ASPECTS OF LANGUAGE
IGNOU MEG 05 Solved Free Assignment
MEG 05 Solved Free Assignment July 2023 & January 2024
Q. 1. Why does Plato want the artists to be kept away from the ideal state? Discuss.
Ans. Plato’s ideal state was a republic with three categories of citizens: artisans, auxiliaries and philosopher-kings, each of whom possessed distinct natures and capacities.
Those proclivities, moreover, reflected a particular combination of elements within one’s tripartite soul, composed of appetite, spirit, and reason.
Artisans, for example, were dominated by their appetites or desires, and therefore destined to produce material goods.
Auxiliaries, a class of guardians, were ruled by spirit in their souls and possessed the courage necessary to protect the state from invasion.
Philosopher-kings, the leaders of the ideal state, had souls in which reason reigned over spirit and appetite, and as a result possessed the foresight and knowledge to rule wisely.
In Plato’s view, these rulers were not merely elite intellectuals, but moral leaders. In the just state, each class of citizen had a distinct duty to remain faithful to its determined nature and engage solely in its destined occupation.
The proper management of one’s soul would yield immediate happiness and well-being, and specific educational methods would cultivate this brand of spiritual and civic harmony.
Suspecting that most writers and musicians did not know the subjects they depicted-that they cast mere shadows of representations of real objects, ideas, and people-Plato feared that artistic works could endanger the health of the just state.
Consequently, he wanted to hold artists and potential leaders accountable for the consequences of their creations and policies.
This is why Plato advocated the censorship of all forms of art that did not accurately depict the good in behaviour.
Art, as a powerful medium that threatened the harmony of the soul, was best suited for philosophers who had developed the capacity to know and could resist its dangerous and irrational allures.
For Plato, aesthetics and morality were inextricable; the value of a work of art hinged on its propensity to lead to moral development and behaviour. For these reasons, the artists should be kept away from the ideal state of Plato.
Q. 2. Examine the purpose spontaneity, emotions and personality serve in Wordsworth’s theory of poetry.
Ans. Poetry should be understandable to anybody living in the world. Wordsworth eschews the use of lofty, poetic diction, which in his mind is not related to the language of real life.
He sees poetry as acting like nature, which touches all living things and inspires and delights them.
Wordsworth calls for poetry to be written in the language of the “common man,” and the subjects of the poems should also be accessible to all individuals regardless of class or position.
Wordsworth also makes the points that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”.
These two points form the basis for Wordsworth’s explanation of the process of writing poetry.
First, some experience triggers a transcendent moment, an instance of the sublime. The senses are overwhelmed by this experience; the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” leaves an individual incapable of articulating the true nature and beauty of the event.
It is only when this emotion is “recollected in tranquility” that the poet can assemble words to do the instance justice.
It is necessary for the poet to have a certain personal distance from the event or experience being described that he can compose a poem that conveys to the reader the same experience of sublimity.
With this distance the poet can reconstruct the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” the experience caused within himself.
Like Sidney, Wordsworth is also trying here to respond to Plato’s invitation to rescue poetry from exile by demonstrating that it performs a salutary function.
Given that the poet is a man speaking to men, the impact that literature has upon the reader is a subject of “great importance” to Wordsworth.
Plato warned, you might recall, that poetry inspires feelings in us that we would be better off without because it was, he argued, far more important to cultivate our reason than our passions.
However, where for Plato this is necessarily a bad thing, for Wordsworth this can be a beneficial process, given the necessary link between our feelings and our thoughts.
Briefly, if our thoughts are derived from our feelings, then we can change our thoughts by changing the objects which inspire our feelings.
Wordsworth suggests that by “contemplating the relation” between particular feelings and their concomitant thoughts, “we discover what is really important to men”.
He argues that by the “repetition and continuance of this act [i.e. contemplating the link between our feelings and our thoughts], our feelings will be connected with important subjects till at length, if we be originally possessed of much sensibility, such habits of mind will be produced, that, by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits, we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature, and in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified.”
