Kelly, Gary. New York: St. Taylor, Barbara. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: a Revolutionary Life. New York: Columbia University Press, Todd, Janet, and Marilyn Butler, eds. The Complete Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. Judy Chicago American, b. The Dinner Party Mary Wollstonecraft place setting , — Mixed media: ceramic, porcelain, textile.
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The Dinner Party Mary Wollstonecraft plate , — The Dinner Party Mary Wollstonecraft runner , — Judy Chicago. Mary Wollstonecraft b.
Virtue likewise can only be acquired by the discharge of relative duties; but the importance of these sacred duties will scarcely be felt by the being who is cajoled out of his humanity by the flattery of sycophants. There must be more equality established in society, or morality will never gain ground, and this virtuous equality will not rest firmly even when founded on a rock, if one half of mankind are chained to its bottom by fate, for they will be continually undermining it through ignorance or pride.
It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are, in some degree, independent of men; nay, it is vain to expect that strength of natural affection, which would make them good wives and good mothers. Whilst they are absolutely dependent on their husbands, they will be cunning, mean, and selfish, and the men who can be gratified by the fawning fondness, of spaniel-like affection, have not much delicacy, for love is not to be bought, in any sense of the word, its silken wings are instantly shrivelled up when any thing beside a return in kind is sought.
Yet whilst wealth enervates men; and women live, as it were, by their personal charms, how, can we expect them to discharge those ennobling duties which equally require exertion and self-denial. Hereditary property sophisticates the mind, and the unfortunate victims to it, if I may so express myself, swathed from their birth, seldom exert the locomotive faculty of body or mind; and, thus viewing every thing through one medium, and that a false one, they are unable to discern in what true merit and happiness consist. False, indeed, must be the light when the drapery of situation hides the man, and makes him stalk in masquerade, dragging from one scene of dissipation to another the nerveless limbs that hang with stupid listlessness, and rolling round the vacant eye which plainly tells us that there is no mind at home.
I mean, therefore, to infer, that the society is not properly organized which does not compel men and women to discharge their respective duties, by making it the only way to acquire that countenance from their fellow creatures, which every human being wishes some way to attain.
Historical Context for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
The respect, consequently, which is paid to wealth and mere personal charms, is a true north-east blast, that blights the tender blossoms of affection and virtue. Nature has wisely attached affections to duties, to sweeten toil, and to give that vigour to the exertions of reason which only the heart can give. But, the affection which is put on merely because it is the appropriated insignia of a certain character, when its duties are not fulfilled is one of the empty compliments which vice and folly are obliged to pay to virtue and the real nature of things.
To illustrate my opinion, I need only observe, that when a woman is admired for her beauty, and suffers herself to be so far intoxicated by the admiration she receives, as to neglect to discharge the indispensable duty of a mother, she sins against herself by neglecting to cultivate an affection that would equally tend to make her useful and happy. True happiness, I mean all the contentment, and virtuous satisfaction that can be snatched in this imperfect state, must arise from well regulated affections; and an affection includes a duty.
Men are not aware of the misery they cause, and the vicious weakness they cherish, by only inciting women to render themselves pleasing; they do not consider, that they thus make natural and artificial duties clash, by sacrificing the comfort and respectability of a woman's life to voluptuous notions of beauty, when in nature they all harmonize. Cold would be the heart of a husband, were he not rendered unnatural by early debauchery, who did not feel more delight at seeing his child suckled by its mother, than the most artful wanton tricks could ever raise; yet this natural way of cementing the matrimonial tie, and twisting esteem with fonder recollections, wealth leads women to spurn.
To preserve their beauty, and wear the flowery crown of the day, that gives them a kind of right to reign for a short time over the sex, they neglect to stamp impressions on their husbands' hearts, that would be remembered with more tenderness when the snow on the head began to chill the bosom, than even their virgin charms. The maternal solicitude of a reasonable affectionate woman is very interesting, and the chastened dignity with which a mother returns the caresses that she and her child receive from a father who has been fulfilling the serious duties of his station, is not only a respectable, but a beautiful sight.
So singular, indeed, are my feelings, and I have endeavoured not to catch factitious ones, that after having been fatigued with the sight of insipid grandeur and the slavish ceremonies that with cumberous pomp supplied the place of domestic affections, I have turned to some other scene to relieve my eye, by resting it on the refreshing green every where scattered by nature. I have then viewed with pleasure a woman nursing her children, and discharging the duties of her station with, perhaps, merely a servant made to take off her hands the servile part of the household business.
I have seen her prepare herself and children, with only the luxury of cleanliness, to receive her husband, who returning weary home in the evening, found smiling babes and a clean hearth. My heart has loitered in the midst of the group, and has even throbbed with sympathetic emotion, when the scraping of the well known foot has raised a pleasing tumult.
Whilst my benevolence has been gratified by contemplating this artless picture, I have thought that a couple of this description, equally necessary and independent of each other, because each fulfilled the respective duties of their station, possessed all that life could give. Raised sufficiently above abject poverty not to be obliged to weigh the consequence of every farthing they spend, and having sufficient to prevent their attending to a frigid system of economy which narrows both heart and mind. I declare, so vulgar are my conceptions, that I know not what is wanted to render this the happiest as well as the most respectable situation in the world, but a taste for literature, to throw a little variety and interest into social converse, and some superfluous money to give to the needy, and to buy books.
For it is not pleasant when the heart is opened by compassion, and the head active in arranging plans of usefulness, to have a prim urchin continually twitching back the elbow to prevent the hand from drawing out an almost empty purse, whispering at the same time some prudential maxim about the priority of justice. Destructive, however, as riches and inherited honours are to the human character, women are more debased and cramped, if possible by them, than men, because men may still, in some degree, unfold their faculties by becoming soldiers and statesmen.
