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Revolting women the use of revolutionary discourse in Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft compared

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For all their similarities, Astell and Wollstonecraft were quite different, often profoundly so. They were actually on opposite sides of the fence on the issue of political revolution, and whereas Wollstonecraft sought to extend the term ‘human rights’ to include her half of humankind, Astell pressed for nothing more in the way of social rights for women than a decent education and a little more respect. Hence Astell is often (unfairly) regarded as a poor precursor of the more emancipated Wollstonecraft; yet it is precisely in the differences between them that the fascination of a comparison of their thinking lies. If one focuses upon the usage of revolutionary discourse in both -- I will argue that both employed a language of revolution based upon an assumption of ‘natural rights’, the chief ingredients of which changed little over the one hundred years separating them -- it emerges that despite their diametric opposition on political issues, the common denominator is their desire to further the interests of women, even if their respective perceptions of women's interests differed. When their attitude to political revolution is explored incontext, it is in fact surprising that Astell managed to serve women's causesowell rather than that she did not attain Wollstonecraft's ‘modern consciousness’.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Auckland.

Publication date: 1993-02-01

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