‘Wollstonecraft’s Legion: Feminism in Crisis, 1799’

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    Mary Wollstonecraft's death in 1797, followed by the publication of and subsequent scandal surrounding William Godwin's Memoirs in 1798, instantiates a crisis at the origins of modern feminism. Robbed of their most vocal proponent of women's rights, feminist writers published polemics urgently arguing for Wollstonecraft's project to be continued. Mary Hays’ Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of the Women, Mary Robinson's Letter to the Women of England, and Mary Ann Radcliffe's Female Advocate all strive to further Wollstonecraft's political agenda, arguing for a more or less radical expansion of women's rights. Taken together, these texts answer Robinson's call for “a legion of Wollstonecrafts”. On the other hand, Hannah More's Strictures on Female Education (1799) offers a conservative rebuttal of Wollstonecraft's radical project. More's aggressive disavowal of Wollstonecraft, her suspicion of female philosophy and women's writing bring these elements, submerged in Robinson, Hays and Radcliffe's work, into sharp focus. Each writer negotiates conflicting representations of the female philosopher and woman writer in order to struggle free from Wollstonecraft's sometimes oppressive textual and personal legacy. Indeed, in these texts, Wollstonecraft herself is Legion: at once, martyr, example, warning and monster.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)479-95
    JournalWomen’s Writing
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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