Friday, November 18, 2016

Mary Wollstonecraft ~ "Rules or Principles"

Featured Author ~ Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) was born in London, the second of seven children.  When Mary was a child, the family had a substantial fortune, but her father squandered it in profitless speculations.  In 1796, she married William Godwin by whom she had a daughter.  Her daughter, Mary Godwin, the wife of Percy Bysshe Shelly, is the author of Frankenstein.

The following is an excerpt from A Vindication of the Rights of Women. (1792)


To account for, and excuse the tyranny of man, many ingenious arguments have been brought forward to prove, that the two sexes, in the acquirement of virtue, ought to aim at attaining a very different character:  or, to speak explicitly, women are not allowed to have sufficient strength of mind to acquire what really deserve the name of virtue.  Yet it should seem, allowing them to have souls, that there is but one way appointed by Providence to lead mankind to either virtue or happiness.

This contempt of the understanding in early life has more baneful consequences than is commonly supposed; for the little knowledge which women of strong minds attain, is, from various circumstances, of a more desultory kind than the knowledge of men, and it is acquired more by sheer observations on real life, than from comparing what has been individually observed with the results of experience generalized by speculation.

Led by their dependent situation and domestic employments more into society, what they learn is rather by snatches; and as learning is with them, in general, only a secondary thing, they do not pursue any one branch with that persevering ardour necessary to give vigour to the faculties, and clearness to the judgment.

In the present state of society, a little learning is required to support the character of a gentleman; and boys are obliged to submit to a few years of discipline.  But in the education of women, the cultivation of the understanding is always subordinate to the acquirement of some corporeal accomplishment; even while enervated by confinement and false notions of modesty the body is prevented from attaining that grace and beauty which relaxed half-formed limbs never exhibit. 

Besides, in youth their faculties are not brought forward by emulation; and having no serious scientific study, if they have natural sagacity it is turned too soon on life and manners.  They dwell on effects and modifications, without tracing them back to causes; and complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.


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