, and into the failure of established genres to satisfactorily address Wollstonecraft’s gender concerns.

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Formative Influences

A myriad of fascinatingly diverse influences informed the development of Wollstonecraft’s thought, including political dissent and religious beliefs. Although Wollstonecraft has long been linked to radical dissenters, the significance of her religious faith on her work and thought has tended to be occluded; Taylor 2002 and Taylor 1997, shorter statements of the thesis that informs Taylor 2002, have done much to rectify this, especially by exploring the relationship and tensions between her faith and her feminism. Rousseau and Catherine Macaulay were crucial figures in dialogue with whom Wollstonecraft articulated her ideas. Frazer 2011 studies Wollstonecraft’s engagement with Macaulay; Trouille 1997 is an exhaustive account of Rousseau’s ideas on women, to which Wollstonecraft and others responded. Rousseau also figures in Gunther-Canada 2001, with its fully developed reading of Wollstonecraft’s thought as an overturning of the gender politics of Rousseau and Burke. Finally Barker-Benfield 1989 is an important account of Wollstonecraft’s links to the 17th-century Commonwealth tradition, inherited by the dissenting circle she moved in. It does much to explain the nature and genealogy of her political beliefs. See Vega 2002 (cited under the Philosophical Tradition) for a more developed and detailed account of the same. For the influence on Wollstonecraft of Scottish Enlightenment historians, and their models of progress and improvement, see Rendall 1997 (cited under An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution). For Wollstonecraft and 18th-century debates on women, and 18th-century feminism, see Wollstonecraft and 18th-Century Feminism.

  • Barker-Benfield, G. J. “Mary Wollstonecraft: Commonwealth Woman.” Journal of the History of Ideas 50 (1989): 95–111.

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    Argues that Wollstonecraft is predominantly a political writer who draws on the Commonwealth tradition used also by dissenters to extend the Commonwealth analysis of male corruption, and its program for reform, to women. Additionally, this surveys mid-17th-century Commonwealth thinkers and discusses their influence on dissenters including Richard Price and James Burgh.

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  • Frazer, Elizabeth. “Mary Wollstonecraft and Catharine Macaulay on Education.” Oxford Review of Education 37 (2011): 603–617.

    DOI: 10.1080/03054985.2011.625165Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the intellectual and political links between Wollstonecraft and Macaulay as thinkers committed to the value of education. Shows how Wollstonecraft was influenced by Macaulay’s critical reading of Locke and Rousseau on education, and how both women focused on authority, social power and gender in Rousseau’s pedagogy.

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  • Gunther-Canada, Wendy. Rebel Writer: Mary Wollstonecraft and Enlightenment Politics. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001.

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    Focuses on Wollstonecraft’s gender politics as an overturning of Rousseau and Burke’s constructions of femininity as weak and sexualized. Describes Wollstonecraft’s revolutionary political theory as an Enlightenment insistence on women’s participation as rational individuals in the public sphere.

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  • Taylor, Barbara. “For the Love of God: Religion and the Erotic Imagination in Wollstonecraft’s Feminism.” In Mary Wollstonecraft and 200 years of Feminisms. Edited by Eileen Yeo, 15–35. London: Rivers Oram, 1997.

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    Addresses Wollstonecraft’s religious thought and its place in her life and her writings, especially focusing on the relationship between her religious beliefs and her sexual philosophy. Explores Wollstonecraft’s attempts to distinguish between proper and improper objects for the erotic imagination, both in her fiction and in her philosophical writing.

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  • Taylor, Barbara. “The Religious Foundations of Wollstonecraft’s Feminism.” In Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 99–118. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Traces the importance of Wollstonecraft’s religious faith throughout her career and explores its presence in her writings. Valuable countering of a critical tendency to secularize Wollstonecraft and elide important elements in her mental formation that underlie her historical difference from later feminist thought.

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  • Trouille, Mary Seidman. Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment: Women Writers Read Rousseau. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

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    Thorough account of Rousseau’s views on women, domesticity, and sensibility. Includes chapter on Wollstonecraft’s response to Rousseau alongside that of Staël. Addresses Wollstonecraft’s review of Staël’s Lettres sur Rousseau as well as Wollstonecraft’s attack on Emile’s sexual politics.

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The Philosophical Tradition

Works listed here locate Wollstonecraft’s thought within various philosophical contexts and debates. Sapiro 1992 and Taylor 2007 both approach Wollstonecraft as a political philosopher and assess her work as informed by (and contributing to) that field. Vega 2002, in an important intellectual history collection, is an essential article for those considering Wollstonecraft’s relation to civic humanism. Kay 1986 considers Wollstonecraft’s relation to the social theory of Adam Smith. Swift 2006, Reiss 1989, and Ferguson 1989 make more of contemporary theoretical contexts. Swift 2006 reads Wollstonecraft as part of a critique of postmodern attacks on Enlightenment thinking to defend her romantic enthusiasm. Reiss 1989 also considers Wollstonecraft in the context of Enlightenment reason in order to critique a conservatism he finds in her work; however, Reiss is, in turn, critiqued in Ferguson 1989. The title of Ferguson 1989 ironically points to the dangers of assimilating Wollstonecraft too readily to ahistorical theoretical approaches.