Arguing that the “human mind is capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants” and that humans are distinguished from each other “in proportion as he possesses this capability”, he contends that “to endeavour to produce or enlarge this capability is one of the best services in which… a writer can be engaged”.
Such a function is especially important, he feels, at the present time when a variety of causes have conspired to “blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and, unfitting it for all voluntary exertion, to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor”.
Not the least important factor in this regard is the “increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the conformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident”.
This has led to a “degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation”, the worst example of which is the abandonment of great literature for “frantic novels, sickly and stupid German tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse”.
Arguing that the poems found in the Lyrical Ballads have a “worthy purpose”, Wordsworth is of the view that his poetry constitutes a “feeble attempt… to counteract” these tendencies.
In conclusion, Wordsworth’s mimetic model of literature and the philosophy of language upon which it is predicated locate him very much in the realist camp, that is, as supportive of the view that literature ought to hold a mirror up to real life.
Indeed, the views expressed in the Preface, even though restricted to a consideration of poetry, represent one of the first and most important statements on realism in literature with which the nineteenth century, the so called ‘golden age of the novel,’ is synonymous.
His views continue to be influential on modern realism in general, even here in the Caribbean where most writers strive to depict the common-place, rather than the extraordinary, to foreground characters drawn from the ‘rank and file,’ as they say, and to capture the language which ordinary people speak.
He is also important in so far as he is one of the earliest to attempt to understand the nature of the author in relation to the physical and social context in which he wrote.
Q. 3. Write short notes on the following:
Ans. Aristotle classifies plot in two different categories, simple (aploi) and complex (peplegmenoi). Simple plots have only a “change of fortune” (catastrophe).
Complex plots have both “reversal of intention” (peripeteia) and “recognition” (anagnorisis) connected with the catastrophe.
Both peripeteia and anagnorisis turn upon surprise. Aristotle explains that a peripeteia occurs when a character produces an effect opposite to that which he intended to produce, while an anagnorisis “is a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined for good or bad fortune.”
He argues that the best plots combine these two as part of their cause-and-effect chain (i.e. the peripeteia leads directly to the anagnorisis); this in turns creates the catastrophe, leading to the final “scene of suffering”.
Pathos or Suffering
Pathos describes the powerful emotions of pity and fear aroused in the audience of a tragedy. Aristotle names pathos as one of the components of the tragic plot, along with anagnorisis and peripeteia.
Poetics 14 discusses good and bad combinations of pathos with the knowledge or ignorance of the agent.
“Ranked from worst to best, by Aristotle, these are the four logical possibilities of pathos: Pathos is about to occur, with knowledge, but does not occur.
Pathos occurs, with knowledge. Pathos occurs, in ignorance. Pathos is about to occur, in ignorance, but does not occur”.
The emotional effect peculiar to the tragic action is therefore that of promoting the experience of feelings such as pity and terror, which constitute the ultimate end at which the representation of the mythos aims.
Ans. The theory of dhvani is a landmark in the history of Sanskrit poetics. Enandavardhana, and Abhinavagupta expressly refer to their debts to grammarians.
Anandavardhana, states: “This designation (dhvani) was first devised by the learned and that it has gained currency in a haphazard fashion.
The foremost among the learned are grammarians because grammar lies at the root of all studies. They indeed, refer to articulate letters by term dhvani or suggester.
In the same way, since the element of suggestion is common (to both) not only the word and its meaning but its essential verbal power and also that which is usually referred to by the term poetry has been given the same designation, viz., dhvani by the other learned men whose insight into the fundamental truth about poetry was profound and who were followers of the principles laid down by grammarians.”-K. Krishnamurty (tr.), Dhavanyaloka Abhinava refers to Bhartrihari and maintains that the word dhavni has four meanings according to various ways of grammatical formation.
They are the suggestive word, suggestive meaning, the power of suggestion, and the suggested meaning.
The poem with such words and meaning is also called dhvani. Mammata also maintains that the grammarians employed the term dhvani as the suggester of sphota and their followers (dhvanivadins), then employed the term for both the word and meaning capabe of suggestion by subordinating the literal meaning (vacya).”
