Women's Rights / Women's Duties: Liberal Feminist Configuratons of Women's Rights and Civic Virtue in Britain ca. l790-l9l4

Joyce Senders Pedersen
Department of English
University of Southern Denmark at Odense
Campusvej 55
5230 Odense M

[A] right always includes a duty, and . . . they forfeit the right, who do not fulfil the duty." 1

A key problem of liberal political theory has been that of reconciling individual rights and the well-being of social collectivities. It is a problem that presents itself with particular practical urgency in the case of women's rights, given their customary responsibility for the care of infants and other helpless individuals. In recent years, a number of scholars have reconsidered the English liberal tradition, identifying strains of liberal thinking that offered an alternative to possessive individualism and sought to combine a commitment to individual freedom and enterprise with an ethic of social responsibility.2 Pursuing this theme, I wish to consider a strand of liberal thinking about women's rights which assumed that the individual rights and duties would advance hand in hand. I shall concentrate primarily on ideas advanced by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97). However, by way of lending some more general interest to my argument, I include an afterword briefly considering these themes in relation to points raised in essays by John Stuart Mill and L. T. Hobhouse.

The point I wish to emphasize is that this strain of liberal thought was rooted in a religious "world view" -- a set of assumptions and feelings that were broadly Protestant in orientation and ultimately rested on faith not reason. It presupposed the existence of a spiritual/moral purpose to this life (Protestants were inclined to elide the two) that could be realized through individual effort and a conviction that this life is a prelude to some-thing better in which individuals have an enduring stake. This broadly religious orienta-tion, which was not closely tied to any specific dogmatic convictions, provided what one might term a "deep structure" to their thinking about individual rights. These figures represent a strand of liberal thought that commands interest today, not least on the part of those seeking a "third way" in politics. However, they worked from assumptions that no longer command widespread assent among political analysts.

Mary Wollstonecraft has long been considered a seminal figure in the history of ideas concerning women's rights, but she has not always been associated with an ethic of duty and altruism. In the period following her untimely death at the age of 38 in l797, the balance of opinion was that Mary's life and works represented a repudiation of women's duties.3 Inspired in part by the general fear of radical politics fostered by the French Revolution, this view was reinforced by the publication of William Godwin's Memoirs of his late wife. Giving short shrift to her ideas, the Memoirs depicted Mary as a woman of exquisite sensibility but made her tumultuous private life (including her affair and illegitimate child with the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay) a matter of public record. The posthumous publication of Mary's unfinished novel Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, lent further fuel to her critics, including, as it did, a spirited defense of adultery by a woman denied any legal means of freeing herself from a horrible husband.4

Today, too, many feminists view Mary's life and works as emblematic of a free spirit in revolt against the existing social order. But they applaud her example. A recent study concludes:

[I]t is hard at present not to see Wollstonecraft as a somewhat larger-than-life figure who not only wrote the first modern feminist text, but who also symbolizes modern feminism in her personal revolt, her political involvements, and her constant struggle to live a full life which allowed her some autonomy, while meeting her sexual, emotional, and intellectual needs and desires.5 However sympathetic to Mary's courageous struggle to live according to her own lights, there is not much about duties here.

A very different view of Mary was urged by the Victorian liberal suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett. Fawcett considered that Mary's "chief claim to the regard of posterity" was while rejecting the idea that women's worth depended on their usefulness to men" she had a keen appreciation of the sanctity of women's domestic duties, and she never undervalued . . . the high importance of these duties, either to the individual, the family, or the state." On Fawcett's reading, the Vindication of the Rights of Women demonstrated Mary's conviction that "a concession of a large measure of women's rights is essential to the highest possible conception and fulfilment of women's duties." Fawcett alluded only in passing and with distaste to Mary's tempestuous life, viewing her behavior as a reaction against the hypocrisy of an age that overvalued appearances and undervalued real moral worth. 6

Neither Mary's oeuvre nor life easily lend themselves to systematic exegesis. Her writing is discursive; her views and actions were not entirely consistent; and her outlook varied over time. However, Fawcett's evaluation seems nearer the mark than either Mary's contemporary critics or some recent admirers would allow. Mary's vindication of women's rights assumes that women's "rights" are of interest primarily as they promote women's ability to fulfill their "duty" and that this is in women's own best interest:

Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument is . . . that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue . . . how can woman be expected to co-operate unless she know why she ought to be virtuous? unless freedom strengthen her reason till she comprehend her duty, and see in what manner it is connected with her real good? 7 In a similar vein, denied the possibility of securing a divorce from her dissolute husband, the heroine of Maria defends her right to leave him and live with another man by demanding "If I am unfortunately united to an unprincipled man, am I for ever to be shut out from fulfilling the duties of a wife and mother?" 8 The operative assumptions are that "the more understanding women acquire, the more they will be attached to their duty" and that "Liberty is the mother of virtue." 9

But why should freedom and reason lead to the pursuit of virtue and duty rather than pleasure? Mary returned to the question more than once in the Vindication. She concluded that the pursuit of virtue is rational because this life is a preparation for a better life hereafter:

Supposing, for a moment, that the soul is not immortal, and that man was created only for the present scene . . . . Let us eat, drink, and love for to-morrow we die, would be, in fact, the language of reason, the morality of life; and who but a fool would part with a reality for a fleeting shadow? But, if awed by observing the improbable powers of the mind, we disdain to confine our wishes or thoughts to such a comparatively mean field of action . . . that only appears grand and important,as it is connected with a boundless prospect and sublime hopes. 11 In a biography published in l972, Eleanor Flexner directed attention to the importance of religion in Mary's early life and thought, noting that Mary's religious commitments had been but cursorily remarked by many biographers, including her husband William Godwin, who did not share her religious outlook. Flexner suggested that at least through the Vindication of the Rights of Women (which appeared in l792) Mary's religious convictions served as the mainstay of her life and work. 12 Flexner's insight merits more consideration than it has been accorded by some later scholars.

Mary's background was Anglican, but the religious views she arrived at were broadly Unitarian. In l784 she had become acquainted with members of a distinguished Dissenting community at Newington Green, including the Unitarian minister Richard Price. The extent of Price's own influence on Mary is unclear, but she came to share a number of his views -- e.g. that life is a probationary state and that education and liberty are necessary prerequisites for moral judgement.13 More generally, for much of her life Mary shared the hopeful orientation towards the future of a creed whose characteristic aspect, it has been suggested, was not its denial of the Trinity per se but its denial of the closely associated doctrines of the Atonement, original sin, and eternal punishment. 14

Unitarianism, it should be emphasized, was not a halfway house to non-belief but rather a vital religious faith.15 Recently, Virginia Sapiro has argued that the assumption that God or Nature imposed a fundamental order on existence provided the cornerstone of Wollstonecraft's world view.16 Sapiro's study, which aims to locate Mary's politi-cal thought in the context of democratic and feminist theory, is unusual in employing a thematic rather than a chronological approach to her oeuvre, and it finds greater coher-ence in her thought than most scholars have allowed. Sapiro's emphasis is on explica-ting the logic of Mary's views in the light of her overarching beliefs. Here I want to turn this emphasis on its head, suggesting that without faith in a benevolent providence there is little logic in numbers of Wollstonecraft's key assumptions. Often God or the Supreme Being or Nature function as a deus ex machina in Wollstonecraft's thought. Emphasizing this, points up the otherness of Wollstonecraft's mental landscape. It provides, I think, a salutory corrective to the tendency to value Wollstonecraft for her "modernity," rather than attending to the assumptions that led her to her beliefs.

Mary's Vindication of the Rights of Women, her most influential work, assumes a teleological view of history. We are put here, we are assured, for a purpose. That purpose is to develop our God-given power of reason -- the defining characteristic of our humanity -- in order that we may seek to understand God's purpose in the world.17 The Vindication thus proposes first to view women "in the grand light of human creatures, who, in common with men, are placed on this earth to unfold their faculties" and then to consider their "peculiar designation" (their special responsibili-ties). It concludes that "[S]peaking of women at large, their first duty is to themselves as rational creatures, and the next, in point of importance, as citizens, is that which includes so many, of a mother."18

Women's "duty to themselves" should be understood in the context of Mary's other commitments. The rights and duties that most urgently concern Mary in the Vindication are those of intellectual and moral self-development -- the right/duty to education, comprehensively construed to include all manner of activities (including occupational pursuits) that strengthen the intellect and thus the character.19 Mary took it as axiomatic that mental and moral development went hand in hand, that reason would lead mankind to virtue. 20 Education should not, she thought, be geared merely to worldly success. People erred in seeing education "only as a preparation for life." Rather it should be seen "as the first step to form a being advancing gradually towards perfection." 21

Mary's argumentation has an element of circularity. Mankind's striving for perfection is proof that there is an afterlife, which in turn offers rational grounds for striving for perfection:

[I]f men were only born to form a circle of life and death. . . . the prudent voluptuary might enjoy a degree of content, though he neither cultivated his understanding nor kept his heart pure. . . . knowledge beyond the conveniences of life would be a curse. . . . The appetites would answer every earthly purpose . . . . But the powers of the soul that are of little use here, and, probably, disturb our animal enjoyments, even while conscious dignity makes us glory in possessing them, prove that life is merely an education, a state of infancy, to which the only hopes worth cherishing should not be sacrificed. 22 Ultimately, as she herself indicated, her beliefs rested on faith: A curse it [human beings' capacity for reason and self-improvement] might be reckoned, if the whole of our existence were bounded by our continuance in this world . . . . Firmly persuaded that no evil exists in the world that God did not design to take place, I build my belief on the perfection of God. 23 As conceived in the Vindication, then, women's "duty to themselves as rational creatures" entailed the pursuit of virtue, not worldly pleasure: "whoever sacrifices virtue . . . to present convenience . . . lives only for the passing day, and cannot be an accountable creature." 24

Mary's outlook was rooted in a particular protestant world-view that assumed that all individuals might work out their salvation through their God-given reason unmediated by institutions. Although convinced that people were largely shaped by their environment (and hence that "till society be differently constituted much cannot be expected from education"), she nonetheless insisted that "every being may become virtuous by the exercise of its own reason." Again, not logic but faith in a beneficent Deity sustained her view: "for if but one being was created with vicious inclinations, that is positively bad, what can save us from atheism? or if we worship a God, is not that God a devil?" 25

There was a pronounced anti-materialist bent to both Mary's life and thought. She lived by an ideal of plain living and high thinking, and one of her most consistent themes was her dislike of the pursuit of mammon: "Most prospects in life are marred by the shuffling worldly wisdom of men, who, forgetting that they cannot serve God and mammon, endeavour to blend contradictory things." 26 She recognized that independence has a material correlative and thought that both abject poverty and luxurious idleness had a corrosive impact on the heart and mind. 27 She wished women to have access to a wider range of occupations to secure their independence and to obviate their need to marry for economic reasons.28 (Associating morals above all with states of mind and motivations, she equated such marriages with prostitution.) However, the general assumption is that ultimately movements of mind, not material conditions, determine the human condition: "In tracing causes that . . . have degraded woman . . . it appears clear that they all spring from want of understanding." 29

The ultimate aim of cultivating the understanding was to disover God's purposes for the world, to enable individuals to "co-operate . . . with the Supreme Being." 30 Just as laws governing the natural world had been discovered, so Mary hoped, general moral laws might be deduced from experience and applied to the ordering of human society: "morals must be fixed on immutable principles." 31 Although men's and women's duties might differ, she urged, "they are human duties, and the principles that should regulate the discharge of them . . . must be the same." 34

Private and public virtue she considered integrally related. The foundations of character are laid in family life: "if you wish to make good citizens, you must first exercise the affections of a son or brother . . . . for public affections, as well as public virtues, must ever grow out of the private character."32 However, to foster public virtue, family life must be informed by concerns beyond the family's own immediate well-being:

To render women truly useful members of society. . . they should be led, by having their understandings cultivated on a large scale, to acquire a rational affection for their country founded on knowledge. . . . private duties are never properly fulfilled unless the understanding enlarges the heart; and . . . public virtue is only an aggregate of private.33 Cultivation of the understanding, she thus anticipated, would promote a growing sense of the claims other human beings beyond one's immediate familial circle.

