Mary Wollstonecraft: A Radical Englishwoman
Mary Wollstonecraft lived in a time where women had no right to vote, no right to education beyond what their mother or governess taught them, and basically no right to individuality or an opinion. They were considered possessions and virtually had no mind of their own. She realized that this was a problem of society and openly voiced her opinions on the matter. She wrote the book A Vindication of the Rights of Women in response to a literary response to the society's so-called proper behavior of a woman and what her rights should be. But her opinions were brought on by more that the ability to think for herself; she suffered much during her childhood and throughout the years to come. Wollstonecraft dealt with the beating of her mother and sister, death of a close friend, and even a nervous breakdown of her sister. Her own experiences in her life inspired her to write a book that would cause her to be criticized harshly for her radical views.
From the beginning, Mary's life was one large cry for help. Her father,
always in the middle of some economic failure, would beat Mary's mother and
the children during his drunken fits of rage and frustration over losing money and
being a failure. She had witnessed time and again her mother being abused by
her father, and many times she would throw herself in front of her father to keep
her mother from receiving yet another blow (Ferguson 1). Another domestic
violence situation she encountered was that of her sister, Eliza. Eliza had suffered
a nervous breakdown, and Wollstonecraft was convinced that this was caused by
her husband's abuse. Wollstonecraft then proceeded to kidnap her sister and hid
her from her husband and five-month year old daughter. This action caused quite
a stir in seventeenth-century England, and many people criticized Mary for doing
so (Abrams 98). Considering her rash reviews and probably more than a little out of sorts, England, as well as other parts of Europe, criticized her for years to come. Wollstonecraft suffered more losses, which only added to her strengthening and growing dislike for the institution of marriage. Her best friend, Fanny Blood, died giving birth to her daughter, which to Mary was a direct result of marriage. Also, at one point during her thirties, Wollstonecraft fell in love with an American businessman, Gilbert Imlay. She had a child by him, whom she named after her beloved friend, Fanny, but Imlay then left her. She thought the pain unbearable, and twice attempted suicide (Ferguson 3-14). The only emotions that she had experienced with marriage, men, and relationships were of heartbreak and pain emotionally and physically. This is certainly reflected in her writing, especially in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which in part responds to the tyranny men have exercised on women and how it has damaged their...