13 April 2011

Guest Post: A Heritage of Women's Literature

i've been swamped with finals. lucky for you, that means you get to hear from someone else! natalie's writing is delightful. read more at her personal blog (which is fantastic!). enjoy...

Greetings! My name is Natalie, and I’m excited to make a guest appearance on this blog. My sister Jessica is a regular, but she asked me to fill in for her today.

My thoughts today on womanhood drift towards one specific aspect of women’s contribution to society. I recently graduated with a BA in English, and as I learned to both analyze and create literature, I couldn’t help but notice how priceless the female voice is in our literary canon. Western history shows that before the 19th century, education for women was rare; thus, it was a struggle for female authors to be published and recognized. But the brave souls who paved the way for a future of women and literature would not be silenced.

Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the advocates of women’s literacy, publishing A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. A Vindication argues for many aspects of women’s rights, including that of education. Wollstonecraft describes the dangers that generated from the ignorance of women, writing that their ignorance injures their moral character, ability to raise children, and encourages vanity and sentimentalism. Wollstonecraft’s Vindication was a near-immediate success, showing that the world was ready to take a serious look at women’s education.

Perhaps a more recognizable name than Mary Wollstonecraft is Mary Shelley, Wollstonecraft’s daughter, and author of Frankenstein. The daughter, like the mother, became an accomplished writer, and Frankenstein is canonized as a beloved romantic/gothic novel. It successfully explores the dangers of playing God, the consequences of obsession, and many other themes and motifs. One of my favorite moments in all of literature comes from this book, as young Frankenstein beholds his creature come to life and realizes the horrific monster he has created:

“It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered against the panes, and my candle was nearly burned out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.”

Doesn’t that just give you a shiver?

Thank Mary Shelley’s genius for that little shiver. We should also thank her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, for advocating a woman’s right to be education and educating her daughter accordingly. One mother’s passion translated into her daughter’s success, and both mother and daughter live on in the wonderful legacy of women’s literature

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