There is ultimate unity of word and meaning. Differentiation or word and meaning becomes explicit at the stage of madhyama vak.
But even at this stage word and meaning are inner realities. Vak as consciousness is the paramaya jyotis (Supreme Light) and akrama (above temporal sequentially).
Audible external speech in time, therefoore, manifested in temporal sequentality. The audible external word reveals the inner word (madhyama nadatmaka antara sphota).
Sphota is vya’gya (revealed) and the audible var, a (letter) is the vyaujaka. Var, a as dhvani (external sound) reveals sphota, the inner word. This dhvani has another quality of resonance.
It reaches our ears through resonance. The power of revealing or suggesting things on the one hand and the process of resonance on the other offer a sound foundation of the aesthetics of suggestion.
The process of resonance as it is seen in the case of sound, may be equally seen in the echo of other levels of meaning.
This dhvanana or anusvara or amura, ana is basically a quality of sound, but it has been further expanded to explain the nature of aesthetic experience.
In terms of manifesting the unmanifest, it is called vyaujana or suggestion. AnuAvana or anura, ana, i.e., resonance further elaborate the process.
As the sound and words go on producing another sound and word and sound-waves and the word-waves gradually reach our ears, so the vacaka, vacya etc., go on manifesting other levels of meaning.
Beauty consists in the process of resonance on the one hand and suggestion or revelation of the unmanifest on the other.
(c) Class ideology.
Ans. The form of intercourse determined by the existing productive forces at all previous historical stages, and in its turn determining these, is civil society.
The latter, as is clear from what we have said above, has as its premises and basis the simple family and the multiple, the so called tribe, the more precise determinants of this society are enumerated in our remarks above.
Already here we see how this civil society is the true source and theatre of all history, and how absurd is the conception of history held hitherto, which neglects the real relationships and confines itself to high sounding dramas of princes and states.
Civil society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of the development of productive forces.
It embraces the whole commercial and industrial life of a given stage and, insofar, transcends the State and the nation, though, on the other hand again, it must assert itself in its foreign relations as nationality, and inwardly must organise itself as State.
The word “civil society” [bürgerliche Gesellschaft] emerged in the eighteenth century, when property relationships had already extricated themselves from the ancient and medieval communal society.
Civil society as such only develops with the bourgeoisie; the social organisation evolving directly out of production and commerce, which in all ages forms the basis of the State and of the rest of the idealistic superstructure, has, however, always been designated by the same name.
As Marxist, we say that we live in a class society. We don’t mean by this that some people have different life-styles from others, live in different areas or have snobbish attitudes and different accents.
Class is the material reality on which our society and all others in the world today are based.
The vast majority of people-women as well as men-work to produce profits for the few, whether they assemble cars or televisions in a factory, type figures into a word processor or check out groceries at Sainsbury’s. Or else they sweep streets, dig coal or scrub floors for the ‘public sector’ so that the system can keep going, with the rich making as much profit as possible and the needs of the poor supplied at the lowest possible cost.
This is the working class, and without its labour the lights would go out, food and water would be cut off, communication would break down and society would cease to function.
At the top, a tiny minority of people own most of the wealth and exercise most of the control. They decide when factories will close, when prices will go up, when capital will be moved around so as to browbeat governments into doing what they want.
Some belong to families who have held wealth and power for generations, others insist that they have ‘worked their way up’ and are ‘still very working class’.
But they are all part of the ruling class, and their wealth gives them power. Governments must look after their interests, and keep everyone else quiet enough for the system of power and profits to go on working.
In between, there are the middle classes-small employers, management and the upper level of professional people.
Most small employers and managers identify with the ruling class, because a society based on profits suits their own interests best.
Some professionals-doctors, lawyers and the upper levels of the teaching profession-are the managers of society’s services, and think much the same, though sometimes government policies such as cuts in their own professional areas may rouse their opposition.
Most professional workers, however, school teachers, nurses, civil service and council clerks, and most social workers, are simply doing routine jobs with no element of control or decision-making.
They are really part of the white-collar working class, along with office workers, draughtsmen and technicians.