As soldiers, I grant, they can now only gather, for the most part, vainglorious laurels, whilst they adjust to a hair the European balance, taking especial care that no bleak northern nook or sound incline the beam.
But the days of true heroism are over, when a citizen fought for his country like a Fabricius or a Washington, and then returned to his farm to let his virtuous fervour run in a more placid, but not a less salutary stream. No, our British heroes are oftener sent from the gaming table than from the plough; and their passions have been rather inflamed by hanging with dumb suspense on the turn of a die, than sublimated by panting after the adventurous march of virtue in the historic page. The statesman, it is true, might with more propriety quit the Faro Bank, or card-table, to guide the helm, for he has still but to shuffle and trick.
The whole system of British politics, if system it may courteously be called, consisting in multiplying dependents and contriving taxes which grind the poor to pamper the rich; thus a war, or any wild goose chace is, as the vulgar use the phrase, a lucky turn-up of patronage for the minister, whose chief merit is the art of keeping himself in place. It is not necessary then that he should have bowels for the poor, so he can secure for his family the odd trick.
Or should some show of respect, for what is termed with ignorant ostentation an Englishman's birth-right, be expedient to bubble the gruff mastiff that he has to lead by the nose, he can make an empty show, very safely, by giving his single voice, and suffering his light squadron to file off to the other side. And when a question of humanity is agitated, he may dip a sop in the milk of human kindness, to silence Cerberus, and talk of the interest which his heart takes in an attempt to make the earth no longer cry for vengeance as it sucks in its children's blood, though his cold hand may at the very moment rivet their chains, by sanctioning the abominable traffick.
A minister is no longer a minister than while he can carry a point, which he is determined to carry. Yet it is not necessary that a minister should feel like a man, when a bold push might shake his seat. But, to have done with these episodical observations, let me return to the more specious slavery which chains the very soul of woman, keeping her for ever under the bondage of ignorance. I did not absolutely determine that there should be six--if you have not set your heart on this round number.
I am going to dine with Mrs. I have not been to visit her since the first day she came to Paris. I wish indeed to be out in the air as much as I can; for the exercise I have taken these two or three days past, has been of such service to me, that I hope shortly to tell you, that I am quite well. I have scarcely slept before last night, and then not much. I WROTE to you yesterday, my ; but, finding that the colonel is still detained for his passport was forgotten at the office yesterday I am not willing to let so many days elapse without your hearing from me, after having talked of illness and apprehensions.
I was therefore, in defiance of cold and dirt, out in the air the greater part of yesterday; and, if I get over this evening without a return of the fever that has tormented me, I shall talk no more of illness. I have promised the little creature, that its mother, who ought to cherish it, will not again plague it, and begged it to pardon me; and, since I could not hug either it or you to my breast, I have to my heart. I have been seriously vexed, to find that, whilst you were harrassed by impediments in your undertakings, I was giving you additional uneasiness. Adieu, my love!
Write often to your poor girl, and write long letters; for I not only like them for being longer, but because more heart steals into them; and I am happy to catch your heart whenever I can. I have just got my passport, so I do not foresee any impediment to my reaching H, to bid you good-night next Friday in my new apartment--where I am to meet you and love, in spite of care, to smile me to sleep--for I have not caught much rest since we parted.
You have, by your tenderness and worth, twisted yourself more artfully round my heart, than I supposed possible. I shall find you well, and composed, I am sure; or, more properly speaking, cheerful.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Yet, now I think of it, I will not allow that your temper is even, though I have promised myself, in order to obtain my own forgiveness, that I will not ruffle it for a long, long time--I am afraid to say never. Farewell for a moment! My mind, unfettered, has flown to you long since, or rather has never left you. I am well, and have no apprehension that I shall find the journey too fatiguing, when I follow the lead of my heart.
WE are such creatures of habit, my love, that, though I cannot say I was sorry, childishly so, for your going, when I knew that you were to stay such a short time, and I had a plan of employment; yet I could not sleep. But I do not mean to dally with you this morning--So God bless you! Take care of yourself--and sometimes fold to your heart your affectionate.
DO not call me stupid, for leaving on the table the little bit of paper I was to inclose. I have promised to go with him to his country-house, where he is now permitted to dine--I, and the little darling, to be sure[A]--whom I cannot help kissing with more fondness, since you left us. I think I shall enjoy the fine prospect, and that it will rather enliven, than satiate my imagination.
I have called on Mrs. The Hs are very ugly, without doubt--and the house smelt of commerce from top to toe--so that his abortive attempt to display taste, only proved it to be one of the things not to be bought with gold. But I am philosophizing; nay, perhaps you will call me severe, and bid me let the square-headed money-getters alone. I have been writing on, expecting poor to come; for, when I began, I merely thought of business; and, as this is the idea that most naturally associates with your image, I wonder I stumbled on any other.
I intended answering your kind letter immediately, that you might have felt the pleasure it gave me; but came in, and some other things interrupted me; so that the fine vapour has evaporated--yet, leaving a sweet scent behind, I have only to tell you, what is sufficiently obvious, that the earnest desire I have shown to keep my place, or gain more ground in your heart, is a sure proof how necessary your affection is to my happiness.
No; there are qualities in your heart, which demand my affection; but, unless the attachment appears to me clearly mutual, I shall labour only to esteem your character, instead of cherishing a tenderness for your person. I write in a hurry, because the little one, who has been sleeping a long time, begins to call for me.
Poor thing! You too have somehow clung round my heart--I found I could not eat my dinner in the great room--and, when I took up the large knife to carve for myself, tears rushed into my eyes. I will not mix any comments on the inclosed it roused my indignation with the effusion of tenderness, with which I assure you, that you are the friend of my bosom, and the prop of my heart.
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