I lament that women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when in fact, they are insultingly supporting their own superiority. It is not condescension to bow to an inferior. So ludicrous, in fact do these ceremonies appear to me that I scarcely am able to govern my muscles when I see a man start with eager and serious solicitude to lift a handkerchief or shut a door, when the lady could have done it herself, had she only moved a pace or two.
The book was published in 1792, but Wollstonecraft's passion echoes across the centuries, and some of the points she makes are still pertinent today. After I read it, I knew right away that I needed to learn more about this woman.
So of course I waited almost four years to finally pick up Lyndall Gordon's Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft.
This biography was very comprehensive. It includes everything from her abusive childhood and very dear childhood friends, to her two romances, and then after her death (shortly after giving birth to Mary Shelley, patroness of my Year of Reading Women), briefly follows her daughters and others whose lives she touched. Wollstonecraft's legacy hasn't been the most glowing over the years when it comes to her personal life (she got pregnant out of wedlock twice, for God's sake), but Gordon is very sympathetic to her subject, and I was totally on board. Things slowed down a bit with the exhaustive account of Mary's Nordic travels in search of her lover's silver ship, but otherwise it was a good read.
Having learned more about Mary Wollstonecraft, I admire her even more. Despite depression and setbacks and a million other things, not the least of which was the 18th century itself, she pressed on according to what she believed and what she wanted. I can only hope to live my life with half as much bravery and determination.
Also, fortunately for me, Lyndall Gordon has written a biography of one of my other heroes, Charlotte Brontë.