Mary Wollstonecraft

“criticism of misogynist images of women in literature”


“Hatred of women.” – Samuel Johnson, author of the first dictionary.

How does literature contain “hatred of women”?

Why would anyone hate women?

Why would an image in a book have an affect on women in real life?

What does literature represent?

What does literature enforce?

“Hatred of women”? Discuss in the discussion thread. Can you think of examples from literature?

Why would anyone hate women? Well, for power or money. What other reasons?

Why would an image in a book affect women in real life?

What does Wollstonecraft say about men and “masculine women”?

Essays as Literature

What does literature represent? Life? Reality?

What does literature enforce? Culture, for one. What else? What aspects of culture and society?

How is essay writing literature? Essays are a different genre than novels. They are (well, mostly) nonfictional, as opposed to fictional. Are they literary in a different way than fiction? Do you read them differently?

Not only education, but the “right” education

Not equality so much as freedom from tyranny and oppression

Do women have different or fewer rights than men?

What kind of rights? Political? Economic? Legal?

How are women valued? Why?

How is that different from how men are valued? Why

Mary Wollstonecraft

How did she do it, herself?


Support of friends.

Writing, and the support of a circle of other writers, including Thomas Paine and William Blake.

Who was Thomas Paine? How does he depict women and men differently than Mary Wollstonecraft?

Who was William Blake? How does he depict women and men differently than Mary Wollstonecraft?

Who’s Milton? What did he write?

Alexander Pope?

Have you heard of the French political philosopher Rousseau?

Women in Milton

Wollstonecraft writes:

Thus Milton describes our first frail mother; though he tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I cannot comprehend his meaning…

She wrote this about PARADISE LOST, Milton’s epic poem about the “fall of man” after the Garden of Eden. He wrote:

For contemplation he and valor form’d
For softness she and attractive grace;
He for God only, she for God in him

Especially those of you who are familiar with common religious interpretations of the story of Adam and Eve will find it easy to understand what Milton was saying about “He for God only, she for God in him” (regarding the story of the rib).

“Sweet and attractive grace?” Hardly a way I, as a modern woman, would have thought of Eve….

But we have had the full benefit of Wollstonecraft!

Women and Milton

Milton didn't actually "write" Paradise Lost. He was blind by the time he dictated it line by line to his daughters.

He deliberately didn’t allow his daughters to have an education beyond writing down his dictation and reading it back:

He trained to read to him in English, Latin, Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, and Hebrew, though they did not understand a word of what they read. What little we know of their relations to their father is not pleasant.

Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet was the first *good* poet in what became the United States.

Bradstreet wrote before Wollstonecraft.

Her poetry mentions her “outward” conformity and “inward” rebeliousness.

The women who wrote captivity narratives during her time were careful to show their conformity (many women were executed or banished -- which, in the frontier, meant death, usually -- for not conforming.

Wollstonecraft: “Women are told… and taught by example… outward obedience… will obtain for them protection…”

Women in Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope was a poet who wrote in “heroic” couplets in the “Augustan” style, which is, in many ways, the opposite fo the “Romantic” style Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his friends would establish.

You know these couplets! He wrote, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” and many, many more sayings!

His top hits were “An Essay on Man” and “The Rape of the Lock”

“The Rape of the Lock” is about a haircut of a beautiful woman

Wollstonecraft objected to Pope’s “Of the Characters of Women”

Alexander Pope was a dwarfish hunchback who had a difficult relationship with women. But that's an "ad hominam" attack -- what does "ad hominam" mean? How is it important to a study of women in literature?


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