Mary Wollstonecraft On Sexual Politics

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Wollstonecraft On Sexual Politics

History Of Ideas podcast

CATHERINE: Hello, I'm Catherine Carr, producer of Talking Politics. This is the second in our series, History of Ideas. Today, David talks about Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a book that came out of the French Revolution but was about so much more than that.

DAVID: This talk is about a book that, like a lot of the books and other pieces of writing I'm going to be discussing, comes out of a time of political turmoil. Political turmoil produces good writing about politics. It was true for Hobbes—and I talked about before, it was the turmoil of the English Civil War and what followed it that produced his greatest book. The event that this book comes out of is the French Revolution, another world changing upheaval. It was not written by someone who comes from France. It's written by Mary Wollstonecraft from England. But she went to France and she was there during the revolution, not all of it, but its most dangerous phase.

There isn't a huge connection between this book and what I had to say about Hobbes, but there is some, and I just want a sketch that out before I talk about what Wollstonecraft had to say and why it matters. It might seem odd to think that there's a connection between the French Revolution and Thomas Hobbes’ political philosophy because Hobbes is known as the philosopher, not just of order, but of sucking up the order that you have. In the terms of Hobbes’ argument, you are not meant to overthrow your sovereign, even if your sovereign does not work for you, even if your sovereign seems to you to be corrupt and mad. If you have a functioning political system, you are meant to stick with it. So how could a Hobbesian view of politics help—as it did, at the edges, but in a real way—how could it help inspire a revolution?

Well those thinkers who did draw on Hobbes during and after the French Revolution and used him as the basis for thinking about a new kind of politics did it because he is a rationalist and because he was trying to think through politics from first principles, as many of them were. And also because he does, deliberately, in his own terms, represent a kind of fresh start. Hobbes knew that what he was offering was not just a defense of the status quo. The status quo was the legacy of the chaos of pre-modern politics, lingering on through the chaos of the first half of the 17th century. And Hobbes wanted to create a new politics and a new world, one that made sense. And so there is a double legacy from Hobbes, as there is a doubleness to everything about Hobbes. He is the philosopher of order and sucking it up, but he is also the philosopher that gives people a chance to think what it would be to have a politics that made sense in its own terms, not founded on religion but able to regulate religion, not coming from divine authority but from the authority of the people. And it really depends whether you think you are living with—order or chaos—which side Hobbes will come down on for you. If you believe that what passes for your state is actually a state of chaos, incapable of rational ordering, you may well think, as some French revolutionary thinkers did, that there is a Hobbesian conception of politics that will anchor the new politics you want. Hobbes has an influence that runs in the most surprising places.

Mary Wollstonecraft was not really interested in Hobbes, I don't think. And she certainly wasn't reacting against a Hobbesian defense of political order, nor was she advocating a Hobbesian conception of a new politics. She was reacting against, in her writing, a defense of political order. It didn't come from Hobbes. It came from one of her contemporaries, the Anglo-Irish politician and political thinker, Edmund Burke, one of the people who responded earliest and most influentially to the French Revolution in 1790 with his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he really took down the revolution and identified it as a disaster. And he attacked it on the basis that it was what happens—again, this is not about Hobbes—but it was what happens when you try to found a new politics on principles of rationality, geometric, inhuman, artificial, mechanical rationality and reason, where your principles are abstracted from life as it should be lived, as it can be lived, as it is lived, and become something remote and detached. Burke thought that reason in politics ultimately was heartless and that what it would open the door to was the worst of the human heart—the cruelty, the unconstrained violence, which everyone knows is somewhere possibly lurking in all political transformation. Burke was the thinker who argued in favor of sentiment and custom and tradition and unspoken rules, not rational, geometric rules, which in the end he thought produced disaster because they are not living rules, but the lived life of a community, the life that connects the people who have gone before, the dead, with the living, and connect the living with the people who are to come the unborn. It's a small ‘c’ conservative argument in favor of organic community and heritage over reason and revolution and Wollstonecraft hated it. [7:10]

