Roles for Readers in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

by Amy Elizabeth Smith
Roles for Readers in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Amy Elizabeth Smith
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900
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SEL 32 (1992) ISSN 0039-3657

Roles for Readers in
Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication
of the Rights of Woman


Critics who have sought to characterize the implied audience for Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) have been unable to reach a consensus. Most take one of two positions, arguing either for a primarily male or a primarily female audience.' Elissa S. Guralnick claims that the work's "rambling, uneven" nature results from being aimed at an audience "unused and unreceptive to rational discourse-an audience of middle-class women," and Cora Kaplan shares this po~ition.~ Having assessed Wollstonecraft's tone, textual examples, and the rhetorical distance she creates between herself and other women, Anca Vlasopolos argues instead that the work "proves to be written for men" and her argument has also been adopted by other critics.' In a political text a characterization of the implied audience is central for understanding the goals of the work. One must always exert caution when discussing an author's intentions, but questions of purpose and intention can be more safely broached with a text such as the Vindication. Primarily political in nature, it is clearly a voice in the debate spurred by the French Revolution, along with Burke's Reyections on the Revolution in France and Paine's The Rights of Man,. Wollstonecraft's Vindication is shaped by a political agenda. But without a firmer conjecture about just whom she expected her readers to be, one cannot reach an understanding of how she may have hoped her text would function.

Anly Elizabeth Smith is a doctoral student at The Pennsylvania State University.

The first questions that must be asked about each of the arguments concerning audience, therefore, are strategic-why would Wollstonecraft write her Vindication to a female audience or to a male audience? What would be gained by a single gender focus? Most important, what did Mary Wollstonecraft want to achieve with her work? The last is answered clearly by the text- ultimately, she hoped for nothing less than to help stimulate conditions that would "improve mankind."4 But as improvement was being impeded by the condition of most women, educated only enough to please and serve, what needed to be effected first was a "REVOLUTION in female manners" (317). Thus far the necessary audience to reach would seem to be women. But in Wollstonecraft's opinion, were women, in 1792, ready to carry on such a revolution by themselves?

The complexity of Wollstonecraft's attitudes toward other women calls for examination at a later point in this essay, but the text reveals her belief that women could not perform the revolution alone. Men, empowered legally and socially, were also needed to effect change. Yet they too could not work alone; then as now, women must be convinced that the revolution would be to their benefit, before they will take an active role. Thus, one can understand why Wollstonecraft needs to address readers of both genders. In this essay I argue that a close study of her Vindication reveals a text that clearly anticipates both male and female readers. The work's reputation for unevenness arises primarily from its being aimed at more than one audience-and at audiences who were each to play very different roles in the proposed revolution. Some of the problems with her text, such as the widely varying length of chapters and the apparent randomness of her subjects, can perhaps be accounted for by the speed with which it was reportedly written5 But what has often been seen as a lack of focus can be more accurately described as a double focus. The text's accommodation of a dual audience can be demonstrated through an analysis of the direct addresses and references to readers, the selection of examples, and the use of a semi-imperative mood, all of which shape and define the roles offered by the text for both male and female readers.

I. References to Readers

Although disagreement among critics might lead one to believe otherwise, Wollstonecraft makes a number of specific references to readers, beginning as early as her preface (see Table I).6

Middle-class women are the first audience specified: "The instruction which has hitherto been addressed to women, has


Non Gender Specific References to References to References Male Readers Female Readers (19; 41.3% of total) (1 1; 24% of total) (16; 34.7% of total)

p. 110 (2)* p. 287 p. 83 p. 290 p. 81(2) p. 234 148 290 112 316 127 239 188 294 148 319 145 249 207 304 233-34 190 (2) 308 208 305 263 196 (2) 258 316 (2) 275 203 (2)


Second Person Second Person Second Person
Singular Singular Singular

p. 94-95 (note 12) p. 216 p. 261 pp. 301-303
98 218 279
2 12

*Parenthetical figure indicates number of occurrences on page

rather been applicable to ladies, . . . but, addressing my sex in a firmer tone, I pay particular attention to those in the middle class, because they appear to be in the most natural state" (81). Early passages might lead one to believe that only a female audience is being addressed, but male readers too are anticipated. When Wollstonecraft describes the present deplorable state of the characters of most women, she "presume[s] that rational men will excuse me for endeavouring to persuade [women] to become more masculine and respectable" (83).