  • Ferguson, Frances. “Wollstonecraft Our Contemporary.” In Gender and Theory: Dialogues in Feminist Criticism. Edited by Linda Kauffman, 51–62. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

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    Counters the argument of Reiss 1989 (in the same volume) in an essay that addresses problems of bringing modern theoretical approaches to investigations of Wollstonecraft’s thought. Emphasizes the relation of reason to pity in Wollstonecraft’s insights into gender.

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  • Kay, Carol. “Canon, Ideology and Gender: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Critique of Adam Smith.” New Political Science 7 (1986): 63–76.

    DOI: 10.1080/07393148608429612Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Places Wollstonecraft in a lineage, including Smith, of social theorists who link morality to personal feeling, and who emphasize the role of social opinion in sustaining morality. Especially valuable for discussion of the fluid disciplinary terrain of 18th-century “letters,” and the generic looseness of philosophical writing at the time.

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  • Reiss, Timothy J. “Revolution in Bounds: Wollstonecraft, Women and Reason.” In Gender and Theory: Dialogues in Feminist Criticism. Edited by L. Kauffman, 11–50. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

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    Identifies a fundamental conservatism in Wollstonecraft, linked to her adherence to the norms of the Enlightenment discourse of reason. Her internalization of these values is the revolutionary failure to escape from the constraints of the very premises of its environment. See Ferguson 1989 in same volume for counter-argument.

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  • Sapiro, Virginia. Vindication of Political Virtue: The Political Theory of Mary Wollstonecraft. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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    Book-length study of Wollstonecraft as a political thinker that situates her feminism within a broader account of her philosophical concerns. Chapters address Wollstonecraft’s notions of the self, nature, the family and state, language and representation, revolutionary thinking, and feminism.

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  • Swift, Simon. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the ‘Reserve of Reason.’” Studies in Romanticism 45 (2006): 3–24.

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    Situates Wollstonecraft’s works within debates over reason and emotion in the 1790s, in a context which draws in Burke, Kant, Godwin, and others. Recovers Wollstonecraft from a conflict between these two terms by describing the “emergence of a liberated romantic enthusiasm” from Enlightenment rationalist restrictions.

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  • Taylor, Natalie Fuehrer. The Rights of Woman as Chimera: The Political Philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York and London: Routledge, 2007.

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    Considers Wollstonecraft’s political philosophy as informed by Aristotle, Locke, and Rousseau. Locates Wollstonecraft’s thinking about women and gender within critiques of these predecessors, and in line with other elements of her political and utopian philosophy.

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  • Vega, Judith A. “Feminist Republicanism and the Political Perception of Gender.” In Republicanism: A Shared European Heritage. Vol. 2. Edited by Martin van Gelderen and Quentin Skinner, 157–176. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Valuable account of 18th-century feminist discourse’s engagement with civic humanism and the source of notions of public virtue and civic participation. Distinguishes feminist republicanism, with its emphasis on virtuous female action, from a republican tradition more focused on political solutions and political communities. Essential for considering Wollstonecraft in this context.

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Enlightenment and Romanticism

Critics are divided between accounting for Wollstonecraft as a late Enlightenment thinker or as a Romantic one; or indeed, as some of the best accounts have argued, as someone whose writings can be plotted against both contexts. For one of the most persuasive accounts of the influence on Wollstonecraft of Scottish Enlightenment philosophy, see Rendall 1997 (cited under An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution). This section collects works that read Wollstonecraft in various ways in the context of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Whale 1992 focuses on Wollstonecraft on the imagination to explore the tensions of a writer seeking to refashion an Enlightenment inheritance into more “Romantic” expressions. In this, Whale 1992 extends and complicates the accounts offered in Todd 1980 (cited under Mary and The Wrongs of Woman) and Myers 1990 (cited under Journalism and Other Writings) of a Wollstonecraft caught between reason and sensibility. Swift 2006 also fully investigates this context for Wollstonecraft, in a defense of Romantic “expressive rationality” against critiques of Enlightenment thought. Simpson 1993 offers a comparable investigation of Wollstonecraft as exploring the possibilities and limits of philosophy against the limits of systematic reason. Gender plays an important role in the Simpson 1993 account of Wollstonecraft’s “female” reason, and it is also central to Mellor 1993 and Craciun 2009. Mellor 1993 has become a widely recognized work on Romanticism and gender; it identifies a “feminine” Romanticism, in which Wollstonecraft is a key figure, to counter the traditional account that foregrounds the work of six male poets. Craciun 2009 by contrast investigates the resistance offered by Romantic women writers to narratives of sexual difference located in the body. Finally Mellor 1995 and Wolfson 2002 explore Wollstonecraft’s relations to Romantic poets. Mellor 1995 examines Wollstonecraft alongside Blake, who illustrated some of her early works; this essay explores their shared deployment of a language of slavery to articulate the position of women in late 18th-century Britain. For more of Wollstonecraft and slavery, see the much cited Ferguson’s study (Ferguson 1992, cited under Other Issues of Race, Slavery, Motherhood, Nation). Although not limited to Romantic poets, Wolfson 2002 explores the presence of poetic allusion in Wollstonecraft’s writings, an unusual approach that attends to how her extensive knowledge of literary works is deployed to further social and political critique.

