Polemic texts can be challenging to read: all that continuous prose with no dialogue and no story. But don’t be put off. Even by dipping into A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, you will find ideas to engage with. Wollstonecraft’s tone is conversational, implicitly inviting her readers to agree or debate with her, and like conversation, her line of thought often veers into digressions. But if you can cope with Jane Austen (her near contemporary), you can cope with Wollstonecraft.
The book is often described as the first feminist manifesto, but it is not the first feminist protest. Two hundred years before, a remarkable pamphlet called JANE ANGER her Protection for Women was published in 1589. The author’s name may have been a pseudonym, but her anger, like Wollstonecraft’s, was real enough. Where the Vindication breaks new ground is that Wollstonecraft does not only protest about the wrongs which women endure but proposes how injustice and inequality can be corrected by education. Of course she was scoffed at. Hugh Walpole called her ‘a hyena in petticoats’. At least he recognised that she had a ferocious bite.
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