Feminist Mary Wollstonecraft’s new edition

This video is called Karla Carter on Mary Wollstonecraft, Part Two.

By Susan Darlington in Britain:

A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman
by Mary Wollstonecraft with introduction by Sheila Rowbotham (Verso, £8.99)

Wednesday 30 June 2010

Anyone interested in gender politics will doubtless already own or at least be aware of Mary Wollstonecraft‘s A Vindication Of The Rights of Woman.

The issue, therefore, isn’t so much about the quality of the original text as to whether this edition, the 13th in Verso’s Revolutions series, merits reinvestment.

The crux of this rests with the 23-page introduction, which has been written by respected feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham.

This certainly piques interest in the book, successfully placing it within the political and social context of the times – the French Revolution and the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

It also briefly examines the impact it has had on future generations of feminists, its vibrant and forthright style of writing positing many ideas that remain on the women’s rights agenda.

The introductory essay is equally good at drawing out inherent contradictions in many of Wollstonecraft’s arguments, noting that she advocates both a rational view of women’s role in society and the Romantic call for “an emotional and spiritual place in the heart.”

These self same oppositions dogged Wollstonecraft’s own life, often to devastating effect, yet Rowbotham affords no real understanding of the forces that drove the 18th century woman to question and defy societal conventions.

The place for such discussion is probably in a biography and not in this introduction.

To that end, Rowbotham’s accessible essay serves its purpose in arousing an interest in its subject, the author’s life and the politics of the time.

There have, however, been previous editions of the book that provide more fulsome background reading, such as Miriam Brody’s introduction for Penguin Classics.

As such, while Wollstonecraft’s book is essential for those interested in the roots of early feminism, this isn’t necessarily the definitive edition.

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