  • Craciun, Adriana. “Violence against Difference: Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Robinson and Women’s Strength.” In Fatal Women of Romanticism. By Adriana Craciun, 47–75. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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    Discusses the concern with female physical strength in Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication. Relates this to debates over the nature of women’s physical strength associated with French women’s political activism during the revolution, as well as to Romantic women writers’ resistance to a narrative of fixed sexual difference located in the body.

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  • Mellor, Anne K. Romanticism and Gender. London: Routledge, 1993.

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    Discusses Wollstonecraft within the larger study of Romanticism, gender, and genre. Addresses gender in “masculine Romanticism” and identifies a “feminine Romanticism,” under which the “Revolution in Female Manners” proposed by Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication is explored. Brief account also of Vindication of the Rights of Men.

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  • Mellor, Anne K. “Sex, Violence and Slavery: Blake and Wollstonecraft.” Huntington Library Quarterly 58 (1995): 345–370.

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    Discusses Blake’s Visions of the Daughters of Albion as a response to Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication. Sees Blake, like Wollstonecraft, as adapting the language of slavery to articulate the position of women in contemporary society. Useful survey of debates on the slave trade in the 1780s and 1790s.

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  • Simpson, David. “Engendering Method.” In Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt Against Theory. Edited by David Simpson, 104–125. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft within a book-length study of the Romantic turn from theory and systematic modes of thought. Focuses on Wollstonecraft’s engagement with the question of female reason in the Vindication, and her attempt to recover methodical thinking in and for women.

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  • Swift, Simon. Romanticism, Literature and Philosophy: Expressive Rationality in Rousseau, Kant, Wollstonecraft and Contemporary Theory. London: Continuum, 2006.

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    Addresses Wollstonecraft as part of a defense of philosophical reason against New Historicist readings of Romanticism, and postmodern and deconstructive critiques of Enlightenment thinking. Demonstrates the capacity of “expressive rationality” to speak to forms of difference and to counterattacks on Enlightenment universalism.

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  • Whale, John. “Preparations for Happiness: Mary Wollstonecraft and Imagination.” In Reviewing Romanticism. Edited by Philip Martin and Robin Jarvis, 170–189. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1992.

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    Examines the role of imagination in a moral writer centrally concerned with the individual’s moral improvement or degradation. Sees the complexities and contradictions of Wollstonecraft’s attitude to the imagination as indicative of the sometimes fraught combination of Enlightenment rationalism and Romantic feeling in her work.

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  • Wolfson, Susan J. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Poets.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 160–188. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    Unusual survey of Wollstonecraft’s engagement with the poetic canon as part of her larger project of political and cultural critique. Engages not only with her Romantic contemporaries but also with earlier poets. Also addresses later poetic responses to Wollstonecraft, especially in the immediate aftermath of her death.

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Sensibility

The 18th-century discourse of sensibility has become a key context as well as an area of controversy in Wollstonecraft studies. Founded in an account of the body’s receptivity, as articulated in the empiricist philosophy of Locke, sensibility also carried moral and even spiritual overtones. For the fullest historical account of the 18th-century cult of sensibility, and of Wollstonecraft within that, see Barker-Benfield 1992. Conger 1994 offers a clear account of the range of Wollstonecraft’s responses to sensibility over her career: her description of a shift in attitudes from early to late Wollstonecraft is well established. (Compare Myers 1990 [cited under Journalism and Other Writings] for a comparable account focused only on Wollstonecraft’s review writing.) In the 1790s sensibility was swept up into the political ferment, hotly debated and deployed by radical and conservative writers to become a defining (though multilayered) political language of the time. Jones 1993 is a useful extended guide to this, although with relatively little coverage of Wollstonecraft. For a shorter account, and one more focused on Wollstonecraft, see McCann 1999. Schulman 2007 also examines Wollstonecraft’s mobilization of a politics of sensibility as part of her response to Burke and the French Revolution. For other accounts of sensibility within specific Wollstonecraft texts, see Todd 1980 (cited under Mary and The Wrongs of Woman) on her fiction and Weiss 2006 (cited under A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) on A Short Residence in Sweden. For accounts linking sensibility to female sexuality, see under Gender and Sexuality.

  • Barker-Benfield, G. J. The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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    Substantial historical study of the culture of sensibility in mid- to late-18th-century Britain. Elucidates the context within which Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries debated sensibility. Also offers a detailed account of Wollstonecraft’s often conflicted use of sensibility both in her published writings and private letters.

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  • Conger, Syndy M. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Language of Sensibility. London: Associated University Presses, 1994.

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    Studies Wollstonecraft’s complex and changing attitudes to sensibility over the course of her career. Identifies a range of sensibilities in Wollstonecraft: from an ethics of sensibility, to a feminist critique of sensibility, to the new and widely defined Romantic sensibility of her last years. Explores Wollstonecraft’s published writings and her private letters.

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  • Jones, Chris. Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas in the 1790s. London: Routledge, 1993.

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    Historical and literary study of a variety of discourses of sensibility in the 1790s. Chapters address sensibility in revolutionary and reactionary writing and thought and sensibility in Godwin and Wollstonecraft. Valuable for reading Wollstonecraft’s thinking on sensibility—which he argues is “enmeshed in disputes over the term”—against that of Godwin.