In the last few decades large number of them have joined trade unions because their interests and their need to organise are very similar to those of manual workers.
The point about women is that they are part of all these classes, even though they are second class members of them. There are rich and powerful women, women workers carrying society on their backs, and women at all levels in between.
Can women unite for their own equality and liberation, or does the division of society into classes prevent them? Up to a point, women do have a common interest in equal rights and can unite to fight for those rights.
The gains that were made by the women’s emancipation movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries applied to all women, such as the right to own money and property, the right to have custody of their own children, and the right to education.
A hundred and fifty years ago, when married women could own nothing, whether wages or landed estates, when mothers had no legal right to keep their children, whether little lords and ladies or half-starved infants of the slums, and when even the daughters of the rich had little education other than learning to read and write in their own homes, women of all classes needed to fight for these basic rights.
The division of labour, which we already saw above as one of the chief forces of history up till now, manifests itself also in the ruling class as the division of mental and material labour, so that inside this class one part appears as the thinkers of the class (its active, conceptive ideologists, who make the perfecting of the illusion of the class about itself their chief source of livelihood), while the others’ attitude to these ideas and illusions is more passive and receptive, because they are in reality the active members of this class and have less time to make up illusions and ideas about themselves.
Within this class this cleavage can even develop into a certain opposition and hostility between the two parts, which, however, in the case of a practical collision, in which the class itself is endangered, automatically comes to nothing, in which case there also vanishes the semblance that the ruling ideas were not the ideas of the ruling class and had a power distinct from the power of this class.
The existence of revolutionary ideas in a particular period presupposes the existence of a revolutionary class; about the premises for the latter sufficient has already been said above.
For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it, is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aim, to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones.
The class making a revolution appears from the very start, if only because it is opposed to a class, not as a class but as the representative of the whole of society; it appears as the whole mass of society confronting the one ruling class.
Marginal note by Marx: Universality corresponds to: (1) the class versus the estate, (2) the competition, world-wide intercourse, etc., (3) the great numerical strength of the ruling class, (4) the illusion of the common interests (in the beginning this illusion is true), (5) the delusion of the ideologists and the division of labour.
It can do this because, to start with, its interest really is more connected with the common interest of all other non-ruling classes, because under the pressure of hitherto existing conditions its interest has not yet been able to develop as the particular interest of a particular class.
Its victory, therefore, benefits also many individuals of the other classes which are not winning a dominant position, but only insofar as it now puts these individuals in a position to raise themselves into the ruling class.
When the French bourgeoisie overthrew the power of the aristocracy, it thereby made it possible for many proletarians to raise themselves above the proletariat, but only insofar as they become bourgeois.
Every new class, therefore, achieves its hegemony only on a broader basis than that of the class ruling previously, whereas the opposition of the non-ruling class against the new ruling class later develops all the more sharply and profoundly.
Both these things determine the fact that the struggle to be waged against this new ruling class, in its turn, aims at a more decided and radical negation of the previous conditions of society than could all previous classes which sought to rule.
Once the ruling ideas have been separated from the ruling individuals and, above all, from the relationships which result from a given stage of the mode of production, and in this way the conclusion has been reached that history is always under the sway of ideas, it is very easy to abstract from these various ideas “the idea,” the notion, etc. as the dominant force in history, and thus to understand all these separate ideas and concepts as “forms of self-determination” on the part of the concept developing in history.
It follows then naturally, too, that all the relationships of men can be derived from the concept of man, man as conceived, the essence of man. This has been done by the speculative philosophers.
Hegel himself confesses at the end of the Geschichtsphilosophie that he “has considered the progress of the concept only” and has represented in history the “true theodicy.”
Now one can go back again to the producers of the “concept,” to the theorists, ideologists and philosophers, and one comes then to the conclusion that the philosophers, the thinkers as such, have at all times been dominant in history: a conclusion, as we see, already expressed by Hegel.
