Why does Mary Wollstonecraft hate Barbauld’s flowers?

In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecaft singles out Barbauld’s poem, “To a Lady, with some painted flowers,” as the negative prototype of the weak, man-deferring, sentimental woman she writes against.  She is particularly upset by the way Barbauld, herself a Bluestocking feminist, compares women metaphorically to flowers, a clichéd trope that, for Wollstonecraft, feeds into patriarchal stereotypes.  I wonder, however, if Wollstoncraft could be misreading this poem, or perhaps failing to see how the image of flowers is connected to the phrase “SWEETEST empire” that concludes the poem (pp. 53 of the handout).  Certainly, Barbauld uses the flower trope for different, more radical political purposes in her apocalyptic poem, “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, a Poem” which describes the rise and fall of empires as blooming and decaying flowers.

Question prompt:

Do we have two different versions of Barbauld here, or is Wollstonecraft overlooking something important in the way this female poet addresses interrelated questions about gender, empire, and history?  I’m really stumped by this question, so I really need students–or anyone else reading this post–to help me find some possible answers.

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~ by hgarcia13 on September 24, 2012.

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