If Mary contemplated with equanimity the prospect that most women's "peculiar designation" was for motherhood, this was consistent with her insistence on the prime importance of the inner life. The essence of freedom for Mary was mental and moral freedom. This, she believed, would lead one voluntarily to assume the task of promoting God's grand design: "it is the right use of reason alone which makes us independent of every thing -- excepting the unclouded Reason -- 'Whose service is perfect freedom.'"35 In effect, the path to salvation lay in the pursuit of one's worldly calling in a spirit acceptable to God

In Mary's next major work, "An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution," God has disappeared from the scene, but the analytic paradigm is essentially the same as in the Vindication. 36 Although shaken by the Terror, which she witnessed first-hand, she continued to believe in the underlying reality of moral progress. 37 Viewing the excesses of the Revolution as a product of the brutalities of the Old Regime, she hoped that a "civilization founded on reason and morality" was coming into being.38 Sometimes she indicated that further progress was contingent on the removal of hereditary distinctions and the establishment of a meritocratic social order which would encourage individual initiative. 39 More often, however, she assumed that continued progress was inevitable, given the broad diffusion of knowledge in modern society.40 She heralded the coming of a new moral order, when an ethic of altruism, supported by reason, would prevail:

When society was first subjugated by laws . . . it was natural for men to be selfish, because they were ignorant how intimately their own comfort was connected with that of others; and it was also very natural, that humanity, rather the effect of feeling than of reason, should have a very limited range. But, when men once see, clear as the light of heaven, -- and I hail the glorious day from afar! -- that on the general happiness depends their own, reason will give strength to the fluttering wings of passion, and men will 'do unto others, what they wish they should do unto them.' 41 Writing at a time when her private life was in turmoil, the Terror was at its height, and war had been declared between England and France, Mary found grounds for hope that mankind was in the process of renouncing an ethos of violence and that a new and tranquil era was dawning in which civilized individuals sensibly cultivated their own gardens and the rational pleasures of domestic life: Fortunately, in spite of the various impediments that have thwarted the advancement of knowledge, the blessings of society have been sufficiently experienced to convince us, that the only solid good to be expected from a government must result from the security of our persons and property. And domestic felicity has given a mild lustre to human happiness superior to the false glory of sanguinary devastation . . . . Our fields and vineyards have thus gradually become the principal objects of our care -- and it is from this general sentiment governing the opinion of the civilized part of the world, that we are enabled to contemplate, with some degree of certainty, the approaching age of peace. 42 It was a triumph of faith over reason.

Writing in a highly individual voice, Mary bore witness to the truth as she saw it in the light of her own experience, and at its best her writing is wonderfully immediate. However, it is no service to her or to us to project on her thought a false modernity. In his history of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, Leslie Stephen alluded to "that peculiar form of semi-rationalism which was combined with English radicalism." 43 Mary's work falls within this semi-rationalist tradition. If she arrived at convictions and a mode of life that in some respects appeal to the sensibilities of our own times, she did so by a route that does not command widespread assent in secular circles today.

* * * * *

John Stuart Mill's tract On the Subjection of Women was written in the l860's and addressed a very different political context than Wollstonecraft's Vindication. Faith in progress had become more broadly diffused. An organized women's movement had appeared. Stylistically, the two works could hardly be more different. Mary's is rambling and repetitive but also very direct and vigorous. Mill's tract is cautious, condensed, consistently ratiocinative. However, the two tracts make a remarkably similar case for women's emancipation. (Indeed, so similar are they not just in argument but also in the analogies and tropes employed that it is hard to believe that Mill was not familiar with Mary's work. However, there seems to be no evidence to this effect.44) Athough couched in dry, pellucid prose, Mill's hopes for the present vision are grounded in a vision of the future that is very like Mary's and rests, no less than hers, upon a leap of faith.

If, against all historical odds, Mill was confident of the ultimate triumph of women's rights, this was because he viewed the subjection of women as "a single relic of an old world of thought and practice exploded in everything else." 45 Mill's convictions as to women's prospects were grounded in a progressive historical vision which assimilated women's history to that of men. The essence of modernity, as he saw it, was the development of a new social order in which power and status were based on individual merit rather than birth. 46 Women, he hoped and believed, would take their place in this new liberal order, itself the product of a new moral dispensation whereby the rule of reason was gradually displacing the rule of force.