Her preface clearly establishes both male and female readew7 In the body of the Vindication Wollstonecraft begins to define her audience more precisely, clarifying the separate roles that men and women are to play in the revolution. Male readers fall into two principal categories, the libertines and the men of reason. The first is typified by Lord Chesterfield, whom Wollstonecraft attacks for his licentiousness (147); in fact she traces the present lack of modesty in women directly to that of men, who, having been better educated, bear a heavier responsibility for improving general morals.' The attitudes of such men continue to be the largest impediments to female improvement. "Yes, let me tell the libertine of fancy when he despises understanding in woman-that the mind, which he disregards, gives life to the enthusiastic affection from which rapture, short-lived as it is, alone can blow!" (316-17). The reform of such men is too vital a part of Wollstonecraft's plan to let them read her work unadmonished.

The other primary group of men, addressed more frequently, provides a contrast to the libertines. These are the "reasonable men" (263), the "many superior men" (275), and "ye men of understanding" (319). Vlasopolos sees such addresses as part of the "flattering and cajoling" demeanor adopted by Wollstonecraft to please male reader^.^ But can one really assume Wollstonecraft believed there were no such men? A privileged female member of Joseph Johnson's "Academy" of writers, artists, and intellects, she was in steady contact with many of the most interesting and radical "men of understanding" of her day.'' Her references to the libertine portion of her male audience, however, make clear that she knows not all men are "superior."

Yet even the men of superior judgment and intellect cannot effect changes in society unaided by women, and "how can woman be expected to co-operate unless she knows why she ought to be virtuous?" (86). The text's anticipation of a female audience is indicated by a variety of direct references and addresses. ,4t two points she uses selective expressions of respect, echoing references to reasonable men, such as when she points out the hidden dangers of Dr. Gregory's Legacy to his Daughters which has "many attractions to recommend it to the notice of the most respectable part of my sex" (196). A more direct address is made later when she asks, "let not modest women start" (249) at the notion that sexual corruption on any level of society will inevitably permeate all levels. While the text implies some reasonable, respectable female readers, the majority of her references do not specify the character of the women being addressed." Overall, however, Wollstonecraft's addresses to women are more complex than those to male readers and merit closer examination.

11. Female Readers and Wollstonecraft's Role

As a female author, Wollstonecraft automatically achieves a certain distance when addressing her male audience. But as a woman, she is to some degree implicated when she examines the circumstances and behavior of other women. This situation causes Wollstonecraft to adopt language that critics have found troubling: "Where art thou to find comfort, forlorn and disconsolate one? He who ought to have directed thy reason, and supported thy weakness, has betrayed thee. In a dream of passion thou consented to wander through flowery lawns, and heedlessly stepping over the precipice to which they guide, instead of guarding, lured thee" (233). Elevated language of this sort, not used consistently, raises questions concerning Wollstonecraft's attitudes toward her female readers.'' Is she, as has been suggested, trying to establish a distance between herself and other women through the use of "artificial and abstract rhetori~"?'~

The chapter on "Modesty" ends with a further extended address to women: "Would ye, 0 my sisters, really possess modesty, ye must remember that the possession of virtue, of any denomination, is incompatible with ignorance and vanity! ye must acquire that soberness of mind, which the exercise of duties, and the pursuit of knowledge, alone inspire" (239). The plea continues, repeating the style of the former, but here she has clearly allied herself with women. What may appear to be a contradiction can be better understood by an examination of not just the language of the passages but also the subjects of each. When Wollstonecraft addresses the weaknesses that leave women "forlorn and disconsolate" she adopts a more distant stance and does not directly associate herself with her sex. In the latter passage, however, women who strive for modesty and virtue are her "sisters." Through her control of language she can create the distance that she has automatically from men and can selectively shape her relationship with female readers.

