Wollstonecraft and the Stoics

In our class discussion of Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”, Wollstonecraft was compared to the Greek Stoics in the way she valued reason and chastity as a method of achieving gender equality. This led me to question what elements Wollstonecraft drew from the philosophy of the Stoics and how she transformed it to meet her goals.

The Stoics were concerned with the pursuit of the good life, and to them this meant being totally in accord with reason, and this was what the supremely wise man aimed for. They believed that reason was supremely good, and that passions were merely a way to unbalance the mind. They defined good as virtue and pleasure as vice, a concept which is rather familiar to us and Wollstonecraft. The Stoics also invented the concept of natural law and natural rights, which is where Wollstonecraft comes in.

Wollstonecraft’s goal differs from the Stoics in that she seeks to change political discourse rather than pursue the good life, but she uses the same tools. Reason, according to Wollstonecraft, was a virtue shared by both man and woman, and that for this reason men and women deserve equal social and equal footing of this. She sees a lack of chastity, the idolization (or in more contemporary terms, objectification) as the vice that impairs reason and thus creates disunity between the genders. She also uses the concept of natural laws to support her views on marriage, arguing that if the laws of society reflected the actual behaviors of men and women (in that people should be allowed to marry whoever they want) that husbands and wives would be less tempted to enter adulterous relationships.

Blake, on the other hand, seems to be aligned (albeit less directly) with the Epicureans in the sense that instead of viewing good as virtue, he viewed good as pleasure and living in accordance with natural desires, a view which is especially clear after reading “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”

Although the parallels between Blake with the Epicureans and Wollstonecraft with the Stoics and the implications of those ideologies on feminism is an interesting discussion that would definitely be worth exploring, I think that this blog post is long enough already.

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Death, Romanticism and the Sublime

A recurring theme I have noticed in our readings so far that has not been addressed (or perhaps it was and I missed it in a lapse of attentiveness) is death as the ultimate form of freedom. This theme appears mostly in the poetry of Charlotte Smith, but it can be found in the others as well. 

For instance, in “To the Poor” by Anna Letitia Barbuald:

“But when thou feel’st the great deliverer nigh,
And thy freed spirit mounting seeks the sky,
Let no vain fears thy parting hour molest,
No whispered terrors shake thy quiet breast:
Think not their threats can work thy future woe” (lines 13-17)

However, Charlotte Smith expresses the sentiment the best (and the most often). Here are a few instances of it from her:

“That in thy orb, the wretched may have rest:
The sufferers of the earth perhaps may go,
Released by death–to thy benignant sphere,
And the sad children of despair and woe
Forget in thee, their cup of sorrow here.” (To the moon, lines 9-12)

“I sure shall find thee in that heavenly scene
Where care and anguish shall their power resign;
Where hope alike, and vain regret shall cease” (To Tranquility, lines 10-12)

Wordsworth’s “To Toussaint L’Overture almost smacks of the same thing when he tells Toussaint to accept death, albeit in a more political and literal sense in that he has powers working for him.

In attempting to follow the Romantic’s train of thought in this view of death, I don’t think it is entirely of Christian origin,  since a belief in Christianity was the norm in movements both before and after Romanticism, even if it did have a part to play. Rather, it seems to stem from the Romantic’s view of human existence as a bloody, painful, and ultimately fruitless affair; as evident in Burke’s depiction of the murder of the Queen, Charlotte Smith’s “Sonnet XXVII” and “The sea view”, the injustice done to Toussaint L’Ouverture, and so on. To the Romantic, death is a form of escapism from this world.

Death is also one of the strongest embodiments of the sublime, both in the Burkian sense because it is a part of nature that is terrifying, mysterious and infinite; and in the Kantian sense because the concept of death is something that exceeds human imagination.

Of course, all of this is dependent upon a correct interpretation of our readings, and a proper understanding of the thoughts of Burke and Kant.

Ah, subjectivity…

Hello All!

For those of you who are unaware, though I doubt there are few of you who are, this is going to be a blog about Romantic era literature for a fall course. I look forward to exploring the theme of the transformative power of imagination, as the title of this blog clearly indicates.