A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
Published by Dover Publications (first published in 1792)

First published in 1792, this work by early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft caused quite a scandal when it came out. Wollstonecraft was an independent women with ideas of her own, and she grew up educating herself and eventually formed ties with other radical intellectuals who were looking for changes to take place in their time. This book is one of the very first feminist writings and for that fact alone, is an important read.

A Vindication of the Rights of Women was the first selection for A Year of Feminist Classics, and I must admit that it was an extremely difficult read for me. I closed the book hoping and praying that the other eleven books I hope to read for this project won’t be as taxing. Luckily, I’ve since finished The Subjection of Women (the February selection) and found it to be a much more pleasant experience, so I needn’t have worried about that. If you’ll notice I’m reviewing A Vindication in early March – I was supposed to have finished this book in January. I honestly could not read more than 5-10 pages of this book at once, which is why it took me so long to read. The narration is very difficult to get into, the writing is dense and uses tons of words I’m not familiar with, and it seemed to me that Wollstonecraft repeated herself about a dozen times, just using different words to say the same things.

However, while this book was not an easy read for me by any means, I’m still glad I read it. I think it gave me a deeper appreciation of the struggles women have had to go through to get to where we are today. In Wollstonecraft’s day, she was ostracized and condemned for writing a book that is based on a simple truth: women are people, too. Women should have rights just as men do, women should have choices available to them, etc. And that was quite a radical concept back in Wollstonecraft’s time.

It’s clear just how radical the concept was by the fact that most of her ideas would still be considered conservative and oppressive in today’s world. She wasn’t advocating for complete equality between the sexes, she was simply advocating for women to have some rights, some choices, some decision-making abilities, some representation in leadership, etc. She still wrote that women were best suited for motherhood, that they aren’t as strong as men – ideas that when people say them today I want to laugh in their faces. But again, she was extremely radical for her time.

Did I find reading this book to be an enjoyable experience? Not really. But was it a worthwhile one? Absolutely. I do not read many classics or historical texts of any kind, and reading this book reminded me that I should at least put a little effort towards this area of literature. The ideas I have and the beliefs I hold have a historical context, and reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women was one tiny step towards my understanding of that fact.

11 thoughts on “A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft”

  1. Don’t worry about being late, Heather! Many of us struggled with this one. I’m glad you found it worth reading in the end, though! I’m also glad to hear you found the Mill more accessible. I definitely agree! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

    1. “Academic” is an excellent word for this book. It’s definitely a difficult read but is worthwhile if you can slog through it. I honestly read it in 5-page spurts, enabling me to read it all the way through without wanting to throw it against the wall.

  2. I think I’ve mentioned this before during this reading, but reading linearly is a fairly recent development—Wollstonecraft is repetitive because she wants to make sure her argument is made to anyone picking up the book and browsing through a few pages. So there’s a reason for it, heh.

    1. Yes you mentioned that, which helped me realize that it wasn’t just me, she really WAS being repetitive and that’s okay. I have a hard time understanding why you wouldn’t want to read a book all the way through, but from a historical context like you point out, it makes a bit more sense. Thanks for sharing something I didn’t know before. 🙂

  3. I appreciate the existence of this book but I just don’t know that I can slog through it — at least not right now. It’s like Virginia Woolf: I am so glad she exists, and hooray for women, and I’ll read it another time. :p

    1. Ha, I feel the same about Woolf! I have tried to read two of her books and couldn’t get through one, the other I forced myself to finish and didn’t enjoy a bit. So yes, exactly like her. 🙂

  4. I am glad you found the experience worthwhile, if not a very happy one. I know how you feel. I haven’t finished The Subjection of Women yet, unfortunately, but I did find it an easier read. I actually admire you for being able to take this book that slowly, and not resort to skimming the text instead.

    1. Thanks Iris! I have to admit that I skimmed a few times, but only a page or so here and there – when it was just huge paragraphs and it truly seemed like she’d already said all of it before. Mostly I read it through though – I’m proud of myself too!

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