This vacillation between distance and solidarity manifests itself in other ways throughout the Vindication.Some critics claim that her use of pronouns-women are more often "they" than "wew- further indicates her desire to separate herself from other women.'" The extent to which her pronoun usage is inconsistent, however, is generally overlooked. Her introduction offers an interesting example:

But not content with this natural pre-eminence [of superior physical strength], men endeavour to sink us still lower, merely to render us alluring objects for a moment; and women, intoxicated by the adoration which men, under the influence of their senses, pay them, do not seek to obtain a durable interest in their hearts, 01-to become the friends of the fellow-creatures who find amusement in their society.


'4 telling switch occurs here from "us" to "their." Wollstonecraft acknowledges that she too is a victim of attempted oppression but stops short of identifying with those who do fall prey to such men. An examination of the places throughout her work at which Wollstonecraft uses "we" and "us" reveals that she often does so to show herself the mutual victim of an insult without being a companion in f~lly.'~

Thus she can exclaim "How grossly do they insult us who thus advise us only to render ourselves gentle, domestic brutes!" (101) but generally excludes herself from statements that demonstrate feminine follies and weaknesses.

To understand why Wollstonecraft apparently determined such a stance to be beneficial to her argument we must understand her role in the work. Regina Janes argues that "since society is the enemy the speaker wants no part of, her identification is with no particular class or segment of that society, but with the position of the critic outside the established ~rder."'~

To achieve, let alone maintain, such a privileged position would be impossible for any writer bound inescapably by class and gender, but Wollstonecraft makes the attempt. Her persona is not in general that of a woman speaking to her sisters in suffering-such a stance could, among other things, alienate male readers. The references she makes to her duty as an author provide an alternative voice. In her "Modesty" chapter she invokes this virtue and asks that it "modulate for me the language of persuasive reason, till I rouse my sex from the flowery bed, on which they supinely sleep life away" (227).One of the needs for her frequent dissociation from women becomes clearer. She must establish herself as above the present ignorant condition of most women if she is to be their champion.

Wollstonecraft is cautious, however, not to appear overly presumptuous and thus weaken her ethos. Her discussion of modesty not only deals with the sexual varieties but opens with a section that can justify her in the role she adopts: "A modest man often conceives a great plan, and tenaciously adheres to it, conscious of his own strength, till success gives it a sanctio~i that determines its character" (227). Her "great plan" is to awaken women to the oppressive nature of their present relationships with men: "When women are once sufficiently enlightened to discover their real interest, on a grand scale, they will, I am persuaded, be very ready to resign all the prerogatives of love, that are not mutual, . . . for the calm satisfaction of friendship, and the tender confidence of habitual esteem" (205). The source of enlightenment will be, of course, Wollstonecraft herself.

Along with this definition of Wollstonecraft's role in the proposed "REVOLUTION in female manners" (317) must come a definition of the roles of her audience, which she determilies by their abilities. Wollstonecraft deplores the artificial differences that have been constructed between genders. However, she must acknowledge those differences and address women as she finds them-guilty of "headstrong passions and grovelling vices," qualities that are the "natural effect" of little or no education (100). Wollstonecraft's criticisms of women are not a means of placating a male audience but a forthright assessment of what raw materials are available for the furtherance of her revolutionary plans.