Like Mary, Mill posited an ultimate harmony of interest amongst human beings. His tract thus begins like Mary's with the assertion that the subjection of women not only wrongs women but also constitutes "one of the chief hindrances to human improvement."47 Mill's, too, was a non-materialist view of history that accorded decisive importance to the individual inner life and identified reason as the fundamental force promoting the moral and material progress of mankind. Liberty, he considered, played a crucial part in mankind's advance, for truth emerged through the free play of ideas, tested in the light of experience. Assuming that reason would lead individuals to perceive the interests that they shared with other human beings and that freedom would encourage them to assume responsibility for their choices, Mill, like Wollstonecraft, concluded that freedom, reason, and a sense of social duty would advance hand in hand:

[T]he communities in which the reason has been most cultivated, and in which the idea of social duty has been most powerful, are those which have most strongly asserted the freedom of action of the individual . . . . 48 Like Mary, Mill assumed that most women would find their primary calling in mother-hood and household responsibilities, not paid employment and was unperturbed at the prospect. According primacy to inner motivations and states of mind, Mill was less interested in the material bases of status and power. Thus, while he considered the "power of earning" as "essential to the dignity of a woman" without independent property (providing a sense of psychological independence), he did not think it desirable that wives should contribute to the family income in addition to their child-rearing and household responsibilities. Voluntarily undertaken, women's domestic occupations appeared to Mill in no very different light from men's professional duties.49 Con-vinced, like Mary, that private and public norms and values were integrally related, Mill too ascribed public import to familial responsibilities. 50

Mill, like Mary, was faced with the problem of explaining why freedom and reason would lead individuals to virtue. Whereas Mary had recourse to her faith in an afterlife, Mill, who was an agnostic, got round the difficulty by assuming -- problematically, as critics have noted -- that individuals would find the higher happiness in cultivating reason and duty. 51 In this way, they would maximize their own utility at the same time they cultivated their duties and promoted the common good. Whether or not a benevolent Deity presided over human affairs, the general scenario was much the same: through individual mental and moral striving, mankind was engaged in realizing a new moral order based on reason and altruism.

L. T. Hobhouse, who shared Mill's feminist sympathies, also believed that indivi-dual rights and recognition of individuals' social responsibilities were advancing hand in hand. Hobhouse was a proponent of the so-called "new liberalism" of the early twentieth century that mandated an expanded range of state services in the interest of individual self-development and freedom. As set forth in his classic tract on Liberalism, Hobhouse's analysis posited an "organic" relationship between the individual and society. Society, he indicated, was composed of individuals, but individual identity was in part socially constituted. 52 Arguing for a "positive" conception of the State as necessary for the effective realization of personal liberty, he considered there to be a "reciprocal obligation" between the individual and the "State" or "society". (Hobhouse used the terms interchangeably.) Society has a responsibility to provide the individual with "the means of maintaining a civilized standard of life"; the individual has a corres-ponding duty to make use of the opportunities provided him or her. 53 Consistent with this view, Hobhouse, who characterized motherhood as "a civic service," considered that allowances should be given to poor mothers to enable them to stay home and care for young children, on condition that the woman "not endeavour to add to it by earning wages, but rather that she should keep her home respectable and bring up her children in health and happiness." 54 Although Hobhouse envisioned a far more extensive role for the state and placed far more emphasis on the material preconditions of freedom than had most earlier liberal theorists, the ultimate end that he too had in view was individual mental and moral development: "[T]he function of the State is to secure conditions upon which mind and character may develop themselves." 55

Hobhouse viewed himself as pursuing ideas anticipated in Mill's later work. In des-cribing what he took to be the most valuable elements of Mill's teaching, Hobhouse fre-quently couched his discussion in spiritual/moral terms. Mill Hobhouse considered, was "a moral force, and the most persistent influence of his books is more an effect of character than of intellect." 56 Mill, he suggested, had approached "the heart of Liberalism" -- " the understanding that progress is not a matter of mechanical contri-vance, but of the liberation of living spiritual energy." 57 Consistent with this view, he asserted that Mill's treatment of the claims of liberty turns on an analysis of "the moral or spiritual forces which determine the life of society." 58

"Every constructive social doctrine," Hobhouse suggested, "rests on a conception of human progress."59 His own "new liberal" vision posited an advance in ethical perception whereby individual liberty and social solidarity were coming to be understood to be inextricably related. Liberalism, he explained, was centered on the belief that society should be composed of self-directing individuals and that this was the only foundation on which "a true community" could be established. 60 However, it had now come to be recognized that liberty was a matter of social interest and, conversely, that social solidarity could only be firmly anchored in liberty:

