Mary Wollstonecraft, an eighteenth-century writer, philosopher, and feminist, hardly needs introductions. The Regency Writings Repository is now enriched of her political pamphlet A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by His Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) in which she argues against aristocracy and in favour of republicanism. She invokes an emerging middle-class ethos in opposition to the vice-ridden aristocratic code of manners.
The first edition of the Rights of Men sold out in three weeks, and was reviewed by every major periodical of the day. However, with the appearance of the second edition that carried Wollstonecraft’s real name on the title page the reviews began to evaluate the text not only upon its content but also as the work of a female writer. Wollstonecraft’s “passion” was contrasted with Burke’s “reason” and the text and its female author were spoken of condescendingly.
The Rights of Men is well worth reading for the familiar themes known from Austen’s novels.
ETA: I edited to add several links, among others to a short biography at the Jane Austen Centre’s webpage that contains this quote:
Early in 1797 [Wollstonecraft] was married to William Godwin, a philosopher who was notorious for his rejection of romance and marriage. Though they had sworn not to get married, the feminist and the enemy of matrimony were wedded at Saint Pancras’ Church and settled into conjugal happiness. At least in private, Godwin was prepared to admit the force of emotion as well as of thought. Both Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin seemed – at last – to have found the emotional happiness and intellectual kinship they both sought, which made what was to come seem unbearably cruel.
On September 10, 1797, at the age of thirty-eight, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin succumbed to puerperal fever after the birth of her daughter. Having survived so many difficult situations, she died when she had so much to live for.
After her death, Godwin wrote to a friend, “I firmly believe there does not exist her equal in the world. I know from experience we were formed to make each other happy. I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again.”
Read about Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft:
- A Feminist Connection: Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft by Miriam Ascarelli at Jasna
- The Rationality and Femininity of Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen by Rachel Evans (pdf)
- THE NEW FEMININE RHETORIC: WOLLSTONECRAFT, AUSTEN, AND THE FORMS OF ROMANTIC-ERA FEMINISM by Elisabeth L. Guyon (pdf)
- Mary Wollstonecraf, Mary Shelley, and Other Contemporaries of Jane Austen at A Male Voices Web Page
- Jane Austen, Jane Fairfax, and Jane Eyre by Jocelyn Harris
- Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft on the Proper Conduct and Education of Young Ladies
- Mary Wollstonecraft at the Jane Austen Centre