Wollstonecraft's avowed primary objective with her female audience is to persuade them to relinquish the false power their culturally defined sexuality gives them over men: "I know that it will require a considerable length of time to eradicate the firmly rooted prejudices which sensualists have planted; it will also require some time to convince women that they act contrary to their real interest on an enlarged scale, when they cherish or affect weakness under the name of delicacy" (134). Wollstonecraft begins with the beginning. Women have no prospects for improvement until they stop degrading themselves. Temporary power can be obtained by acting the traditional role of the weak, delicate female, but when women employ these means, "virtue is sacrificed to temporary gratifications, and the respectability of life to the triumph of an hour" (125). Mary Poovey argues that, in regard to the revolution in female manners, "women are simply to wait for this revolution to be effected, for their dignity to be restored, for their reformation to be made necessary."" But however minor their role may seem to us now, they were being called upon to act-or in a sense, to stop acting. The traditional childlike role so many were playing, according to Wollstonecraft, was precisely what was impeding their progress as a sex, and indeed, all humanity's progress.

Throughout the Vindication Wollstonecraft warns women of the perilousness of any victory won by feminine wiles. Along with logical arguments, however, she paints distressing verbal portraits of neglected coquettes and appealing scenes of domestic bliss based on rational friendship. Other specific arguments are also strengthened with a variety of dramatic examples. Numerous and persuasive, these examples are one of the primary means by which the text shapes the roles anticipated for readers and thus they need to be examined in some detail.

111. Roles for Readers and Wollstonecraft's Cues

Wollstonecraft's examples illustrate a variety of arguments, and not just those addressed to women. Vlasopolos accurately notes that "one of the chief strengths of A Vindication resides in its vivid portrayals of women in straitened cir~umstances."'~ She argues, however, that these examples are formed to create sympathy for the men who appear in them. Critics who disregard Wollstonecraft's anticipation of male readers fail to deal with the significant number of examples aimed primarily at male concerns. Depictions of unpleasant scenarios for men occur at many points in the text, serving to demonstrate the problems that result from female weaknesses:

The weak enervated women who particularly catch the attention of libertines, are unfit to be mothers, though they may conceive; so that the rich sensualist, who has rioted among wonlen, spreading depravity and misery, when he wishes to perpetuate his name, receives from his wife only an half-formed being that inherits both its father's and mother's weakness.


Any attempt at reform must urge the necessity for that reform. With this example Wollstonecraft depicts the unhappy fruits of libertinism and the perpetuation of crippling "feminine" delicacy.

This tactic is complemented by portrayals of the domestic happiness a man will find with a properly educated woman unfettered by artificial, debilitating models of female behavior:

I have seen [a good wife] prepare herself and children, with only the luxury of cleanliness, to receive her husband, who, returning weary home in the evening, found smiling babes and a clean hearth. My heart has loitered in the midst of the group, and has even throbbed with sympathetic emotion when the scraping of the well-known foot has raised a pleasing tumult.


The lesson for male readers is clear. Frail and foolish women, however languid and appealing they appear, do not make good mothers; there are no real rewards for the encouragement of such behavior in females. Instead, sensible women will make a pleasing home and provide healthy, happy heirs. Despite the presence of women in each of the examples, the main appeal is made to men.

What is overlooked in Vlasopolos's argument, however, is that there is an equally strong network of examples in the Vindication that offer similar images of warning and reward to female readers (see Table 11).



I 1

Examples Focused Primarily Examples Focused Primarily Toward Male Readers Toward Female Readers


p. 119 ("But to view the subject . . .") p. 111("I now speak of women . . .") 167 ("Love, considered as . . .") 135-37 ("But, supposing a 181 ("Of what materials . . .") woman . ..") 188-89 ("The man who can . . .") 138-39 ("Let fancy now present 249 ("To satisfy this genius . . .") ... 32 \I 254-55 ("Cold would be the 159 ("Besides, how many I

heart. . .") women . . ." 294-95 ("The libertinism . . .") 165 ("A woman who has lost . . .") 229-30 ("And thus have I

* This table is by no means comprehensive. Many of Wollsronecraft's examples have a double focus and are difficult to classify with certainty. Those cited here are among the examples in which the gender focus is more obvious.