I'm going to say two ways in which Wollstonecraft is a little bit like Thomas Hobbes. It's a bit of a stretch but it helps connect this talk to the one that went before. Then I’m going to talk about all of the many, many ways in which she is quite different, including some of the most obvious ones I don't need to spell out. But two ways in which there is a connection. In her argument with Edmund Burke, she is on the side of reason. Not just reason as we'll hear, but reason. She wants politics to make sense. She does not want politics and political life to rest on unspoken assumptions and hidden values and traditions that no one can control and no one can reform. She wants it to make sense for people who are capable of rational thought, and she thought we were all capable of rational thought. That very very remotely has some connection with the Hobbes project.

The other connection is that, in her response to Burke, but also in her other writings, particularly the one I'm going to talk about today, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she is intellectually fearless. Her book is jolting. Just as Hobbes’ book is jolting because it feels so completely fresh. And it feels as though she is following her line of thought wherever it's going to take her. She is not constrained by fear of offending people. She is not constrained by a fear that she might go too far. She wants to go as far as it is necessary to go. Like Hobbes, she said what she thought had to be said, and then the consequences would take care of themselves. But, in the most obvious way, she's not like Hobbes because she was not a fearful person who was intellectually fearless. She was, in her life, relatively speaking, a fearless person who was intellectually fearless. Not fearless in the sense she was not afraid. She was often afraid and she lived a very frightening life, including in Paris during the time of the terror. There was a great deal to be afraid of. But she went to the revolution in Paris. Hobbes fled his revolution to Paris. He went to Paris to get away from it. Mary Wollstonecraft went to Paris to see it and to live it. She was genuinely brave.

She also lived a brave and unconventional life. She challenged convention, not just in her writing but in her life. Hobbes didn't really challenge convention in his life. Not much. And he lived under the protection of the people he thought could look after him. Marie Wollstonecraft was a woman who had relationships outside of marriage, a child outside of marriage, who explored the nature not just of human reason but of human love in how she lived, who often suffered and was depressed and contemplated suicide, who often faced extreme poverty and insecurity. She did not lead a life like Hobbes. She led a very very different kind of life.

And she led a passionate life. She married towards the end of her life. She also had a deep, tempestuous relationship with a man who was married to someone else and whom she never married but with whom she had a child. Hobbes didn't marry at all. Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman refers to an argument that sometimes comes up—so she associates it with the early modern, preceding Hobbes, philosopher and scientist and politician Francis Bacon… The idea being that really deep analytical thinkers tend not to get married because marriage gets in the way. To be a profound thinker, to be a philosopher is ideally to lead the unmarried, the solitary life. And there is an argument that is sometimes made that if you list many of the great philosophers in the Western tradition, all of them men—so it's not the definitive list by any means—but there is a list of male philosophers, and the one thing that these people have in common is that they were unmarried. And it runs through Hobbes, includes Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, and then after Wollstonecraft’s time, after the French Revolution, on through people like Nietzsche and Wittgenstin in the twentieth century. It's a terrible argument. Wollstonecraft says it's a terrible argument because she does not think you can lead a fully rational, but also fully human life, without trying to secure deep relationships. But it's also a stupid argument because, actually, these philosophers didn't get married for all sorts of different reasons. Wittgenstein was gay, wasn't an option for him. Nietzsche understood, for reasons of health, to put it politely, it might not work for him. Kant was a finicky bachelor. Hume was a convivial bachelor. And Hobbes, as I said last time, was a servant. He had a family. He was looking for protection and it wasn't clear to him that having another family, dividing his loyalty, was the way to find protection. He was, in that sense, in his personal life, afraid and he sought safety. Wollstonecraft did not seek safety. And her writing, and the passion as well as the deep attachment to rationality in her writing, is much, much more than in the case of Hobbes, a reflection of her life. [13:13]