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  • McCann, Andrew. “Domestic Revolutions: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Limits of Radical Sentimentality.” In Cultural Politics in the 1790s: Literature, Radicalism and the Public Sphere. Edited by Andrew McCann, 145–180. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1999.

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    Examines Wollstonecraft’s sentimentality within a context where the sentimental is deployed by both ends of the political spectrum in the 1790s. Wollstonecraft’s “absorption” in sentimental “posturing” in her novels might signal a resignation to contemporary cultural norms but also ironizes it to imagine a space beyond such constraints.

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  • Schulman, Alex. “Gothic Piles and Endless Forests: Wollstonecraft between Burke and Rousseau.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 41 (2007): 41–54.

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    Examines Wollstonecraft on sensibility through her engagement with Burke and Rousseau. Asserts that Wollstonecraft deploys a “politics of sensibility” as part of a progressivist support for the French Revolution. Addresses the contradictions of such a politics, especially as inherent in the political embrace of emotion and sentiment.

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Wollstonecraft and 18th-Century Feminism

Wollstonecraft is, of course, primarily discussed as a feminist thinker and writer, and there is a wealth of material contextualizing her work both within Enlightenment debates on women and among other feminist thinkers. O’Brien 2009, a thorough and historically detailed work, is perhaps the best recent book-length account of this material; Tomaselli 1985 and Taylor 1999 are earlier important shorter pieces, which, by including significant European figures, look beyond the British context for which O’Brien 2009 is limited. Browne 1987 is an earlier book-length account of the same field, which investigates literary as well as other sources. The debates of the 1790s represented a more particular context within which these long-standing concerns were revisited in the heightened political atmosphere of the time: this is investigated in Stafford 2002 and Taylor 2004. For more on the historical context of debates on gender in the 1790s, see Binhammer 1996 (cited under Gender and Sexuality) and Johnson 1995 (cited under Critical Overviews). The particular character of Wollstonecraft’s contribution to these debates is explored in Taylor 1992 and Taylor 2002. The concern in these essays with female desire, sexuality, and sexual difference, as well as their openness to a psychoanalytic language of fantasy and the unconscious, also links them to the concerns of works listed under Gender and Sexuality.

  • Browne, Alice. The Eighteenth Century Feminist Mind. Brighton: Harvester, 1987.

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    Surveys 18th-century conceptions of women via advice literature and novels (Clarissa and Julie) and also addresses the feminist response. Chapter on debates of the 1790s.

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  • O’Brien, Karen. Women and Enlightenment in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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    Important historical and critical study of Enlightenment thought on women, ranging from Anglican Whig feminism of the 1690s to early-19th-century histories. The chapter on Wollstonecraft reads her as offering a critique of modern manners, which, from a radical political standpoint, becomes a feminist intervention in the course of social progress.

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  • Stafford, William. English Feminists and Their Opponents in the 1790s: Unsex’d and Proper Females. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2002.

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    Studies fictional and non-fictional writings of sixteen radical and conservative women, including Wollstonecraft, as part of investigation into the debate about women in the 1790s. Topics addressed include: love, sexual desire, marriage; separate spheres; work, politics, society; gender, female abilities, genius, and sensibility.

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  • Taylor, Barbara. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Wild Wish of Early Feminism.” History Workshop Journal 33 (1992): 197–219.

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    Takes off from Wollstonecraft’s wild wish in her second Vindication to confound the distinction between the sexes (especially as upheld by Rousseau) “to explore her forging of what Taylor describes as a critical theory of sexuality and sexual difference.” An early articulation of arguments later developed in Taylor 2003 (cited under Critical Overviews).

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  • Taylor, Barbara. “Feminism and the Enlightenment 1650–1850.” History Workshop Journal 47 (1999): 261–272.

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    Surveys Enlightenment feminist thought in Britain and beyond, within which Wollstonecraft’s work can be situated. Valuable consideration of methodological, philosophical, and historical issues pertaining to study in this area, including the question of using the terms “feminist” and “feminism.”

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  • Taylor, Barbara. “Feminism and Misogyny: the Case of Mary Wollstonecraft.” In The Age of Cultural Revolutions: Britain and France, 1750–1820. Edited by C. Jones and D.Wahrman, 203–217. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    Offers a revisionist take on critic Susan Gubar’s argument that Wollstonecraft is a feminist misogynist to address the motivations, both unconscious and conscious, underlying feminist principles and politics. Identifies fantasies of gender informing Wollstonecraft’s ideas about women to suggest that misogyny can exist unconsciously even within feminist thinking.

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  • Taylor, Barbara. “Feminists Versus Gallants: Manners and Morals in Enlightenment Britain.” Representations 87 (2004): 125–148.

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    Explores Enlightenment attitudes to women and feminism in Britain to reconsider the conception of Wollstonecraft as an Enlightenment thinker. Focuses especially on the gap that opened up between mainstream enlightened opinion (“modern gallantry”) and agitations for women’s rights in the 1790s.

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  • Tomaselli, Sylvana. “The Enlightenment Debate on Women.” History Workshop Journal 20 (1985): 101–124.

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    Taking its cue from the woman-as-nature or as-culture debate, this traces the long association of women with culture, especially in the Enlightenment; the historical emergence in this period of the nature/culture division is a key context of such debates. Catharine Macaulay, Diderot, Condorcet, Rousseau, and Montesquieu are all discussed.