If a woman fails to cultivate her understanding and thinks only of setting a nice table and dressing well, her husband will soon tire of her:

How many women of this description pass their days, or at least their evenings, discontentedly. Their husbands acknowledge that they are good managers and chaste wives, but leave home to seek for more agreeable-may I be allowed to use a significant French word-piquant society; and the patient drudge, who fulfils her task like a blind horse in a mill, is defrauded of her just reward.


No good English woman could want to recognize herself in such a picture. And so, as with her examples for male readers, Wollstonecraft presents positive portrayals of women as well. The woman who concerns herself with being well educated, and subsequently educates her children, male and fernale, will find her happiness:

I think I see her surrounded by her children, reaping the reward of her care. The intelligent eye meets hers, whilst health and innocence smile on their chubby cheeks, and as they grow up the cares of life are lessened by their grateful attention. She lives to see the virtues which she endeavoured to plant on principles, fixed into habits, to see her children attain a strength of character sufficient to enable them to endure adversity without forgetting their mother's example. The task of life thus fulfilled, she calmly waits for the sleep of death, and rising from the grave, may say-"Behold, Thou gavest me a talent, and here are five talents."


Wollstonecraft consistently gives powerful form to her ideas and theories through examples, some of which make a general appeal to both men and women. Many, however, are tailored to stress points which have application either for men or for women. The text presents each gender with images that reinforce the rewards of adopting roles in the 1.evo1ution; dutiful, respectable men and women will be each other's own rewards and will produce families of happy children. Libertinism in men and foolish calculated weaknesses in women injure both sexes. Overall, the many examples embody Wollstonecraft's abstract arguments, but more important, the fact that they target different portions of her audience allows her a means to illustrate her expectations from each. These expectations also find expression in another of Wollstonecraft's important rhetorical techniques, one that complements the subtler, more emotionally based appeal made through examples. Wollstonecraft employs a direct-although softened-imperative form.

Just as the examples indicate an anticipation of male and female readers and help to shape their roles, her use of a semi-imperative mood reveals more of the expectations she has from readers. Repeatedly throughout her text, requests and pleas are issued concisely but politely by her use of "let" joined with a noun or pronoun: "I would fain persuade my sex to act from simpler principles. Let them merit love, and they will obtain it" (200).The arguments that limit Wollstonecraft to a male or a female audience overlook the heavy use she makes of the semi-imperative, directed specifically at each sex, or at both together (see Table 111).

This usage is inextricably tied with the roles assigned to her readers. Warnings that prompt women towards valuing rational relationships with men before short-lived reigns of coquettish tyranny often take the semi-imperative form: "Let them not expect to be valued when their beauty fades, for it is the fate of the fairest flowers to be admired and pulled to pieces by the careless hand


Non Gender Specific Focus Male Focus Female Focus (27; 46.5% of total) (15; 26% of total) (16; 27.5% of total)

p. 102 p. 205 p. 84 p. 181 p. 116 p. 200 108 212 112 193 134 20 1 109 230 (2) 119 (3) 296 182 235 110 233 (2) 132 (3) 311 190(4) 238 (2) 115 (3) 269 144 319 191 249 121 (3) 274 160 198(note #6) 263 138 279 160 (4) 286 199 304

that plucked them" (263). Combined with powerful imagery this rhetorical technique makes a strong appeal, presenting a voice firm but not strident.

This voice is also directed at male readers, reinforcing for them as well the messages conveyed through examples. While she makes use of full imperative also, the repeated usage of the "let" pattern allows for mnemonic ties between principal ideas. Wollstonecraft uses this semi-imperative form in a variety of ways, but primarily to issue warnings and challenges to her male audience. Often prefacing brief examples, the semi-imperative calls direct attention to what moral men are to extract from the portrait. In addressing, once again, the issue of a female education that emphasizes fawning servility at the expense of sincerity, Wollstonecraft warns: "Let the husband beware of trusting too implicitly to this servile obedience; for if his wife can with winning sweetness, caress him when angry, and when she ought to be angry, unless contempt has stifled a natural effervescence, she may do the same after parting with a lover" (181).The problem with teaching women dishonesty, Wollstonecraft demonstrates, is that men can be its dupes as well as its beneficiaries. By calling special attention to the brief example that follows, the use of the semi-imperative prepares the reader to expect an important lesson. Clearly, female manners are not just a female problem-men have a very real reason to take part in the revolution.