[B]eginning with the right of the individual, and the antithesis between personal freedom and social control, we have been led on to a point at which we regard liberty as primarily a matter of social interest, as something flowing from the necessities of continuous advance in those regions of truth and of ethics which constitute the matters of highest social concern. At the same time, we have come to look for the effect of liberty in the firmer establishment of social solidarity, as the only foundation on which such solidarity can securely rest. 61 On the one hand, Hobhouse insisted that progress at both the individual and societal level was a matter of choice; on the other, he insisted that it was a working out of deeply rooted human impulses: It [progress] is not "natural," in the sense in which a physical law is natural . . . . It is natural only in this sense, that it is the expression of deep-seated forces of human nature, which come to their own only by an infinitely slow and cumbersome process of mutual adjustment.62 Ultimately, for Hobhouse, as for Wollstonecraft and Mill, there was an ill-defined force making for progress rooted deep in human nature. Although an emphatic agnostic for most of his life, toward the end Hobhouse returned to some form of faith in God. As Peter Clarke has pointed out, in doing so he travelled "along a path signposted in his published work." 63


Although there are important differences of emphases in their thought, in their various ways Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Hobhouse all sought to define individual rights in a way that combined a commitment to individual freedom and opportunities for self-development with an ethic of social responsibility. Given their assumption that child-rearing and household management were most women's primary social responsibility, in the case of women this required reconciling women's rights with their domestic role. Their assumption that the foundations of civic virtue were laid in the family lent added stature to the maternal role, defining it as a civic function, carrying with it entitlements (e.g. education in the case of Wollstonecraft, allowances for some women in the case of Hobhouse). However, it was primarily by emphasizing the importance of the inner, spiritual life (in effect viewing material goods at most as means to moral and mental development) that Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Hobhouse squared the circle of reconciling rights and duties. It was their faith that this life is a prelude to a better one (whether in this world or the next) that justified their hope and belief that enlightened individuals would decline immediate pleasures in the interests of their own long-term mental and moral improvement and that of their fellow human beings.

Later feminists have rightly criticized the inadequacies of a feminist vision that condemns the majority of women to economic dependence. However, this is to criticize these observers for not having seen the world through different eyes. More importantly, it ignores the problem of whether a more materialist emphasis and less optimistic view of humanity's future moral prospects would have encouraged feminist hopes and sympathies in the context of earlier times. Had these individuals surveyed their surroundings with our less hopeful eyes it seems questionable whether they would have discerned good grounds to hope and labor for a better world for women and for men. As it was, their faith suggested to them -- however hazily and distant -- the lineaments of a New Jerusalem, combining the values of freedom and community. Theirs is a vision that appeals to those seeking a middle way between unbridled individualism and an authoritarian order today. Few contemporary theorists or politicians would feel comfortable in couching a discourse of rights and duties so plainly in terms of moral/spiritual values and a life (or lives) to come, but what the alternative might be seems far from clear.


1 Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Women London l792 and William Godwin, Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman London l798 (Westmead, Farnborough, Hants., England: Gregg International Pubishers Ltd, l970), p. 357.

2 Stefan Collini, Public Moralists. Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain l850-l930 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, l991.

3 Claire Tomalin, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, l974) chp l9.

4 William Godwin, Memoirs; Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Fiction and the Wrongs of Woman Gary Kelly, ed. (London: Oxford University Press, l976), p. 197.

5 Barbara Caine, English Feminism l780-l980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, l997) 23-43, quote pp. 42-43. Insofar as Mary is faulted, it is for not being radical enough in outlook. As Caine observes, criticism is directed to Mary's assumption that women's primary destiny was motherhood, her preference for sexual restraint, her scathing criticisms of contemporary women, and her use of a discourse which privileged masculine qualities. Ibid., pp. 32-37

6 Mrs. Henry Fawcett "Introduction" Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women (London: T. Fisher Unwin, l89l), pp. 3-4, 23. Here and elsewhere in the text, Vindication is used as a shorthand term for Mary's Vindication of the Rights of Women.

7 Wollstonecraft, Vindication, pp. vi-vii. Consistent with this outlook, Chapter l is entitled "The Rights and Involved Duties of Mankind Considered."

8 Wollstonecraft, Mary, p. 197,

9 Wollstonecraft, Vindication, pp. ix, 73.

l0 Ibid., p. 161.

l1 Ibid., p. 60. See, too, pp. 244-45.

l2 Eleanor Flexner, Mary Wollstonecraft. A Biography (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, Inc., l972) pp. 34, 160. Flexner suggests that Mary's religious beliefs later underwent a change, that she lost faith in a benevolent personal Deity and became "if not an atheist, then at least an agnostic." p. 176. Certainly Mary at times despaired. Twice in l795 she attempted suicide, as it became evident that Imlay was abandoning her and their child. However, even during this darkest year of her life, in her more buoyant moods Mary expressed faith in a benign providence and hope that there was something beyond this material existence, and this hopefulness seems to have prevailed during the final, less disordered years of her life. See Mary Wollstonecraft, , Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (Fontwell, Sussex, Centaur Press, l970) pp. 91-92, 97.