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Gender and Sexuality

Much critical work on Wollstonecraft attends closely to her thinking about female sexuality and sexual difference: concerns at the forefront of feminism, and feminist criticism, from the 1970s onward. Kaplan 1986 is a classic essay here, putting Wollstonecraft at the heart of a fully theorized account of female sexuality and pleasure. Kelly 1997, though more biographical in its approach, again puts Wollstonecraft’s account of female sexuality center stage, drawing on both her life and her work. Taylor 1992, which is more historically oriented, is equally important for investigating Wollstonecraft’s thinking on sexual difference. Taking a different approach, Guest 2000 explores Wollstonecraft’s language of femininity in relation to contemporary commercial discourse, and identifies an uncomfortable relationship between the two. The historical context for Wollstonecraft’s thinking on sexuality and gender is investigated in Binhammer 1996 and Wahrman 1998. Both identify a broad historical shift (or panic) in which ideas around sex and gender were under pressure and in flux at the end of the 18th century. Johnson 1995 (cited under Critical Overviews) and Taylor 2004 (cited under Wollstonecraft and 18th-Century Feminism) offer comparable arguments, Johnson 1995 exploiting such a context as the basis for a fully developed reading of Wollstonecraft’s works. Nicholson 1990 also works within such a historical framework, to compare Wollstonecraft on sex to Malthus. Finally, Wollstonecraft on male sexuality is addressed by Friedman 2009.

  • Binhammer, Katherine. “The Sex Panic of the 1790s.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 6 (1996): 409–434.

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    Argues that the final years of the 18th century witnessed a panic around sexuality and a redefinition of female sexuality. Suggests that opposition between radical and conservative voices in such debates masks forms of consensus, in which both sides produced a female subject appropriate to late-18th-century domestic ideology.

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  • Friedman, Dustin. “‘Parents of the mind’: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Aesthetics of Productive Masculinity.” Studies in Romanticism 48 (2009): 423–446.

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    Addresses Wollstonecraft’s representation of male sexuality, especially within the discourse of 18th-century Sensibility. Focuses on her second Vindication and The Wrongs of Woman to find an engagement with masculine desire necessary, it is argued, to her vision of a “just society founded upon gender equality.”

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  • Guest, Harriet. “The Dream of a Common Language: The Strictures on Femininity of Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft.” In Small Change: Women, Learning, Patriotism, 1750–1810. Edited by Harriet Guest, 271–289. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

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    Addresses the language of femininity in Wollstonecraft and More in response to contemporary economic and commercial discourse. Wollstonecraft’s critique of femininity corrupted by commercial society is placed alongside an account of a discourse of consumerism in which the image of woman is a sign of its own amoralism.

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  • Kaplan, Cora. “Wild Nights: Pleasure/ Sexuality/ Feminism.” In Sea Changes: Essays on Culture and Feminism. By Cora Kaplan, 31–56. London: Verso, 1986.

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    Influential essay that remains a landmark work for critics addressing Wollstonecraft’s attitudes to female sexuality. Argues Wollstonecraft seeks in the second Vindication to develop a class sexuality for a radical, reformed bourgeoisie, while remaining profoundly ambivalent, and even violently antagonistic, to the force of female sexuality.

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  • Kelly, Gary. “(Female) Philosophy in the Bedroom: Mary Wollstonecraft and Female Sexuality.” Women’s Writing 4 (1997): 143–154.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft’s attitudes to female sexuality as evidenced in her life (read as that of sexual revolutionary vanguard), in her political rejection of marriage as part of an unjust property-based society, and in her theorization of female sexuality as an oppressive ideology that trivialized women.

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  • Nicholson, Mervyn. “The Eleventh Commandment: Sex and Spirit in Wollstonecraft and Malthus.” Journal of the History of Ideas 51 (1990): 401–421.

    DOI: 10.2307/2709622Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers Wollstonecraft’s attitudes to sexuality within a broad historical and theoretical framework that illuminates fundamental shifts in 18th-century thinking about sex. Links her to Malthus in her perception of sex as a “problem,” and in her drawing on religious beliefs to address it.

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  • Taylor, Barbara. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Wild Wish of Early Feminism.” History Workshop Journal 33 (1992): 197–219.

    DOI: 10.1093/hwj/33.1.197Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Takes off from Wollstonecraft’s “wild wish” to confound the distinction between the sexes (especially as upheld by Rousseau) to explore her forging of a “critical theory of sexuality and sexual difference.” An early articulation of arguments later developed in Taylor 2003 (cited under Critical Overviews).

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  • Wahrman, Dror. “Percy’s Prologue: from Gender Play to Gender Panic in Eighteenth Century England.” Past and Present 159 (1998): 113–160.

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    Uses the prologue to Hannah More’s tragedy, Percy, to illuminate a broad cultural shift from an earlier 18th-century cultural environment at ease with gender instability or playfulness, to a late century “gender panic” that eventually produced newly consolidated categories of sex and gender difference within middle-class domestic ideology.