The whole trick of proving the hegemony of the spirit in history (hierarchy
Stirner calls it) is thus confined to the following three efforts:
One must separate the ideas of those ruling for empirical reasons, under empirical conditions and as empirical individuals, from these actual rulers, and thus recognise the rule of ideas or illusions in history.
One must bring an order into this rule of ideas, prove a mystical connection among the successive ruling ideas, which is managed by understanding them as “acts of self-determination on the part of the concept” (this is possible because by virtue of their empirical basis these ideas are really connected with one another and because, conceived as mere ideas, they become self-distinctions, distinctions made by thought).
To remove the mystical appearance of this “self-determining concept” it is changed into a person – “Self-consciousness” – or, to appear thoroughly materialistic, into a series of persons, who represent the “concept” in history, into the “thinkers,” the “philosophers,” the ideologists, who again are understood as the manufacturers of history, as the “council of guardians,” as the rulers. Thus the whole body of materialistic elements has been removed from history and now full rein can be given to the speculative steed.
Whilst in ordinary life every shopkeeper is very well able to distinguish between what somebody professes to be and what he really is, our historians have not yet won even this trivial insight.
They take every epoch at its word and believe that everything it says and imagines about itself is true.
(d) Poetic Diction
Ans. It has been generally supposed that Wordsworth’s theory of poetic language is merely a reaction against, and a criticism of, ‘the Pseudo Classical’ theory of poetic diction. But such a view is partially true.
His first impulse was less a revolt against pseudo classical diction, “than a desire to find a suitable language for the new territory of human life which he was conquering for poetic treatment”.
His aim was to deal in his poetry with rustic and humble life and to advocate simplicity of theme. Moreover, he believed that the poet is essentially a man speaking to men and so he must use such a language as is used by men.
The pseudo- classics advocated that the language of poetry is different form the language of prose while Wordsworth believes that there is no essential difference between them.
The poet can communicate best in the language which is really used by men. He condemns the artificial language. Thus William Wordsworth prefers the language really used by common men.
Wordsworth’s purpose, as he tells in the Preface was, “to choose incidents and situations from common life”, and quite naturally, he also intended to use, “a selection of language, really used by men”.
He was to deal with humble and rustic life and so he should also use the language of the rustics, farmers, shepherds who were to be the subjects of his poetry.
The language of these men was to be used but it was to be purified of all that is painful or disgusting, vulgar and coarse in that language.
He was to use the language of real men because the aim of a poet is to give pleasure and such language without selection will cause disgust.
Wordsworth was primarily a poet who had to become a critic by necessity. The new experiment which he had made in the Lyrical Ballads (1798) called forth a systematic defense of the theory upon which the poems were written.
Wordsworth protested against the traditions and usages set up by the pseudo-classical school during the 18th century.
His views about the language which was to be employed in poetry raised a storm of protest against him even by such a close friend as Coleridge.
He said that there could be no essential difference between the language poetry and that of prose. By expounding his theory Wordsworth did nothing wrong.
He simply emphasized the use of a simpler language well within the reach of the cottagers and shepherds about whom he was composing his poems.
Poetry was now coming out of the narrow groves of town life and was embracing the life of nature and humanity in its simplest and most unsophisticated forms.
Wordsworth rightly felt that for the new poetry of the new age, a new language was needed. What he earnestly felt, he expressed in the second Preface to the Lyrical Ballads:
“The principal object proposed in these poems was to choose incidents and situations from come life, and relate or When we examine Wordsworth’s statement regarding poetic diction, the following facts clearly catch our attention:
1. The language of poetry should be the language “really used by men”, but it should be a selection of such language.
All the words used by the people cannot be employed in poetry. Only some selected words which are used in common parlance can serve the purpose of poetry.
It should be the language of men in a state of vivid sensation. It means that the language used by people in a state of animation can form the language of poetry.
It should have a certain colouring of imagination. The poet should give the colour of his imagination to the language employed by him in poetic composition.
There is no essential difference between the words used in prose and in metrical composition.
Words of prose and poetry are not clearly demarcated, so that words which can be used in prose can find place in poetry and vice versa.
