Mary Wollstonecraft Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) On-Line Version of Whole Text
Things to Consider:
Historical Context, esp. French Revolution
Mirrors, Lamps, and Scales
Education and Conduct Literature
Slavery and Other Conditions of Marginalization (See
Discussion Questions: 209:
In what ways was Vindication
of the Rights of Woman unprecedented?
What does Wollstonecraft
present as the main argument of her book?
What are the consequences of the "false system of
education" that Wollstonecraft perceives in her society?
Explain: "The minds of woman are enfeebled by false
Why does Wollstonecraft's text focus on middle-class women
What, according to Wollstonecraft, is "the only way women
can rise in the world" (216)?
Explain: "Strengthen the female mind by enlarging
it, and there will be an end to blind obedience" (221).
Explain: "Love, from its very nature, must be transitory"
Explain: "Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel-like
affection are. . . recommended as the cardinal virtues of the
Explain: "I love man as my fellow; but his scepter, real or
usurped, extends not to me, unless the reason of an individual
demands my homage" (231).
Discussion Questions: 208:
Describe the position of
governess during Wollstonecraft's time.
What, according to the editors, are the main arguments of
What, according to the editors,
was significant about Wollstonecraft's marriage to William
Explain what Wollstonecraft
says about duty's connection to understanding.
comparison of women and slaves.
references to "legitimate rights" and "illicit
What ambition should women "cherish," according to
What are "manly virtues" (214)?
Explain: "Perhaps the source of false refinement,
immorality, and vanity, have ever been shed by the great"
Explain: "Elegance is inferior to virtue" (215).
Explain: "I shall be employed with things, not
Which "accomplishments" were women expected to pursue
How is cunning "the natural opponent of strength" (216)?
Explain: "The mind will always be unstable that has only
prejudices to rest on" (217).
According to Wollstonecraft, what does "the most perfect
education" involve (219)?
How, according to Wollstonecraft, are women like militia
Explain Wollstonecraft's take on the Genesis story of
What problem does Wollstonecraft have with Gregory's advice
to his daughters?
Explain: "The woman who strengthens her body and
exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practising
various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble
dependent of her husband" (225).
Explain: "Friendship or indifference inevitably
succeeds love" (226).
Explain: "An unhappy marriage is often very
advantageous to a family, and . . . the neglected wife is, in
general, the best mother" (227).
Explain: "For though moralists have agreed that the
tenor of life seems to prove that man is prepared by
various circumstances for a future state, they constantly
concur in advising women only to provide for the
According to Wollstonecraft, do "passive indolent
women make the best wives?" (230). Explain.
Explain: "Teach them, in common with man, to submit
to necessity, instead of giving, to render them more pleasing,
a sex to morals" (231).
Explain: "The conduct of an accountable being must
be regulated by the operations of its reason" (231).
How, according to
Wollstonecraft, do women become "the prey of the senses"
Explain: "Novels, music,
poetry, and gallantry, all tend to make women the creatures of
sensation, and their character is thus formed in the mould of
Explain: "[I]f fear in girls,
instead of being cherished, perhaps, created, were treated in
the same manner as cowardice in boys, we should quickly see
women with more dignified aspects" (234).
Explain: "I come round to my
old argument; if woman be allowed to have an immortal soul,
she must have, as the employment of life, an understanding to
Explain: "[I]f love be the
supreme good, let women be only educated to inspire it . . . ;
but, if they be moral beings, let them have a chance to become
intelligent; and let love to man be only a part of that
glowing flame of universal love, which, after encircling
humanity, mounts in grateful incense to God" (239).