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The 1790s and the Revolution Controversy

All of Wollstonecraft’s major works appeared in the 1790s: a decade defined by the French Revolution, heated political debates, and agitation for reform. This was the crucial context for Wollstonecraft’s thinking, and the era has attracted a huge amount of excellent scholarship. Listed here are works likely to be of most use to Wollstonecraft scholars who wish to understand that context and to situate her work alongside other prominent voices of the time. Butler 1984 is an anthology of key primary texts that will be especially valuable for students new to the study of this era. Philp 1998 offers a full account of the republican thinking of the time; Philp 1991 is a similarly rigorous investigation of calls for political reform. Both are reprinted in Philp 2014, which adds essays on other aspects of this context. Barrell 2000 and Verhoeven 2013 each offer authoritative studies of more particular aspects of this decade. Barrell 2000 is an extensive account of the treason trials that defined the political climate of the decade. Verhoeven 2013 addresses the significance of America, both as an alternative political model and as a place Wollstonecraft at one point planned to emigrate to with Imlay. More directly relevant to Wollstonecraft herself are Rigby 1989 and Radcliffe 1993. Rigby 1989 looks at British responses to the French Revolution in Joseph Johnson’s Analytical Review, to which Wollstonecraft also contributed extensively. Radcliffe 1993 examines the discourse of benevolence, which deeply informed Richard Price’s thinking, who was in turn an important early influence on Wollstonecraft.

  • Barrell, John. Imagining the King’s Death: Figurative Treason, Fantasies of Regicide, 1793–1796. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Exhaustively detailed, rigorous, and compelling investigation into the decade-defining treason trials of the mid-1790s, which adapted existing laws to invent a new form of “figurative” treason or “imagining the king’s death.” Wollstonecraft makes a fleeting appearance, but this is a landmark work on the repressive political climate of her time.

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  • Butler, Marilyn, ed. Burke, Paine, Godwin and the Revolution Controversy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    Widely used compilation of key primary texts of the revolution controversy, with valuable contextualizing introductory essays by an influential scholar. Includes extracts from Burke’s Reflections and Wollstonecraft’s Vindications, alongside Paine, Price, Priestley, Spence, and others. Wordsworth, Coleridge, John Thelwall, and Hannah More are among the literary figures included.

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  • Philp, Mark. “The Fragmented Ideology of Reform.” In The French Revolution and British Popular Politics. Edited by M. Philp, 50–77. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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    Examines the wide range of demands for reform in England in the 1790s and considers whether the diversity of these voices, rather than government repression, or conservative or loyalist opinion, contributed to the failure to achieve political reform. Volume also includes editor’s useful introduction. Reprinted in Philp 2014.

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  • Philp, Mark. “English Republicanism in the 1790s.” Journal of Political Philosophy 6 (1998): 235–262.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9760.00054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Essential article on English republican thought in this period. Includes historiographic and methodological discussion of recent studies of republicanism, including those by J. G. A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner. Identifies a shift in political language in 1790s by which a domesticated republican tradition is marginalized, and alternative political models are offered. Reprinted in Philp 2014.

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  • Philp, Mark. Reforming Ideas in Britain: Politics and Language in the Shadow of the French Revolution, 1789–1815. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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    Collection of important essays on British political thought and political agitation in this period. Not much specifically on Wollstonecraft, but valuable for illuminating the political and historical context of her work. Includes essays on conservatism in the 1790s, English revolutionaries in Paris, popular radicalism and loyalism, Godwin, and Thelwall.

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  • Radcliffe, Evan. “Revolutionary Writing, Moral Philosophy, and Universal Benevolence in the Eighteenth Century.” Journal of the History of Ideas 54 (1993): 221–240.

    DOI: 10.2307/2709980Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores how ideas of universal benevolence from 18th-century moral philosophy were politicized in the context of the French Revolution, especially to support reform. Traces early-18th-century philosophy of benevolence, and identifies its importance for Price’s Discourse on the Love of Our Country as well as its role in Burke’s counterattack.

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  • Rigby, Brian. “Radical Spectators of the Revolution: the Case of the Analytical Review.” In The French Revolution and British Culture. Edited by Ian Small and Ceri Crossley, 63–80. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    Examines responses to the French Revolution in the pages of Joseph Johnson’s radical Analytical Review, to which Wollstonecraft contributed. Also considers loyalist publications to illuminate the “war” in the periodical press precipitated by events in France.

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  • Verhoeven, Wil. Americomania and the French Revolution Debate. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    Investigates the idea of America for Britain in the 1790s: both as an alternative political and social model, and as spatial location of possible utopias. Of interest to Wollstonecraft scholars given her short-lived plans for American emigration with Imlay; also details Imlay’s American activities, including those in the triangular slave trade.

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Other Issues of Race, Slavery, Motherhood, Nation

Listed below are a small number of articles linking Wollstonecraft to a range of important political topics: race, slavery, motherhood, and nationhood. They represent how 21st-century approaches to Wollstonecraft, while not denying the importance of her thinking on sex and gender, also read her work against other political concerns. Wellington 2001 shows how Wollstonecraft’s critique of the 18th-century sex-gender system is relevant to her approach to national politics, while Sudan 1996 explores connections between motherhood and nationhood. Ferguson 1992 is an important and much-cited article on Wollstonecraft and slavery. For more on Wollstonecraft and slavery, see Mellor 1995 (cited under Enlightenment and Romanticism). Also on the topic of race studies, and the 18th-century science of race, is Juengel 2001, where, as in Mellor 1995, Blake also features.

