Course Hero. "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide." Course Hero. 29 Nov. 2017. Web. 18 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/>.
Course Hero. (2017, November 29). A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 18, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide." November 29, 2017. Accessed September 18, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/.
Course Hero, "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman Study Guide," November 29, 2017, accessed September 18, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Vindication-of-the-Rights-of-Woman/.
In this chapter, Wollstonecraft critically addresses how some other writers have written about women.
Section 1: Rousseau
Section 2: Dr. Fordyce
Section 3: Dr. Gregory
Section 4: Other Writers
Section 5: Lord Chesterfield
Wollstonecraft made a living reviewing texts written by other authors, and she puts her experience to work in this chapter. She quotes heavily from the authors she references, which gives a modern reader insight into how most writers of the era addressed the topic of women in society. Wollstonecraft's objections to Rousseau are well-documented. His emphasis on female frailty and the need for women to be shaped and guided by men is anathema to Wollstonecraft. She also addresses many other popular writers of the time.
Fordyce's Sermons to Young Women was almost 30 years old at the time Wollstonecraft was writing, but it was still a popular book. He was a minister, and his ideas about women alternate between praising their beauty and encouraging them to be "meek" and emotionally sensitive.
Wollstonecraft raises a new criticism of Dr. Gregory: his emphasis on the deceptiveness of men. She acknowledges his good intentions but asks a fair question: what father can encourage his daughter to depend upon her husband and then immediately warn her that her husband may deceive her? To Wollstonecraft, this inconsistency is another reason society should encourage women to think for themselves.
Female writers also come under review. Baroness de Stael was known for hosting literary salons where great thinkers might discuss the issues of the day. Both she and Madame de Genlis, an aristocrat who wrote on educational issues, were far more lenient on Rousseau than Wollstonecraft could accept. She did approve of Mrs. Chapone, who wrote a popular advice book on good conduct for young ladies. Surprising for the time, her book put great emphasis on learning and reading. Wollstonecraft praises Mrs. Chapone as "worthy of respect." She also has great respect for English historian and philosopher Catharine Macaulay.
Wollstonecraft tackles a highly popular source of advice for young men: Lord Chesterfield's letters to his son. Like Dr. Gregory's letter to his daughters, Chesterfield's letters gave advice to a well-bred young man as he grows up. Wollstonecraft was not alone in her dislike of them. English author Samuel Johnson claimed they taught "the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing-master."
Wollstonecraft was still a relatively unknown writer at this stage, and she needs to prove herself the intellectual equal of the men she is writing to and about. Allusions to other texts prove she is well-read and help demonstrate her point to her reader. This entire chapter serves that purpose, much the way a modern researcher might conduct a literature review of other publications in his or her field of expertise. It shows she considered herself a part of Enlightenment scholarship and was out to prove it. No better way than to join the fray and argue it out with her male "colleagues," most of whom probably wished she would just shut up and go away.