See,too, Ralph M. Wardle, ed. Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, l979) pp. 45, 49 and Wollstonecraft's essay "On Poetry" from l797 in The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler, eds. (London: William Pickering: l989) VII, p. 8.

l3 Gary Kelly, Revolutionary Feminism. The Mind and Career of Mary

Wollstonecraft (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, l992). p. 28. Kelly suggests that Mary's whole philosophy was based on Price's views, but this seems to overstate the case.

l4 Henry Gow, The Unitarians (London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., l928) p. 19.

l5 R.K. Webb, "The Unitarian Background" Truth, Liberty, Religion. Essays celebrating Two hundred Years of Manchester College Barbara Smith, ed. (Oxford: Manchester College, l986) p. 6.

16 Virginia Sapiro, A Vindication of Political Virtue. The Political Theory of mary Wollstonecraft (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, l992) chp. 1.

17 Wollstonecraft, Vindication, pp. 15-16.

18 Ibid., p. 331.

19 Ibid., pp. 5-6 "[T]he neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore." Ibid., p. 1.

20 "[T]he perfection of our nature and capability of happiness, must be estimated by the degree of our reason, virtue, and knowledge . . . that from the exercise of reason, knowledge and virtue naturally flow, is equally undeniable, if mankind be viewed collectively." Ibid., p. 16

As Mary wrote a friend, "intellectual and moral improvement seem to me so connected -- I cannot even in thought separate them." Wardle, Letters, p. l49.

21 Wollstonecraft, Vindication, p. 112.

22 Ibid., pp. 244- 45.

Mary found in humanity's very imperfection grounds for faith that God intended its perfectibility and immortality:

"The stamen of immortality . . . is the perfectibility of human reason; for, were man created perfect . . . I should doubt whether his existence would be continued after the dissolution of the body. But, in the present state of things, every difficulty in morals . . . is an argument on which I build my belief of [sic] the immortality of the soul. Reason is, consequentially, the simple power of improvement; or, more properly speaking, of discerning truth." Ibid., pp. 110-11.

23 Ibid., pp. 21- 22.

24 Ibid., p. 70.

25 Ibid., p. 37. See also p. 424. "Men and women must be educated, in a great degree, by the opinions and manners of the society they live in. In every age there has been a stream of popular opinion that has carried all before it, and given a family character, as it were, to the century. It may then fairly be inferred, that, till society be differently constituted, much cannot be expected from education." Ibid., pp. 36- 3.

26 Ibid., p. 257.

27 Ibid., p. 326-27.

28 Ibid., pp. 338-42.

29 Ibid., pp. l68.

30 Ibid., p. 36. "We might as well never have been born, unless it were necessary that we should be created to enable man to acquire the noble privilege of reason, the power of discerning good from evil, whilst we lie down in the dust from whence we were taken, never to rise again. Ibid, p. l32.

31 Ibid., p. 445. "The power of generalizing ideas, of drawing comprehensive conclusions from individual observations, is the only acquirement, for an immortal being that really deserves the name of knowledge." Ibid., p. 114.

32 Ibid., p. 373.

33 Ibid., p 445.

34 Ibid., p. 106.

35 Ibid., p. 272. As she wrote elsewhere: "The being who discharges the duties of its station is independent." Ibid., p. 331.

36 The book (published in l794) was written when Mary was living in France and the Terror was at its height. Whatever the state of her religious opinions (see above fn l2), it is possible she viewed references to the Deity as impolitic: "It is by . . . teaching men from their youth to think, that they will be enabled to recover their liberty; and useful learning is already so far advanced, that nothing can stop its progress: --- I say preemptorily nothing: for this is not the era hesitatingly to add short of supernatural events." Mary Wollstonecraft "An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution," Works, VI, p. 117.