Wollstonecraft further strengthens her arguments advocating reformed female education by issuing challenges to men, also expressed in the semi-imperative mood. She argues that if what she is calling for is so unnatural-if women truly are not rational creatures-then educating them properly will be unproductive. But why not, she questions, try the experiment and find out? "When man, governed by reasonable laws, enjoys his natural freedom, let him despise woman, if she do not share it with him; and, till that glorious period arrives, in descanting on the folly of the sex, let him not overlook his own" (132). Her usage of the semi-imperative provides her with a voice of reasonable stability that commands attention without seeming inflexible. When addressing male readers with this voice, she emphasizes reasons why they will benefit from the revolution in female manners and issues rational but memorable challenges, both inciting them to want change and pointing to how it can come about.

One important point that becomes apparent through a study of the semi-imperative addressed to men is the extent to which Wollstonecraft relies on male action for the revolution: "Let men take their choice. Man and woman were made for each other, though not to become one being; and if they will not improve women, they will deprave them" (296). A closer look needs to be taken at what the text can reveal of Wollstonecraft's expectations about the practical aspects of the revolution. She claims that "the improvement must be mutual" (296) yet an examination of her language seems to reveal that men are to perform the more active role in the revolution. One must, therefore, determine if and why Wollstonecraft has doubts about women's ability to take the lead.

IV. Roles for the Revolution

Although she is consistent in her demands that women resign their reigns as "short-lived queens" (145), Wollstonecraft alternates between hope and despair regarding further expectations. At times, she is quite optimistic about what women should attempt and she is willing to ally herself with her sex: "Let us, my dear contemporaries, arise above such narrow prejudices. If wisdom be desirable on its own account, if virtue, to deserve the name, must be founded on knowledge, let us endeavour to strengthen our minds by reflection till our heads become a balance for our hearts" (190). Yet despite the encouraging tone of this passage a pessinlisnl about women pervades much of the work. The real problem, Wollstonecraft realizes, is nothing less than the entire structure of society, firmly stratified according to class and gender. Thus the "romantic and inconstant" behavior of women is a result of the training they receive for their approved social role and "in the present state of society this evil can scarcely be remedied" (169).

Difficulties, however, do not cause Wollstonecraft to give way to despair. An ambivalence towards women emerges strongly from the text, often suggesting frustration, and thus the role she assigns them is not one that would overturn the structure of society. The "men of understanding" must play the most active part in the proposed Revolution (319).

Why are men assigned the more active role? "Who can tell, how many generations may be necessary to give vigour to the virtue and talents of the freed posterity of abject slaves?" (171-72). At more than thirty points throughout the Vindication,,Wollstonecraft directly likens women, in their present condition, to slaves-"slaves to their bodies" (130), "slaves of opinion" (139), "slaves to their persons" (257), and "the slaves of injustice" (313); in the present system, woman is made "the slave of her own feelings" (202) and "the slave of sensibility" (232).19 Holding strong convictions about the lasting effects of education and the absolute necessity of the proper shaping of character, which in children is "fixed before their seventh year" (314), Wollstonecraft is dubious about the ability of the present generation of women to take the lead in a lasting revolution. Vlasopolos argues that through flattery b'ollstonecraft "makes Inen feel in control of the proposed 'REVOLUTION in female rnanner~."'~~But in fact, to a considerable extent she wants men to be in charge of the Revolution: "Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers-in a word, better citizens" (263). Appeals such as this are not mere fawning. Wollstonecraft repeatedly voices severe doubts about the ability of most women to overcome their faulty educations.