  • Ferguson, Moira. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Problematic of Slavery.” Feminist Review 42 (1992): 82–102.

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    Important article relating Wollstonecraft’s thought, especially in her second Vindication, to late-18th-century debates over the slave trade, which are surveyed in useful detail. Growing agitation over the question of slavery enabled Wollstonecraft to revisit and intensify a link between slaves and women established by earlier writers.

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  • Juengel, Scott. “Countenancing History: Mary Wollstonecraft, Samuel Stanhope Smith, and Enlightenment Radical Science.” ELH 68 (2001): 897–927.

    DOI: 10.1353/elh.2001.0033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses Wollstonecraft’s knowledge of and engagement with late-18th-century studies of race and Enlightenment natural science; also offers an ethnographic reading of the Letters from Sweden. Includes comparison with Blake on race.

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  • Sudan, Rajani. “Mothering and National Identity in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft.” In Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture. Edited by Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh, 72–89. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

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    Explores the connections between notions of motherhood and nation in late-18th-century discourse. Investigates the construction of subjectivity in relation to national affiliation in the 1790s, and the problems this presents for women. Wollstonecraft’s writings on motherhood are approached from this context.

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  • Wellington, Jan. “Blurring the Borders of Nation and Gender: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Character (R)evolution.” In Rebellious Hearts: British Women Writers and the French Revolution. Edited by Adriana Craciun and Kari Lokke, 33–62. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

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    Attends to Wollstonecraft’s critique of the French national character as dissipated and effeminate, present in her second Vindication and in her history of the French Revolution. Not, however, a national propagandist, unlike many of her contemporaries, Wollstonecraft argues that French effeminacy, like that of women themselves, must be reformed.

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Death and the Struggle Over Reputation

Wollstonecraft’s death and its aftermath, with the immediate controversy over her reputation, forms a small but notable subfield in Wollstonecraft studies. Godwin 1798 (readily available in many modern editions) is the essential text here, the source for revelations about Wollstonecraft’s private and emotional life that provided grist for the mill of conservative commentators quick to attack the mores of a famous radical woman writer. Hays 1999 and Anonymous 1999 (originally published in 1803) attempted to counterattack, but Wollstonecraft’s image remained damaged until attempts at rehabilitation at the end of the 19th century. For this later context, see Legacy in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Myers 1981, Rajan 2000, and Todd 1993 all study Godwin 1798 from various angles. For Myers 1981, it provides a case study in the relations of reason and feeling, as theorized by Godwin himself. Rajan 2000 defends Godwin 1798 as resisting a memorialization that would dilute the revolutionary impulse of Wollstonecraft’s life. Todd 1993 reads Godwin 1798 exactly oppositely, finding in the text an urge to sentimentalize and romanticize. Trott 1998 is one of the best guides to the anti-Jacobin response to Godwin 1798 in loyalist and conservative circles. Jones 1997 focuses, rather differently, on Wollstonecraft’s death in the context of the decline of female midwives in this period.

  • Anonymous. “A Defence of the Character and Conduct of the late Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.” In Lives of the Great Romantics III. Vol 2. Edited by Harriet Jump, 221–223. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1999.

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    Like Hays 1999, this is a defense of Wollstonecraft written to quell the controversy over her private life. It praises her intolerance of injustice and her commitment to philosophical thinking.

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  • Godwin, William. Memoirs of the Author ofThe Rights of Woman.” London: J. Johnson, 1798.

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    Written in the aftermath of her death, this memoir constitutes Wollstonecraft’s first biography. This book was also a scandal and sensation on publication. Widely available in a range of modern editions.

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  • Hays, Mary. “Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft.” In Lives of the Great Romantics III. Vol 2. Edited by Harriet Jump, 177–183. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1999.

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    Wollstonecraft’s friend Hays, herself a radical novelist and writer, attempted to intervene in the scandal prompted by Godwin’s Memoirs. This vindication of Wollstonecraft’s life and works was published soon after her death and attempted to counter the mostly adverse contemporary opinion. Originally published in Annual Necrology for 1797–98 (London: T. Bensley, 1800)

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  • Jones, Vivien. “The Death of Mary Wollstonecraft.” British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 20 (1997): 187–205.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1754-0208.1997.tb00213.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses Wollstonecraft’s death after childbirth, and her choice of a female midwife, with reference to late-18th-century obstetrics and debates over the rise of the man-midwife.

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  • Myers, Mitzi. “Godwin’s Memoirs of Wollstonecraft: The Shaping of Self and Subject.” Studies in Romanticism 20 (1981): 299–316.

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    Reads Godwin’s Memoirs against Godwin’s philosophical preoccupations with the role of reason and feeling; also explores narrative affinities with romantic fiction.

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  • Rajan, Tilottama. “Framing the Corpus: Godwin’s “editing” of Wollstonecraft in 1798.” Studies in Romanticism 39 (2000): 511–531.

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    Defends Godwin’s Memoirs (in their initial, unrevised state) as—against a Wordsworthian injunction to make a purifying epitaph to spiritualize and beautify the deceased—a deliberate romanticizing of Wollstonecraft, through which Godwin hopes the reader would be inspired by the revolutionary idealism of her life.

