A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Wollstonecraft speaks towards more of an Enlightenment argument than a Romantic one in this selection. Her and her female colleagues often warned their readers of the dangers of romanticizing reality, especially in the subject of men romanticizing women into objects of fantasy rather than actual people. She states her desire for a logical and focused argument when she says “Consider, Sir, dispassionately, these observations” (Damrosch 289). By including the words “dispassionately” and “observations” so quickly into her argument, Wollstonecraft prescribes a tossing away of the male imagination and fantasy, which women of this time period often criticized of “flatter[ing] women into subjection” (288). We also find support for Enlightenment ideals in the lines, “the more understanding women acquire, the more they will be attached to their duty- comprehending it – for unless they comprehend it, unless their morals be fixed on the same immutable principle as those of man, no authority can make them discharge it in a virtuous manner” (289). This clearly outlines the fact that Wollstonecraft’s argument is not one of emotion, but of reason. In these lines, she states that women should be taught the same education as men so that they will hold the same value in society as men and, therefore, that their value to society is what will give them true virtue. This upholds the Enlightenment ideals of the being as an economic value and salvation through work and intellect.

Although she refutes the “reason” men had been using to justify the oppression of women, she doesn’t necessarily attack it with emotion, as a Romantic would. She uses her own, modern reasoning as her fight against the traditional reason, saying, “Who made man the exclusive judge, if woman partake with him the gift of reason?” She goes on to say, in chapter one, that the problem lies not in reason, but rather in how reason is being used. It is perhaps best explained in the last lines of that chapter, where she says, “Society, therefore, as it becomes more enlightened, should be very careful not to establish bodies of men who must necessarily be made foolish or vicious by the very constitution of their profession.” Here, she is not advocating a Romantic retreat inward, but is calling for men to be able to have more control over their own morality, as this will help end the spread of misogyny within the intellectual sphere.

She enacts a voice of sarcasm when she says, “My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces” and goes on to say that frailty and susceptibility of the heart will lead to weakness and contempt. She uses the same kind of exaggeration Burke incorporates to lead to her attack on his own work, saying, “I shall not waste my time in rounding periods.” This is clearly setting up her argument to be posed somewhat against the Romantic way of writing and thinking.


“A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”

After reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing, my initial thought was that it was clearly an Enlightenment argument. She relied heavily on reason and rationality, presenting a logical argument and multiple examples to support equality for the sexes. The language was, mostly, succinct and she even stated that she sought to avoid “flowery diction” and instead persuade by the “force of my arguments” (292). This emphasis on rationality, logic, and critical reflection suggests that Wollstonecraft’s argument was a product of the Enlightenment. She also emphasizes the importance of education for young women, an important idea in the Enlightenment, and expresses religious doubt characteristic to the Enlightenment as she criticizes the use of the Bible to define the role and value of women. However, as I reviewed the reading again, I also began to see the argument as a product of Romanticism.  In the same passage as my above examples, she writes, “Should I express my conviction with the energetic emotions that I feel whenever I think of the subject, the dictates of experience and reflection will be felt by some of my readers.” She goes on to say, “I shall not waste my time…in fabricating the turgid bombast of artificial feelings, which, coming from the head, never reach the heart” (292). She values emotion and experience, as the Romantics did, and uses raw feeling to guide her. Wollstonecraft frequently refers to the human soul, a subject of interest to Romantics, as well. This Romantic interpretation is also supported by Wollstonecraft’s critique of the “rationality” that men use to subjugate women and she refers to their rationality often in a sarcastic way to point out contradictions, as in the second paragraph of page 293. In this way she avoids becoming dependent on the reason of the Enlightenment and highlights its flaws or limitations, looking to other ways of knowing and understanding, such as experience and emotion. Based on these observations, Wollstonecraft seems to be heavily influenced by both periods, although the alignment with the Enlightenment may be slightly stronger.

Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree

After reading “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” I find that it contrasts the Enlightenment sensibility mostly in regards to privacy, self-reflection, and nature. In the poem the man flees from society feeling neglected and tries to embrace his solitude in nature. Yet he cannot forget his time and he has been changed by it and by his pride. The poem suggests that having privacy and inward reflection is healing, “True dignity abides with him alone/ Who, in the silent hour of inward thought,”  unlike the Enlightenment ideal that the way to happiness is through industriousness and working for the public good. This can also be seen in the beginning of the poem where the “Traveller” is beckoned to come and clear his mind, “if the wind breathe soft, the curling waves/ That break against the shore, shall lull thy mind.” Another significant contrast is view of harmony with nature being a source of wisdom. In the Enlightenment reason and religion are sources of wisdom but in the poem harmony with nature brings about “inward thought” and “true knowledge” which leads to love.

Solitude and Value in “Lines Left Upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree”

There are many instances where Lines contrasts the ideals of the Enlightenment. One such moment is found in lines 20 through 29. In these lines, starting with “And with the food of pride sustained is soul – In solitude,” there is more focus on the individual self than with his place in society. The subject “nourishe(s)” a “morbid pleasure” and  in this, we are drawn to his internal workings instead of whatever economic value he may have around him. This “morbid pleasure” would be ignored or cast out of attention by the ideals of the Enlightenment, but it is seen as a source of wisdom in this Romantic piece. The last lines are a direct attack against the Enlightenment teachings. The subject is said to have an “unfruitful life” and yet the subject is also seen as wise to have this life. This type of Romantic rhetoric attacks the Enlightenment idea of the self only having value as an economic unit. Instead, a contemplative, internal, and “unfruitful” life makes one valuable.

Lines Left upon a seat in a Yew-tree

Unlike the reason and industrious way of Enlightenment writing, “Lines left upon a seat in a Yew-tree” focuses on the Romantic aspect of nature and solitude. The poem begins by describing a pure of heart man who is lured into nature. As the romantics express, the beauty in nature should be enough to save this man’s mind from vacancy. However, he becomes too prideful and is saddened “to think that others felt what he must never feel”. This move away from public and into the private sphere shows a major shift away from the Enlightenment sensibility. Additionally, the man is despaired by his loneliness in nature, with the poem ending in his death. It appears as if the author is saying you must take up nature’s work and through self-reflection you will be able to stay away from the mistakes of man and society.

Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree.

After reading William Wordsworth’s “Lines Left upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree” I noticed several different ways this piece contrasts the enlightenment sensibility. Even by looking at the tittle of this piece you can see that nature is a prevalent theme. The man that Wordsworth writes about is a man who rejected society after it turned his pure heart as he grew up. “He to the world went forth pure in his heart, against the taint of dissolute tongues.” He leaves mankind and takes to the river one that is “great as any sea, and was never heard of more.” Unlike the ideals of the enlightenment he goes to be one with nature. Upon arriving where the river took him he is overwhelmed with it’s beauty as he sheds tears of joy. He embraces it to give peace to his mind and life. This is a direct contradiction to the scientific and systematic way of life that he rejected.
He found solitude and happiness in that, but it did not last long. He began to feel lonely and regretted the idea that he could not experience a relationship with another human being.”Then he would sigh, inly disturbed, to think that others felt what he must never feel.” He grows sadder and sadder, “his eyes streamed with tears,” and he eventually dies alone. This piece is driven by emotion and and the desire for solidarity within Nature.

Lines left upon a Seat in a Yew-tree

While reading this poem, I found that the most contrasting element in relation to Enlightenment sensibility would be the immersion the narrator has in nature (or the immersion man of which the narrator speaks has in nature). The lines left upon the seat impart that “Stranger! these gloomy boughs / Had charms for him; and here he loved to sit, / His only visitants a straggling sheep, / The stone-chat, or the glancing sand-piper” (lines 21-24). His commune with nature distances himself from the Enlightenment ideas of mastering nature, and gaining experience through critical reflection. Through nature, he is able to experience deeply personal emotions that affect his entire person: where “lifting up his head, he then would gaze / On the more distant scene; how lovely ’tis / Thou seest, and he would gaze till it became / Far lovelier, and his heart could not sustain / The beauty still more beauteous” (lines 30-34). Although the tone of the poem changes toward the end, I think the influence nature has on the character best exemplifies a significant difference between Enlightened and Romantic thought.