Friday, 28 January 2011

Book Review: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

A Vindication of the rights of womanA Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

Publisher: Mobile reference

Genre: Non-fiction

Challenges: A Year of Feminist Classics

My Thoughts: The basic thesis of this book is one I can absolutely agree with: Education is important. My biggest problem with the book is that Wollstonecraft belabours the point a bit. She is extremely long winded.

That aside I found the book quite interesting, especially when one takes it in relation to the time when it was written. You see, while I was reading Vindication I was also watching Jane Austen’s Emma (the BBC version with Romola Garai), and although I didn’t enjoy the book when I read it, I found it interesting that Austen (1775-1817) was critiquing the same aspects of society that Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) found so repugnant. The sillyness of society which gets some critique in Emma but even more so in Northanger Abbey (my favourite Austen) and in Pride and Prejudice.

Wollstonecraft felt that education was the key to a better society. She felt that educated women were better wives and mothers. She believed that by educating men and women together they would better understand each other and therefore make a better society. She also wanted women to be educated so that if tragedy should strike they are able to care for themselves and their children. They wouldn’t have to rely on the charity of relatives. In addition, she felt that by educating women the petty behaviour between women that she saw would be eradicated. I wish she was right. Today we educate men and women together but we don’t seem to understand each other better or behave better. We, as a society, still put a premium on looks. In some parts of society what we wear and who we hang out with is still more important than our intellectual achievements.

Despite the fact that we still have many similar problems to the society that Wollstonecraft criticizes I still believe that education is the key to make society better. And that we MUST educate women and men EQUALLY. Iris from Iris on Books in her commentary to the early parts of the book wondered about the fact that she as a modern reader had issues with the fact that although Wollstonecraft believed in educating women, she still thought that men and women had different places in society. I too have these issues. I do believe that we as individuals are good at different things, but I don’t believe that these things are dependent on our gender. And because of this I believe that education should be tailored to the individual and not a collective. Of course to a certain extent public education has to be tailored to the collective. I have 10 students in my classroom and part of my lessons I teach to the collective. Even though I have them 6 hours a week I can’t completely tailor my class to them because they are different. But the part that I do tailor, I tailor after the individual, not after my perceived idea of what the individual needs due to their gender. I think I am rambling here so I will end by saying that I do agree with Wollstonecraft’s basic thesis: Education is a must. But I want to take it further.


Copyright ©2011 Zee from Notes from the North. This post was originally posted by Zee from Notes from the North. It should not be reproduced without express written permission.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. I will not read this book so I'm glad you did and explained it.

I am just not keen on Victorian long-winded books. A bit like Wilkie Collins. I like what he has to say, but why does it have to take that long? :-)

I think the next step is to compare the reactions of you and the other reading this boo with the reactions of people contemporary to Wollstoncraft. Wouldn't that be interesting?

Zee said...

The interesting thing is that from what I have read reactions at the time were quite favourable at first. Then when the biography of her life came out (her husband wrote it) reactions changed. There are some great posts (posted and linked) at A Year of Feminist Classics about it.

Nymeth said...

I love your point about the parallels with Austen. So true, and it hadn't occurred to me at all.

Jillian said...

I did that too, when I was reading. I kept remembering that Austen was the type of woman Wollstonecraft disdained (in that she sat about a lot and played piano), that Austen made note of the same social issues in her work, and that they were contemporaries--approaching the same issues from different perspectives. Austen is evidence that middle class women weren't as bad off mentally as Wollstonecraft claimed. Some simply fought more quietly.

Zee said...

@Nymeth I read part of Vindication when I was reading Pride and Prejudice as well so the connection was already there for me.

@Jillian I agree with you that Wollstonecraft might not have seen that not all women were as empty as she thought. I think that is often the case with those who are leading the charge so to speak. They are not necessarily able to see that others are also fighting the fight, just not in the same way.

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I recently read from another blog post that Wollstonecraft wrote (and revised maybe?) this book in three weeks, and that she intended to rewrite it but she died too soon. So, I guess that could explain why she's so long winded.

I like how you pointed out the contrasts between her work and Jane Austen's. I think, however, that Jane Austen made her point in a somewhat quieter way. :)