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  • Todd, Janet. “Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Death.” In Gender, Art and Death. Edited by Janet Todd, 102–119. Cambridge, MA: Polity, 1993.

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    Reads Wollstonecraft’s suicide attempts as manifesting a revolutionary right to rational death, and accuses Godwin’s Memoirs of sentimentalizing and romanticizing her story, pushing her back into the frames she had spent her life combating.

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  • Trott, Nicola. “Sexing the Critic: Mary Wollstonecraft at the Turn of the Century.” In 1798: The Year of Lyrical Ballads. Edited by R. Cronin, 32–67. London: Macmillan, 1998.

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    Explores the imagery and sexual politics of a range of late-18th-century texts responding to Wollstonecraft’s death, through which the author becomes an object of opprobrium and abuse. A number of anti-Jacobin texts are reviewed, including Polwhele’s notorious poem; the role of Godwin’s Memoirs in stimulating such responses is also addressed.

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Legacy in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Godwin’s “memoirs” of Wollstonecraft (see Godwin 1798, cited under Death and the Struggle Over Reputation) ruined Wollstonecraft’s reputation for the half-century after her death. For the immediate context of this, see Death and the Struggle Over Reputation. Wollstonecraft’s initial 19th-century legacy, then, lay in the association of feminism with free love, an unpalatable prospect for middle-class Victorian thinkers. It is indicative that in her autobiography of 1855, Harriet Martineau reflects on Wollstonecraft only as a victim of passion. Only later in the century did Wollstonecraft’s thought begin to be of renewed interest in the context of late Victorian struggles with “the Woman Question.” Caine 1997 and Hirsch 1996 are two reliable guides to this process; Eliot 1963, Wexler 1981, and Schreiner 1994 (on the latter of which Burdett 1994 provides further commentary) indicate something of the ongoing change in Wollstonecraft’s reputation from the mid-19th to the early 20th century. Kaplan 2002 surveys Wollstonecraft’s legacy in the 20th century; Jacobus 1995 addresses a later context, the complex inheritance of Wollstonecraft by late 20th-century feminists.

  • Burdett, Carolyn. “A Difficult Vindication: Olive Schreiner’s Wollstonecraft Introduction.” History Workshop 37 (1994): 177–187.

    DOI: 10.1093/hwj/37.1.177Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses South African novelist Olive Schreiner’s unfinished introduction to Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and her own projected “sex book.” Illuminates the late Victorian rediscovery of Wollstonecraft in the context of contemporary debates about the “New Woman” or the “Woman Question.” See Schreiner 1994.

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  • Caine, Barbara. “Victorian Feminism and the Ghost of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Women’s Writing 4 (1997): 261–275.

    DOI: 10.1080/09699089700200009Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores 19th-century feminist responses to Wollstonecraft’s thought and especially life, as (for them) a difficult example of the connection between feminist commitment and personal rebellion. The rehabilitation of Wollstonecraft in the 1890s is also addressed.

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  • Eliot, George. “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft.” In Essays of George Eliot. Edited by Thomas Pinney, 199–206. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.

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    Eliot’s 1855 review of Margaret Fuller’s Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1843) compares it to Wollstonecraft’s second Vindication, which she defends against “vague prejudice” as a serious and moral book. An important landmark in the 19th-century rehabilitation of Wollstonecraft.

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  • Hirsch, Pam. “Mary Wollstonecraft: A Problematic Legacy.” In Wollstonecraft’s Daughters: Womanhood in England and France, 1780–1920. Edited by Clarissa Campbell Orr, 43–60. Manchester University Press, 1996.

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    Explores Wollstonecraft’s problematic reputation in 19th-century Britain, and her gradual rehabilitation and influence on contemporary thinking on motherhood, religion, and the “woman question.”

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  • Jacobus, Mary. “In Love with a Cold Climate: Travelling with Wollstonecraft.” In First Things: The Maternal Imaginary in Literature, Art and Psychoanalysis. By Mary Jacobus, 63–82. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

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    Draws on psychoanalysis to reflect on late-20th-century feminism’s relationship to Wollstonecraft. Identifies both transference love and resistance in that relationship and addresses Wollstonecraft’s “amatory melancholia” as an unassimilable aspect of her legacy.

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  • Kaplan, Cora. “Mary Wollstonecraft’s reception and legacies.” In The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Claudia Johnson, 246–270. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521783437Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Surveys Wollstonecraft’s legacy and the varied and complex responses to her work in late 20th-century feminist thinking but with some attention to early 20th-century responses as a starting point. Illuminates how responses to Wollstonecraft have been modulated by critical debates about the sexual and affective imagination.

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  • Schreiner, Olive. “Introduction to the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Woman.” History Workshop 37 (1994): 188–193.

    DOI: 10.1093/hwj/37.1.189Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Late Victorian novelist’s hitherto unpublished, and incomplete, introduction to Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Written to accompany a proposed re-publication of the Wollstonecraft text, of renewed interest to Victorian intelligentsia.

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  • Wexler, Alice. “Emma Goldman on Mary Wollstonecraft.” Feminist Studies 7 (1981): 113–133.

    DOI: 10.2307/3177674Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reprints 1911 lecture on Wollstonecraft by early-20th-century anarchist and feminist Emma Goldman. Illuminates the ways Wollstonecraft’s thought was used to articulate the concerns of a later phase of feminism.

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