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Title: Literary criticism as feminist argument in Mary Wollstonecraft's 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman'
Author: Sireci, Fioravanti
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2008
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Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman makes its feminist argument primarily through literary criticism. Recent scholarship has generally considered the literary critical dimension of Rights of Woman as a minor component of Wollstonecraft’s explicit political argument and cultural critique. This thesis locates and analyses three literary critiques in Rights of Woman in order to illustrate the specificity of Wollstonecraft’s methods. Wollstonecraft’s critique of Milton utilises a practice of quotation and commentary, and interrogates his prominent role in literary and political canons. Her critique of Rousseau’s Emile is highly instructive because she both attacks its content and attempts to undercut the modes by which this paradigmatic statement of the submissive domestic female had become ‘a prevailing opinion of a sexual character’. Wollstonecraft’s critique of John Gregory, the author of the influential conduct book A Legacy to His Daughters, claims that this work perpetuates Rousseau’s repressive norms, even without the conscious knowledge of its apparently capable author. In doing so, Wollstonecraft theorizes the existence of a self-reproducing ‘male’ literary tradition, one which comprises a broad range of texts, whether by ‘great’ writers or less gifted men, a notion which challenges benevolent images of a purist canon of aesthetic value. In the development of her criticism, Wollstonecraft draws from two contemporary critical traditions. The first is that of the bluestocking women, whose public mastery of literary knowledge gives them the status to promulgate social agendas. The second is the literary periodical, which stands at the very centre of print culture in the eighteenth century. A specific analysis of the literary critical dimension of Rights of Woman illuminates new aspects of the organisation and rhetoric of this key work.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available