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Wollstonecraft's secrets

Moore, Jane ORCID: 1997. Wollstonecraft's secrets. Women’s Writing 4 (2) , pp. 247-262. 10.1080/09699089700200015

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Contemporary feminist scholarship has read the Vindication of the Rights of Woman as a paradigm of the anti-eroticism present in all of Wollstonecraft's works, but which is less discernible in her private life and letters. As a result, it is not unusual to find the letters and the life being cited as contradictory departures from the sexual ideology of the Vindication. Against received feminist critical opinion, this essay argues that secrecy rather than pleasure in sexual relations that is the target of the text's negative polemic. In other words, I propose that the focus of a Vindication's anti-eroticism is the art of secrecy which fashionable male conduct-book writers encouraged women to practise. In the context of the Vindication's outrage over the cultural injunction to women to cloak sexual emotion in enigmatic self-reserve, the frankness with which Wollstonecraft later declares her passion in the Letters to Imlay appears less of a contradiction than a consolidation of her theoretical position. The concluding section of the paper re-examines Wollstonecraft's ideal of mutual love based on honesty in the light of the failed relationship with Imlay. By looking at similar disappointments suffered by contemporary fictional heroines, I close with the suggestion that the texts of Enlightenment feminism paradoxically reveal secrecy to be a constituent component of heterosexual desire.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Publisher: Taylor and Francis
ISSN: 0969-9082
Last Modified: 31 Oct 2022 09:04

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