“What Wordsworth means is that the words used in conversation, if they are properly selected, would provide the rough frame-work of the language of poetry? When the poet is truly inspired, his imagination will enable him to select from the language really used by men.”
These are the four basic principles of Wordsworth’s theory of poetic diction. Wordsworth followed the main tenets of his theory in some of his poems, but it became pretty difficult for him to stick strictly to his theory when he came to such splendid poems as ‘Tintern Abbey’ or ‘Ode on the Intimations of Immortality’ etc.
Q. 4. Discuss briefly, the ideas of Marx and Engels on class relations.
Ans. The use of the term ‘ideology’ in relation to literature was for long typical of Marxist criticism, especially of the Althusserian school.
Althusser’s first and second theories of ideology exerted a powerful impact on literary criticism and theory (Macherey, Eagleton, Jameson).
The work of Bourdieu, Bakhtin, and Žižek offers alternative conceptions of ideology.
The concept has been influentially criticized by Foucault, but it has still been used in recent work by non-Marxist critics, especially in examining forms of domination apart from those of class (sexual, racial, and colonial).
In conclusion it is suggested that the concept retains some value in the analysis of certain kinds of text, although it carries with it the risk of reductionism; but that it difficult to apply to ‘literature’ in general-a category itself problematic and somewhat marginal to contemporary cultural discourse.
Given the tendency of vulgar Marxian critics to equate literature with ideology and to treat writers as mere prisoners of false consciousness, it is important to underscore Marx’s unwillingness to do either.
Marx conceived of literature as an ideological expression of social relations and as a source of truth, and if anything, his enlightenment conditioning prompted an emphasis on the latter.
According to Marx the social contradictions which inform a given literary work may be so mediated within the work as to provide true and penetrating insights into human life.
Whatever ideological preconceptions the writer entertains, the writer may present subjective aspects of life, distort facts or achieve sensual forms in ways which reveal human realities hidden behind ideolo-gical expressions.
Indeed, Marx found this to be the case even in the work of writers who were consciously motivated by conservative or reactionary ideas.
One may further clarify Marx’s view of ideology and truth coexisting in a literary work by referring to his more explicit comments on religion.
Like literature, religion was for Marx an area of consciousness within ideology; as such, religion is capable of distorting: Man is the human world, the state, society.
This state, this society, produces religion which is an inverted world consciousness, because they are an inverted world. However, religious consciousness may also have another, more truthful aspect.
Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.
om Ideology was a relatively new word when Marx and Engels used it in The German Ideology in the 1840’s.
It had been coined by the French rationalist philosopher Destutt de Tracy, in the 1790’s, to refer to the “science of ideas,” as opposed to metaphysics.
It very quickly took on a pejorative sense, and Marx and Engels use it in that way in The German Ideology; there “ideology” generally refers to theory that is out of touch with the real processes of history.
The ruling ideas of an epoch, according to Marx and Engels, “are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”
But the relationship between the ruling ideas and the dominant material relationhips are instead seen in reverse–people think that material relationships are the expression of the ruling ideas rather than vice versa.
If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life process as the inversion of objects on their retina does from their physical life process. (German Ideology, “Idealism and Materialism”)
This negative sense of ideology as “false consciousness” was the most common usage in the Marxist tradition until the last part of the twentieth century.
It was, among other things, a convenient way to account for the reluctance of oppressed workers to rise in revolt.
However, there is another sense of the term, in which ideology is seen not simply as false consciousness against which a true, scientific understanding might be opposed, but rather as the general sphere of consciousness of all humans.
The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense super-structure.
In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. (Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, “Preface”)
While the former sense of the term had been most common, there were notable instances of the latter (for example, in Gramsci’s thought-as in his revisionary uderstanding of Machiavelli) before Althusser’s essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1969; first published English in 1971), which emphasized the relative autonomy of the superstructure on the assumption that it is impossible, or at least nearly impossible, to escape ideology.
As noted above, Althusser’s intervention re- energized Marxist literary criticism in the U.K. and U.S., and it is still the starting point for contemporary work, though it has been the subject of several important revisions by subsequent theorists.