The other difference, the substantive difference in terms of what she thought and what she had to say is that her defense of reason and rationality in politics was actually nothing like Hobbes’. It doesn't work on the same principles. It doesn't have the same limitations. One way to characterize what Hobbes was doing was trying to use reason to identify the limits of reason. The Hobbes project was to find the thing that we could all agree on, which was, that in the end, if we all try and lead a life simply founded on our own rationality, we will never agree because even rational creatures collide and disagree. So reason is there to anchor a space for politics where we can be free to be passionate and irrational and conflicted and conflict with each other because reason is the limiting device. Reason is the thing that lies underneath our politics, holds it in place, allows us maybe to make a fresh start, but doesn't run all the way through our politics. The Sovereign in Hobbes’ terms would be better if he or she or it were a reasonable creature, but sovereignty does not depend on the sovereign being rational. Sovereignty depends on the sovereign making decisions.

Wollstonecraft did not limit reason in that way. She did not see the political project as finding a way to carve out a space in which reason is the anchor and then it opens the door, among other things, to the possibility of unreason, but also the probability of security and peace, and that it creates a space in which reason and unreason can coexist because the anchor, the skeptical anchor, is rational. For Wollstonecraft, reason, rationality were more like a journey. They weren’t an anchoring device. It wasn't a mathematical project. You don't find the geometric principles and then build on those. Reason, thinking, sense, good sense, these are all lived experiences and they coexist, all the time, with forms of passion, with forms of emotion. They coexist all the time with lived experiences that are not themselves reasonable. And the challenge, therefore, in politics and in life, is not to try and find a way of organizing our society so that the reason is there in the background making the rest of it possible. It is to find a way of organizing our society so that reason and passion can co-exist, can support each other, can feed off each other, and can allow us to develop and grow. It is for Wollstonecraft, part of the journey of life, part of the motion, that these two things always coexist. For Hobbes, it’s the precondition of there being a journey at all. Those are two very very different kinds of political philosophy.

So when Wollstonecraft, in the first response that she made to Burke, called The Vindication of the Rights of Men, which was in part a defense of the French Revolution and the rational spirit of that revolution against Burke's criticism, but it was actually much more an attack on Burke because of what he said, and what it implied, about the English state, the British state, the one in which Wollstonecraft and Burke both lived, the way in which Burke was a defender of the established order. And Wollstonecraft wanted to tell him and tell her readers that it was indefensible. That attack on Burke is also, at a stretch, an attack on the Hobbes project too. What she said against Burke, among other things, was that his defense of a form of sentiment against reason was meant to be high minded, and the sentiments he had in mind, the kinds of feelings, were the higher feelings. He thought politics went best if we rescued from these cold, heartless, ultimately violent rationalists the ideal, and the ideas of mercy and of fellow feeling and of tradition and of nobility and of chivalry, people feeling so that they can be the best of themselves. But what Wollstonecraft said of the state, not just the ancien regime French state, the one that had been swept away by the revolution, but of the state that existed under the Crown in England, was that there was no evidence that feeling meant higher feeling. All of the evidence seen for what it is pointed towards much baser human feelings. That sentiment doesn't come out as chivalry. It comes out as prejudice. It doesn't come out as mercy or charity. It comes out as nepotism and corruption. Because if you leave human beings free to follow their heart, their heart is prejudiced. Their heart favors their nearest and dearest. Not just because they love them but because human beings are deeply preferential creatures and that there is no security in that kind of state because that kind of state will be, deep down, not just a feeling state, but an irrational and corrupt state.