Women, however, are not the only party in need of reform. Miriam Brody notes that Wollstonecraft's logic can be thus reduced: "If men will not be reasonable, they will be sensualists. If they will be sensualists, women will be their slaves."21 The corollary is that while women behave slavishly, men will not be reasonable. Clearly, what emerges is a vicious cycle that must be broken largely by those most capable of doing so. In 1792 that group was "ye men of understanding," to whom Wollstonecraft's final paragraph is addressed (319). Throughout her work she makes clear that women are oppressed by their faulty educations, not by any defect in their natures. She must acknowledge where power lies, but cautions men: "Let not men then in the pride of power, use the same arguments that tyrannic kings and venal ministers have used, and fallaciously assert that woman ought to be subjected because she has always been so" (132). Power, Wollstonecraft argues throughout her Vindication,corrupts, when exerted without reason. Because the problems between men and women take on a cyclic form both men and women must act to dispel them. Simultaneously, women must abdicate their short-lived reigns of superficial power, purchased at the price of their future happiness- they must become worthy of respect-and men must learn to value the truly virtuous, reasonable woman, abandoning the desire for "a meretricious slave to fondle" (204). Wollstonecraft is more optimistic about the ability of men to rectify the problems she examines and so she shapes for them a more active role in the revolution, asking them to grant women the powers, primarily those endowed by a better education, that can allow women to rise above their present frailties. Since neither men nor women, however, can accomplish a complete revitalization of English society alone, her vision of social change entails, as Judith Lee argues, "a twofold process in which men and women evolve independently but recipro~ally."~' Without both halves of society acting together the nation cannot progress. "Rousseau exerts himself to prove that all was right originally" and "a crowd of authors that all is now right"; but Wollstonecraft envisions that when men and women can work and live harmoniously and reasonably, "all will be right" (95).

Unless the dual nature of the action needed to bring about the revolution is understood, Wollstonecraft's work cannot be fully appreciated. And the dual nature of this action cannot be understood until one realizes that Wollstonecraft's Vzndicntio,rr implies both male and female readers. Critics who believe that she wrote for men often depict her as insincere and confused-essentially charging her with the very traits she deplores so much in most women. The central problem with both of the existing critical stances, however, is that arguments limiting her to one audience or the other distort her complex work. To say that she wrote for women only is to underrate Wollstonecraft's abilities as a social analyst. She was well aware, as an examination of her work demonstrates, that society's problems have more than one source. Thus, she makes her powerful rhetorical appeals to both men and women as the best way to bring about her proposed "REVOLUTION in female manners."


IRegina Janes states that Wollstonecraft addresses an audience that "constantly shifts," but, as this point is not central to her argument, provides no real textual support for this claim. "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, Or, Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft Compared," SECC 5 (1976): 121-39, 133. Lucy Kelley Hayden cites brief examples indicating a mixed audience, but offers no analysis. "A Rhetorical Analysis of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," diss., University of Michigan, 1971 (pp. 135-38). Zilla Eisenstein claims that the work "was written to rnen as much if not more so than to women," in The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism (New York: Longman, 1981), p. 107.

2Elissa S. Guralnick, "Rhetorical Strategy in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, " The Humanities Association Review 30, 3 (1979): 174-85, 174, and Cora Kaplan, "Wild Nights: Pleasure/Sexuality/ Feminism," in The Ideology of Conduct: Essays on Literature and the Histoly of Sexuality, ed. Nancy Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse (New York: Methuen, 1987), pp. 160-83, 175.

3Anca Vlasopolos, "Mary Wollstonecraft's Mask of Reason in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman," DR 60,3 (Autumn 1980): 462-71,462. Also see Laurie

A. Finke, "'A Philosophic Wanton': Language and Authority in Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman," in The Philosopher as Writer: The Eighteenth Century, ed. Robert Cinsberg (Selinsgrove, P.4: Susquehanna Univ. Press, 1987), 155-76, 159; and Kathleen McCormack, "The Sybil and the Hyena: George Eliot's Wollstonecraftian Feminism," DR 63, 4 (Winter 1983-84): 602-14, 605.

"Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Miriam Brody (London: Penguin, 1983), p. 317. All subsequent references are to page numbers in this edition and will be given parenthetically in the text.

5Emily W. Sunstein, in A Duerent Face: The Lfe ofMa7y Wollstonecraft (New York: Harper, 1975), p. 208, describes how Wollstonecraft's publisher, Joseph Johnson, had a printer's devil at her door waiting for copy, giving her "little opportunity to correct or reorganize."

61n Brody's edition, due to her lengthy introduction, the text of the Vindication does not begin until page 79.

'One prospective reader is specified by nat-ne. In addition to the introduction, Wollstonecraft includes a dedication to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, in response to his 1791 work 011education, Rapf~ovtsur l'lnstruction Publique, fnit ole rrom du Coinitk de Constitution. She does not, however, make further reference in the body of her work to suggest that Talleyrand is her primary audience.

S"The little respect paid to chastity in the male world is, I am persuaded, the grand source of many of the physical and moral evils that torment mankind, as well as of the vices and follies that degrade and destroy women" (282; see also 233, 249, and 318).

gVlasopolos, "Mary Wollstonecraft's Mask of Reason," p. 462. loGary Kelly, "Mary Wollstonecraft as 'Vir Bonus, "'English Studies in Canada 5, 3 (Autumn 1979): 275-91, 275.

"The final chapter contains a notable exception. Her most memorable and lengthy address, extending approximately two and one half pages, is harshly critical. Superstitious wometi, however, are the prinlary target of this section containing the infamous "0 ye foolish women!" expostulation (302). While Wollstonecraft does claim that "I have throughout supposed myself talking to ignorant women," earlier references indicate that she does not believe herself to be addressing ignorant women exclusively.

I2Mary Wilson Carpenter's "Sibylline Apocalyptics: Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Job's Mother's Womb," in Literature and Histo? 12, 2 (Autumn 1986): 215-28, discusses the biblical character of Wollstonecraft's prose, and Laurie A.Finke suggests that Wollstonecraft's deliberately archaic style is "a parody of feminine discourse" (p. 165). However, arguments that represent Wollstonecraft's use of archaic pronouns as biblical, ironic, or merely poetical do not entirely account for the effect the language has on her relationship with female readers.

"Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writel- Ideology as Style in the Works of Maly Wollstonecraf, Maly Shelley, and Jane Awten (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 78.

''Vlasopolos, "Mary Wollstonecraft's Mask of Reason," p. 463; Finke, p.


I5Uses of first person plural pronouns which refer exclusively to women occur on the following pages: 80 (2), 82, 100-101 (8), 111, 132, 153 (5), 182- 83 (2), 190-91 (16), 201, and 263 (5).

'6Janes, "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary," p. 133.

"Poovey, p. 79.

18Vlasopolos, "Mary Wollstonecraft's Mask of Reason," p. 466.

IgFurther examples occur on the following pages: 82, 104, 107, 108, 117, 120, 121 (2), 122, 131, 132, 134, 144, 153, 171, 172, 179, 195, 204, 224, 256, 257 (2), 263, 265, 270 (3), 282, 285 (2), 286, and 294 (2).

20Vlasopolos, "Mary Wollstonecraft's Mask of Reason," p. 464.

"Miriam Brody, "Mary Wollstonecraft: Sexuality and Women's Rights," in Feminist Theorists: Three Centul-ies of Wo~nen's Intellectual Traditions, ed. Dale Spender (London: The Woman's Press, 1983), 40-59, 57.

29udith Lee, "Ways of Their Own: The Emanations of Blake's Vala, or The Four Zoas," ELH 50, 1 (Spring 1983): 131-53, 133. Lee demonstrates the influence of Wollstonecraft's social theories on Blake.

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