Vindicating Women Through Works of Fiction
McClyman, Jennifer J.
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Mary Wollstonecraft’s pamphlet A Vindication of the Rights of Woman has received a vast amount of recognition since its publication in 1792. My thesis surveys how three novels – Wollstonecraft’s The Wrongs of Woman; or Maria, Amelia Alderson Opie’s Adeline Mowbray; or the Mother and the Daughter, and Helen Craik’s Stella of the North; or, the Foundling of the Ship – align with Wollstonecraft’s political arguments in Vindication. I survey how each text, in its own unique way, negotiates Wollstonecraft’s philosophy, and I argue that each novel both asserts the need for a more formal education for women and advocates for the improvement of women’s position in society. I suggest that through their works of fiction all three women authors may be seen to speak to their female audiences, encouraging them to challenge current educational practices and to work together for change to occur. I contend that these novels did not just serve as tales of either struggling or flourishing women; instead, these texts had the potential to transform readers’ minds by providing examples of both struggling and strong women as a means to effect social change. Furthermore, I argue that all three texts establish the need for a sense of community, or unity, amongst women. In such a society women might embrace their education and support one another rather than engage in distracting rivalries with one another that deter their intellectual advancement. Throughout, I maintain that the groundbreaking philosophy Wollstonecraft articulates in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman lives on through fictional stories that were all designed to revolutionize the social hierarchy of society and to ensure a better life for women overall.
Women in literature