And that is, by implication, a kind of critique of Hobbes because it pushes really hard against the idea that you can find in the established order a rational underpinning that makes it a kind of fresh start. Because what Wollstonecraft had to say about the state that she left in order to go, for a time, to Paris to be where the revolution was, the state that she grew up in… There is no fresh start in that kind of state. There is no way of identifying the rational underpinning that justifies it and legitimates it because every state has a deep residue of the past, the thing you’re trying to leave behind in it, the state that Burke was defending, which in Wollstonecraft’s terms made no sense because it gave so few people the ability to control their own destiny, because it made so many people vulnerable and left them at the mercy of arbitrary decisions by people who didn't care about them, who didn't think of them in terms of mercy and chivalry but in terms of indifference and contempt. That state, with its centuries long legacy of superstition and hypocrisy, could not be refounded in its own terms, on its Hobbesian rational principles, because it was corrupt. It was at some level rotten. If it was a living thing, it was a rotten thing. It was not a machine that could be tweaked and adjusted. It wasn't broken. It was corrupt. [20:26]

But there's also an implied critique as well of Hobbes in the idea that you can carve out a space for politics where, even if it's frightening, and even if it's dangerous, it makes sense. And you find the bit of politics that makes sense. You anchor it and then you anchor your social existence around the security that that provides you. And if it works, that security will allow you to leave the anchored politics behind to find your way to a more profitable life, to a more open life, maybe to a freer life, maybe to a life in which it's not necessary to be so afraid. Hobbes opens up that promise. Wollstonecraft does not believe in it because she doesn't believe that you ever can leave the politics behind, that you ever leave the anchoring behind and move on. Politics is everywhere in Wollstonecraft’s conception of social life. It's there in the way that we live every day. There isn't a space apart from power, apart from decision making, apart from the possibility of arbitrary rule, apart from the possibility of sovereign acts that feel to us as though they don't take our safety seriously. You can experience that every day as a child living under parents, as a woman married to a man, as a woman not married and therefore vulnerable in a completely different kind of way. All of us are vulnerable, not just in politics but in all of the bits that politics leaves behind.

But the most profound version of that argument, the one that is most influential to this day, and is also in many ways most startling, is the one that Wollstonecraft makes, not in her first attack on Burke and defense of the possibility of doing politics better, but in her book about the relations between men and women, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which treats the relations between the sexes—and they are in Wollstonecraft’s terms sexes, not genders—the relations between men and women, as emblematic of the fundamental challenge of politics. Because what has happened to men and women, Wollstonecraft thought, in the country she grew up—but she saw it playing out through the revolution too, the revolution which was ultimately stifling the rights of women—the relation between men and women had become divided along the fundamental division that she wanted to bridge. The thing that she wanted to close up so that it wasn't a choice, so it was actually, only, ultimately a combination, was the division between reason and sentiment, or rationality and feeling. She felt those two things had to go together. But as the world had organized itself through politics, outside of politics, through morality, through religion, through family life, there was a division, so that reason was identified with men, and feeling, sentiment, sensibility was identified with women. Not because it was thought that men don't have feelings—of course men must have feelings because it's human to have feelings—but men owned reason. And, more radically, not because women were incapable of reason. There were many people at the end of the 18th century who would argue that, but Wollstonecraft thought that it was as absurd to say that women couldn't reason as it would be to say that men couldn't feel. But women were meant to express themselves through feeling, just as men were allowed to express themselves through reason.

And what that meant was that men would have to dress up their feelings as though they were reasonable, and, on the other hand, women were compelled to dress up their reason as though it was just feeling. That is, men would exercise power through the means that was made available to them, which is rationality and argument. They would claim the power, including the political power, for themselves, including under political systems that claimed to be rational, including under the rational auspices of the French Revolution. Men would claim the power, and they would pretend that what was actually often just lust or emotion or uncontrolled feeling was still a manifestation of their reasonable power. And at the same time, women would have to express their search for power, for control, for autonomy, for the ability to at least regulate their own lives, in the language of feeling and sentiment. Women would have to dress up reason as feeling; men would have to dress up feeling as reason. [25:48]

And Wollstonecraft thought that that, as a description of the organization of human society, was a complete disaster, and that it was mutually corrupting, so it corrupted men as well as women. She occasionally says in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman that if you have to find the original problem that lies behind the whole disaster of the relations between the sexes, it is male lust, male lust which gets dressed up as something far more reasonable than it is, and then forces women in response to what's claimed to be reasonable to defend themselves in the language of feeling and sentiment. It's the men who drive that disaster. But it is mutually corrupting because no one can be true to themselves. Wollstonecraft doesn't believe men—although she says one or two men manage it—but very very few men manage to emancipate themselves from this basic lie, the lie that they are something that they're not. And no women under these circumstances, having to live under these circumstances, denied the right to express themselves as reasonable, thinking, rational beings, can be true to themselves.