Q. 5. Comment on Mary Wollstonecraft’s contributions to the rights of women.
Ans. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was much acclaimed in radical political circles when it was published, but it also attracted considerable hostility.
The statesman Horace Walpole, for example, called Wollstonecraft “a hyena in petticoats,” and for most of the nineteenth century the book was ignored because of its scandalous reputation.
Beginning in the late twentieth century, literary critics and philosophers began to take great interest in Wollstonecraft’s treatise as one of the founding works of feminism.
Some issues discussed by commentators of Wollstonecraft’s treatise are the author’s attitude toward sexuality, ideas about education, the role of reason versus passion, attitudes toward slavery, the relevance of the work to contemporary struggles for rights, the unflattering portrayal of women, and the status of the work as a foundational feminist text.
When it was first published in 1792, the Rights of Woman was reviewed favourably by the Analytical Review, the General Magazine, the Literary Magazine, New York Magazine, and the Monthly Review, although the assumption persists even today that Rights of Woman received hostile reviews.
It was almost immediately released in a second edition in 1792, several American editions appeared, and it was translated into French.
Taylor writes that “it was an immediate success”. Moreover, other writers such as Mary Hays and Mary Robinson specifically alluded to Wollstonecraft’s text in their own works.
Hays cited the Rights of Woman in her novel Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796) and modelled her female characters after Wollstonecraft’s ideal woman.
Although female conservatives such as Hannah More excoriated Wollstonecraft personally, they actually shared many of the same values.
As the scholar Anne Mellor has shown, both More and Wollstonecraft wanted a society founded on “Christian virtues of rational benevolence, honesty, personal virtue, the fulfilment of social duty, thrift, sobriety, and hard work”.
During the early 1790s, many writers within British society were engaged in an intense debate regarding the position of women in society.
For example, the respected poet and essayist Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Wollstonecraft sparred back and forth; Barbauld published several poems responding to Wollstonecraft’s work and Wollstonecraft commented on them in footnotes to the Rights of Woman. The work also provoked outright hostility.
The bluestocking Elizabeth Carter was unimpressed with the work. Thomas Taylor, the Neoplatonist translator who had been a landlord to the Wollstonecraft family in the late 1770s, swiftly wrote a satire called A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes: if women have rights, why not animals too?
After Wollstonecraft died in 1797, her husband William Godwin published his Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798).
He revealed much about her private life that had previously not been known to the public: her illegitimate child, her love affairs, and her attempts at suicide.
While Godwin believed he was portraying his wife with love, sincerity, and compassion, contemporary readers were shocked by Wollstonecraft’s unorthodox lifestyle and she became a reviled figure.
Wollstonecraft’s ideas became associated with her life story and women writers felt that it was dangerous to mention her in their texts.
Hays, who had previously been a close friend and an outspoken advocate for Wollstonecraft and her Rights of Woman, for example, did not include her in the collection of Illustrious and Celebrated Women she published in 1803.
Maria Edgeworth specifically distances herself from Wollstonecraft in her novel Belinda (1802); she caricatures Wollstonecraft as a radical feminist in the character of Harriet Freke.
But, like Jane Austen, she does not reject Woll-stonecraft’s ideas. The negative views towards Wollstonecraft persisted for over a century.
The Rights of Woman was not reprinted until the middle of the nineteenth century and it still retained an aura of ill-repute.
George Eliot wrote “there is in some quarters a vague prejudice against the Rights of Woman as in some way or other a reprehensible book, but readers who go to it with this impression will be surprised to find it eminently serious, severely moral, and withal rather heavy.”
The suffragist (i.e. moderate reformer, as opposed to suffragette) Millicent Garrett Fawcett wrote the introduction to the centenary edition of the Rights of Woman, cleansing the memory of Wollstonecraft and claiming her as the foremother of the struggle for the vote.
While the Rights of Woman may have paved the way for feminist arguments, twentieth century feminists have tended to use Wollstonecraft’s life story, rather than her texts, for inspiration; her unorthodox life-style convinced them to try new “experiments in living”, as Virginia Woolf termed it in her famous essay on Wollstonecraft.