MADNESS IN THE FAMILY: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT VERSUS PERCY SHELLEY!

Hey. It’s Wollstonecraft. Don’t mess with her. 

 

WOLLSTONECRAFT:

 

Milton describes our first frail mother, though when he tells us that women are formed for softness and sweet attractive grace, I cannot comprehend his meaning, unless, in the true Mahometan strain, he meant to deprive us of souls.

Soldiers, as well as women, practice the minor virtues with punctilious politeness. The great misfortune is they both acquire manners before morals, and a knowledge of life before they have, from reflection, any acquaintance with the grand ideal outline of human nature. Officers are particularly attentive to their persons, fond of dancing, crowded rooms, adventures, and ridicule. Like the fair sex, the business of their lives is gallantry—they were taught to please, and they only live to please. Yet they do not lose their rank in the distinction of sexes, for they are still reckoned superior to women, though in what their superiority consists it is difficult to discover.

Let it not be concluded that I wish to invert the order of things; from the constitution of their bodies, men seem to be designed by Providence to attain a greater degree of virtue. I speak collectively of the whole sex; but I see not the shadow of a reason to conclude that their virtues should differ in respect to their nature. In fact, how can they, if virtue has only one eternal standard? I must therefore, if I reason consequentially, as strenuously maintain that they have the same simple direction, as that there is a God.

It follows then that cunning should not be opposed to wisdom, little cares to greater exertions, or inspired softness, varnished over with the name of gentleness, to that fortitude which grand views alone can inspire.

 

SHELLEY:

 

The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the delight of infant Greece; they were the elements of that social system which is the column upon which all succeeding civilization has reposed. Homer embodied the ideal perfection of his age in human character; nor can we doubt that those who read his verses were awakened to an ambition of becoming like to Achilles, Hector and Ulysses: the truth and beauty of friendship, patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object, were unveiled to the depths in these immortal creations: the sentiments of the auditors must have been refined and enlarged by a sympathy with such great and lovely impersonations, until from admiring they imitated, and from imitation they identified themselves with the objects of their admiration.

The whole objection to the immorality of poetry rests upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the elements which poetry has created, and propounds schemes and proposes examples of civil and domestic life: nor is it for want of admirable doctrines that men hate, and despise, and censure, and deceive, and subjugate one another. But Poetry acts in another and diviner manner. It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar: it reproduces all that it represents, and the impersonations clothed in its Elysian light stand thenceforward in the minds of those who have once contemplated them, as memorials of that gentle and exalted content which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which it coexists. The great secret of morals is Love: or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person not our own.

 

Here we go. Percy Shelley, his iconic “Defense of Poetry” in hand, faces his mother-in-law, the great feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died giving birth to Percy’s future wife—Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein.

Wollstonecraft indicts gentleness as a damaging piece of flattery to women, while Shelley, a man, glories in it.  Feminism is correct even as it enslaves the female mind, for complaint breeds complaint; women, to improve themselves, imprison themselves in a better nature, or a search for a better nature, even as old and new conspire to make it impossible, while men—in this case, Shelley—slip out of their nature and identify with beauty not their own, making exalted poetry, while feminism festers in combativeness.

Wollstonecraft steels herself—to die. Shelley swoons—to live.

The contest is stacked against the woman, not because she is a woman, but because she attempts to argue as one in the first place. All feminist thought contains the seed of its own destruction. If women could only leap over themselves, they would be exalted and discover freedom on the other side. They would find gentle Shelley, poetry, wisdom. They would find bodies in a mist, sexless streams, and paradise.

This is not to say that Mary does not get it.  She does.    “…if virtue has only one eternal standard…”   Yes.

 

WINNER: SHELLEY

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