And yet men and women have to live together and they will live together in relationships, relationships primarily but not exclusively of marriage, but primarily of marriage, that will be themselves often disasters. Men and women will not understand each other under these circumstances. And because all relationships are relationships of power, men and women will abuse each other. Most of the abuse will be men against women, but not all of it. And she's also pretty clear that both men and women under these conditions are capable of abusing children, mistreating children, including their own children: men by treating feelings as though they were reasons; women by exercising power the only way that they can, which is in the language of sentimental attachment.

And you'll also get a false and bogus morality built around this relationship between men and women. The false morality of chastity, the idea that women are lost if they lose their modesty and their virtue in a society where men have to dress up lust as though it was something else and so conceal the true manifestation of their lust, which is a society in which the women who have lost their virtue have only one means, Wollstonecraft says, of subsistence, which is prostitution. A rotten society is a rotten society all the way through. You can't hive off the politics, put the bad stuff there and hope that the rest of it will thrive. It will be rotten all the way through. [28:46

But one of the remarkable things about A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is, while it is a startling dissection of a society in which the relations between the sexes have become a kind of moral disaster, it also treats the relations between men and women as emblematic of the wider problem. It's not just about men and women. It is about all forms of social, human relationship in which one side claims the reason and the power, and the other side has to try and exercise whatever control or power is available in the language of civility and sensibility. So Wollstonecraft says that there is a pattern in male female relationships that can be seen in other forms of political relationship, for instance, it's like the relationship between a tyrant and his court, or her court —a tyrant does not have to be a man, though it is almost always is a man. But in any setup where one person has the arbitrary power and the other human beings who live around that person have to find their own way to defend and control what's left of their personal space, both sides of the relationship will be corrupted. She says explicitly that tyrants are corrupted by their tyranny just as men are corrupted by their own power. It is an argument that reappears throughout the history of modern political thought, that though slave owners are better off than slaves, the institution of slavery or servitude or domination is bad for everybody. Tyrants are corrupted by their power. [30:49]

And this would by implication include Hobbesian sovereigns, though they are not, in Hobbes’ terms, tyrants at all, but because they have an absolute power, because they have been given the reason to act. They are corrupted because they still have to have human relationships, and those human relations will not make sense. They will not know how to respond reasonably to the people around them. And the people around them will not know how to speak their minds reasonably to the tyrant who has power over them. A court, a tyrannical court, with its civility and its cruelty is not different from the relations between men and women. It is another version of the same model.

She has another startling argument, which is that you can see this pattern repeating itself, not in tyrannical regimes, but in regimes like the one that she grew up in, the English state, in the relationship between the state and its soldiers. Perhaps the most jolting thing that Wollstonecraft says in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is that soldiers are effeminate. Soldiers, the people with the guns, the muskets, the killers, they are the women in that relationship. They are the instruments of the state. They are not the reasoning creatures. They don't get to decide. They have nothing to do with the final decision about how they act. They are relatively powerless. And yet all human beings have a desire to express themselves in ways that allow them a form of control. And so, she says, if you look at soldiers, what is it that distinguishes them, apart from the intermittent, uncontrolled violence, the war bit? What are soldiers like in times of peace? She says they’re coquettish. They dress up. Look at them with their fancy scarlet coats and their shiny shoes, going to dances, parading about, worrying about their hair, caring about how they look, trying to cut a dashing figure. They're women she says. Not literally women. They are emblematic in terms of her argument as the ones who have been corrupted by the relationship because of their relative inability to think for themselves. And so what you get with soldiers is a life that's divided between coquettish prancing about and cruelty. And that's what happens in these relationships. Just as the people who control the soldiers, who don't do the violence themselves, but are claiming it—the politicians, the king, the sovereign, the Parliament—claiming it in the name of a kind of male rationality, are also distancing themselves from the deep corruption of the relationship in which they are involved. [33:46] There is in Wollstonecraft, in her dissection of the relationship between men and women, a kind of total critique of the society that she knew and grew up in. It is as radical in its way as any text produced during the French Revolution.

