Historicising the Feminist: A Study of Mary Wollstonecraft's Political and Discursive Contexts
McDougall, C. (2006). Historicising the Feminist: A Study of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Political and Discursive Contexts (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/2355
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/2355
This thesis has investigated the life and publications of Mary Wollstonecraft. Thethesis is divided in to three chapters the first chapter explores the political and socialcontext of late Eighteenth century England in which Wollstonecraft lived the majority ofher life. It then moves on to discuss the 'Revolution Controversy' and Wollstonecraft'scontribution to that debate. Giving specific attention to A Vindication of the Rights ofMan as it is Wollstonecraft's first political publication, and was the first publishedresponse to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Without firstpublishing A Vindication of the Rights of Man, Wollstonecraft could not have publishedher most famous work.Next the second chapter investigates Eighteenth century education, and howWollstonecraft ideas on changing the nature of education would help reform society inher eyes. Education was recognized as having special significance by manyEnlightenment philosophers, this thesis looks at the contribution of John Locke and JeanJacques Rousseau to educational theory, and they ways in which Wollstonecraftresponded to their ideas. In the final chapter the inclusive nature of Wollstonecraft'sgender theory is considered. Wollstonecraft is widely recognised as publishing whatbecame for many the founding document of modern western feminism. What is givenless recognition is that Wollstonecraft was in fact interested in broad social reform,similar to many other Enlightenment philosophers, Wollstonecraft's social theoryincluded changing education and socialisation for both women and men. Society couldnot be reformed without changing social and educational practices with regard to bothIImen and women. Wollstonecraft furthered the contemporary debate on the rights of manto include the rights of woman. Wollstonecraft criticised the unnatural distinctions ofgender and class, setting out in both Vindications the negative consequences for thecharacter of both men and women. Another less recognised aspect of Wollstonecraft'sphilosophy which this thesis has highlighted is the vital role that religion played, and itsimplications for her ideas. This aspect of Wollstonecraft's thought has tended to be overlooked by many Wollstonecraft scholars, who try to place Wollstonecraft in some kind ofpolitical and social continuum which I think misses the revolutionary and far sightednature of Wollstonecraft's philosophy. In taking a historicist approach or understandingto Wollstonecraft, by reading Wollstonecraft in the terms of the political and socialenvironment of the late eighteenth century, it becomes easier to understand the radicalnature of Wollstonecraft's ideas, and the personal hardships she faced as both a womanand a member of the lower middle class.
The University of Waikato
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