37 Mary's "Letter on the Present Character of the French Nation" (written earlier in February, l793 but published only posthumously) took a more sombre view: "the perspective of the golden age[that she had hoped might speedily issue from the Revolution] . . . almost eludes my sight; and, losing thus in part my theory of a more perfect state, start not, my friend, if I bring forward an opinion, which at the first glance seems to be levelled against the existence of God! I am not become an Atheist. . . . by residing at Paris. . . . I cannot yet give up the hope, that a fairer day is dawning on Europe, though I must hesitatingly observe, that little is to be expected from the narrow principle of commerce which seems everywhere to be shoving aside the point of honourof the noblesse." Works VI, pp. 444-45 .

38 Wollstonecraft "French Revolution," Works, VI, p 111.

39 "It is a vulgar errour [sic], built on a superficial view of the subject, though it seems to have the sanction of experience, that civilization can ony go as far as it has hitherto gone, and then must necessarily fall back into barbarism. Yet thus much appears certain, that a state will infallibly grow old and feeble, if hereditary riches support hereditary rank, under any description. But when courts and primogeniture are done away, and simple equal laws are established, what is to prevent each generation from retaining the vigour of youth? -- What can weaken the body or mind, when the great majority of society must exercise both, to earn a subsistence, and acquire respectability? Ibid., p. 22.

40 Explaining why modern civilization need not share the fate of Greece and Rome, she explained: "[A] degree of knowledge has been diffused through society by the invention of printing, which no inundation of barbarians can eradicate. Besides, the improvement of governments do not now depend on the genius of particular men; but on the impetus given to the whole society by the discovery of useful truths." Ibid.p. l09. See also above, note 36.

41 Wollstonecraft, "French Revolution," p. 21.

42 Ibid., p. 147.

43 Leslie Stephen, History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century 2 vols. (Bristol: Thoemmes Antiquarian Books Ltd., 1991) I, p. 445.

44 E.g., both draw analogies between women's subjection and slavery, between despotic kings and despotic husbands Wollstonecraft, Vindication, pp. x, 83, John Stuart Mill " On the Subjection of Women" Collected Works John M. Robson, ed. (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, l984) XXI pp. 284-87 Wollstonecraft likens ladies to plants "planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty." Vindication, 2, Mill likens them to "hot-house plants". "Subjection" p. 327.

There is no reference to Wollstonecraft in either Mill's Collected Works or Harriet Taylor Mill, The Complete Works of Harriet Taylor Mill Jo Ellen Jacobs, ed. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, l998). Mill and Harriet Taylor were close companions for almost two decades before the death of Harriet's husband in l849 and their marriage in l851. At a time when an aura of scandal surrounded Wollstonecraft, their own unconven-tional private life may have inhibited them from alluding to her.

45 Ibid., p. 275. "[S]o far as the whole course of human improvement up to this time . . . warrants any interence on the subject, " he considered, "it is that this relic of the past is discordant with the future, and must necessarily disappear." Ibid., p. 272.

46 "The principle of the modern movement in morals and in politics, is that . . . conduct alone, entitles to respect: that . . . merit, and not birth, is the only rightful claim to power and authority." Mill, "Subjection," p. 325.

47 Ibid., p. 261.

48 Ibid., p. 336.

49 Like a man when he chooses a profession, so, when a woman marries, it may in general be understood that she makes choice of the management of a household, and the bringing up of a family, as the first call upon her exertions. " Ibid. p. 298. The idea that men might be called upon to readjust their professional priorities upon marriage was obviously beyond Mill's ken.

50 Ibid., pp. 294-95.

51 Jack Lively and John Rees explore the difficulties of reconciling Utilitarian ethics (which enjoined individuals and governments to seek the general interest) and Utilitarian psychology (which suggested that individuals would pursue their own interests) in their "Introduction" to Utilitarian Logic and Politics. James Mill's 'Essay on Government', Macaulay's critique and the ensuing debate Jack Lively and John Rees, eds. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, l978) pp. 39-51.

52 L. T. Hobhouse, Liberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, l964) pp. 58, 67.

53 Ibid., pp. 71, 86, 87.

54 Ibid., p. 94.

55 Ibid., p. 83.

56 Ibid., p. 58.

57 Ibid., p. 73.

58 Ibid., p. 59.

59 Ibid., p. 73.

60 Ibid., p. 66.

61 Ibid., p. 67.

62 Ibid., p. 73.

63 Peter Clarke, Liberals and Social Democrats (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, l978) p. 209 .