What does Wollstonecraft think is the solution then to this mutual corruption? In some ways, it's obvious, and yet it's more radical than it appears. Wollstonecraft spent a lot of her life thinking about and worrying about education. She tried to be an educator. She founded a school but it failed. It was one of the roles that was available to women at this time. She spent a lot of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman talking about what's gone wrong with education, particularly the education of women, trying to teach women the ways of sensibility, trying to teach women that their lives are about how they respond to their own feelings not how they think about the options available to them. She wanted an education for women that took them seriously as capable of rational thought, that educated them in the round, gave them the opportunity to learn about history and science and philosophy, as well as to learn about art and sensibility and feeling. She felt that a rounded education couldn't just be the rational education. You don't just do maths and geometry. But it couldn't ever just be a sentimental education. A sentimental education was a kind of disaster.

But she didn't just say that's what women need and deserve. She said that's what everybody needs and deserves—because it's not as if men were getting a good education either. Some of the… I don’t know if funny is the word… But some of the bits of her book that stand out as having a kind of raw power are her descriptions of what goes on in the male public schools, private schools, of England, the Grand Old School, the Etons, where men are taught by men, boys are taught by men. And she describes them as dens of corruption. That that education too, which dresses up lust as reason, and forces the boys to express their lust—and she goes into pretty graphic detail—to express their lust in ways that are uncontrolled and yet hidden. It's a bestial life, in her terms. It's not an education. It’s an education in the ways of corruption. It fits them for a corrupt state. It's not what anyone would choose for a child that they cared about, male or female. [36:48]

So this is a project to reform women's education as a means of reforming all education. It wouldn't make sense to make the boys education go better because she knows that will still leave the girls out. But if you make the girls education go better, by implication you're almost required to improve it for everyone. If you can improve the lot of women, you can improve the lot of society. And she makes a similar argument when it comes to political participation. So she gestures at… She doesn't quite spell it out. It's maybe the limits of her fearlessness. But it's not cowardice, it's just because this is so close to the edge of what would seem to her readers like reasonable argument. She gestures at the idea that women should be full participants in the life of the state, that women should be citizens. And if citizenship includes the ability to take part in politics, perhaps even to vote, to participate at the most fundamental level in the collective decisions that shape the life of the community, that should be a completely reasonable thing to do.

But she doesn't so much as make it an argument for letting women vote. Britain, the British state at the time she was writing, at the time of the French Revolution, was not a democracy. It was nothing like a democracy. Voting was restricted to a very narrow group of people. It was based on a tight definition of property. But it was also deeply corrupt. There were rotten burrows. Parliament was a representative institution and the British constitution had evolved from the time of the civil war to become something more like a genuine locking together of sovereign and people, but it was not yet in any sense democratic. The vast majority of people—all women; most men—had no say. The vast majority of people—all women; most men—lived under arbitrary power. One reason for men to become soldiers and therefore, in Wollstonecraft’s terms, also, kind of, women was it was one of the few outlets for a form of power, even though it was an irrational form of power.

A reason to advocate, maybe, just maybe, at the bounds of the possible, the idea that women might vote, is because it's also advocating the idea that the poor might vote; that everyone might vote; that all those people who are on the wrong side of the divide between what is permitted as a reasonable expression of power and what is left out of account as just a life lived by rules that don't have the possibility of reasonable expression—that could be overcome because if women can vote there is no reason to deny the vote to all those men who are subject to arbitrary rule, too. This is a radical, truly radical argument for a genuine kind of equality, and is more radical than the argument that was made by many, by most French revolutionaries—men and women, most of them were men. It's right at the edge of what seemed possible. And yet, to us of course, it seems entirely reasonable.

