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Monday, 4 April 2016

Mary Wollstonecraft, a thinker in advance of her time

   A character who plays an important role in my book A Shackled Inheritance was a real person. For the long voyage across the Atlantic, my heroine Abigail takes a copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. Reading and re-reading this slim volume, a meek, conventional young woman acquires more backbone as she absorbs its radical ideas.

   Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1791, when she was only 31. It was a follow-up to her republican tract A Vindication of the Rights of Men, published in 1790. Despite the groundswell of radical ideas in the late 18th century, the so-called Age of Reason, the simple idea that the rights of man could be extended to the female sex provoked alarm and ridicule in the literary and political establishment of the day. Walpole referred to the author as a"hyena in petticoats". Wollstonecraft argued that girls should be properly educated, either to turn them into wives and mothers who would be intellectually equal to their menfolk, or to give single and widowed women the means of earning an honest living:
   "Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument is based on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all."

   Yet her sensible suggestion that girls and boys be educated together was dismissed as the ravings of a deranged woman.

   By coincidence, the British Library in London currently displays an annotated copy of the book. See: