The original suffragette: the extraordinary Mary Wollstonecraft


her reputation was killed in the scandal following the revelation of her unconventional life and loves. Overnight she became toxic. The shockwaves were massive, and lasting. Wollstonecraft’s enemies couldn’t contain their glee: here was proof irrefutable that she was a whore, a “hyena in petticoats” as Horace Walpole described her.

Scurrilous poems did the rounds, including an exceptionally unpleasant piece of work called The Un-sex’d Females. This was poetry functioning as an 18th-century Twitter: mocking Wollstonecraft as a “poor maniac” a “voluptuous” victim of “licentious love.” The author also crowed that “she died a death that strongly marked the distinction of the sexes, by pointing out the destiny of women, and the diseases to which they are liable.” In that oldest of misogynistic chestnuts: she was asking for it. She was a trouble-maker, and she died a woman’s death. Take note, ladies!

Source: The original suffragette: the extraordinary Mary Wollstonecraft

Mark Geoffrey Kirshner

Meet the original suffragette: Mary Wollstonecraft. The founder of feminism, a philosopher, travel writer, human rights activist, she was a profound influence on the Romantics, and an educational pioneer. In Virginia Woolf’s words, “we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living.” This may be true, but it’s not as true as I’d like. The writer of Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) and Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) sank into relative obscurity after her death, aged 38. Why?Her argument – outrageous at the time – was that women were capable of reason, and deserved to have that recognised. Now it’s our turn to recognise her contribution to women’s rights

Wollstonecraft died not one, but two deaths. First in childbirth, bringing the author Mary Shelley into the world – the agonising post-partum infection took 10 days to finish her off…

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