If you read A of Vindication of the Rights of Woman, it is a passionate book. It is, not just a brave book, but it's really bracing. It's quite explicit about sex and bodily functions, and some of the corruption that she describes, barely veiling it, is what she thinks of as corrupt sexual practices. It feels very modern in places, but in other places not. It is quite a high minded book when Wollstonecraft describes what she thinks of as an ideal marriage, it's a little bit dry. She says over and over again, no doubt because it's partly her experience, that any relationship founded on passion needs much more than passion to survive because the passion will run out, the sexual passion will run out after a year or two, and then you need to marry passion with reason and respect, mutual respect. If you just drive it through passion, you will end up with mutual corruption. And so this ideal marriage is quite a high minded marriage of reasonable communication between rational creatures, who retain some capacity for feeling but know that in the end feeling will run out and a certain kind of educated, reasonable temperament will need to take over. It does sound a little bit cold sometimes. Whether the coldness is just a reflection of a desire at some level to run this argument through something which is conventionally respectable is one possibility, but it's also possible that Wollstonecraft passionately believed that the marriage of reason and passion was the only way to sustain a relationship.

But it feels contemporary too. It feels like it could have been written yesterday, partly because it also describes a world which we recognize in other ways. So it's about the marriage between sense and sensibility. Good Sense and Sensibility. Sensibility on its own is a disaster, Wollstonecraft thinks. Good sense on its own is a lie because we all have feelings. Some way has to be found in politics, in the family, in public life, in domestic life, to live a life of sense and sensibility. [42:34]

Wollstonecraft died in 1797. Jane Austen wrote the first draft of a novel that was going to be published much later in 1797, an early draft of the book that was to become Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen also wrote a book that's called Sense and Sensibility. It seems likely that Jane Austen read Mary Wollstonecraft. There's a good chance at least, I don’t think we know for sure. And Jane Austen's novels, which in some ways are so remote from our world, and so many bits of them occasionally feel like they come from a sort of prehistoric age. And yet no one can read Jane Austen without feeling at moments as though it could have been written yesterday. And the same is true of Mary Wollstonecraft. And that's because Mary Wollstonecraft maybe is described often as a political thinker, but she's about so much more than politics. Jane Austen is often described as a novelist who's left politics out. Where is the description of slavery? Where are the Napoleonic wars? Why aren't people arguing passionately about the French Revolution? But Jane Austen is political all the way through in the way that Mary Wollstonecraft understands politics because politics is everywhere. The question of the relationship between sense and sensibility is a question about power .It's about power. It's about the risks of mutual corruption. Jane Austen gives some of the most memorable descriptions in all of literature of the coquettishness of soldiers, about the ways in which, when soldiers come through town, look at how they dress themselves and be very afraid. Jane Austen is a novelist of Mary Wollstonecraft’s world.

Mary Wollstonecraft married towards the end of her life. She married a man, a radical, William Godwin, and she had a daughter with him, a daughter quite late. She'd had a child earlier in her relationship outside of marriage. She died not long after giving birth in 1797 of the complications of childbirth, one of the natural inequalities of the world in which she lived. To be a woman was to lead a very dangerous and unsafe life because childbirth was so dangerous and unsafe, and it killed Mary Wollstonecraft at the relatively young age of 38. The daughter that she had was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who then married a poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and became Mary Shelley. And, as Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

One lost connection with Hobbes. There are two I think towering images in modern English literature of the robot, the machine that we create with a power that we don't understand. One of them is Hobbes’ leviathan. The leviathan isn't actually a biblical sea monster. Hobbes says at the beginning of the book of that name, explicitly, what's being built is an automaton. It's a kind of robot. A robot is being created, an artificial person, an artificial man with a kind of superhuman power, and that is going to be part of the modern experience. The other most memorable image of the artificial person is Frankenstein’s monster, written by the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft. And so the wheel of modern ideas turns.