A Woman by Any Other Name

Upon reading segments of Mary Wollstonecraft’s “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” and comparing it with Anna Barbauld’s poem, “To a lady, with some painted flowers,” I find that Wollstonecraft speaks with a different perspective on the women in her world at that time than Barbauld does. And sure, Wollstonecraft has a fire in her text that glows and sparks with each miserable observation of women’s positions at that time, but Barbauld does the same in a more muted, reflective manner. I can’t even say that Wollstonecraft doesn’t see what Barbauld sees, for in most ways, they see the same thing through different shades of emotions and perceptions.

I feel that it is easy to be more receptive to an intense piece like Wollstonecraft’s, who even says that she “aims at being useful…and shall not waste [her] time in rounding periods, nor in fabricating the turgid bombast of artificial feelings(Anthology, 286.)” But then again, there is an eloquent and passionate but more subtle intensity in the descriptions of Barbauld’s views. She describes women as “born for pleasure and delight alone,” emphasizing the fair race and delicacy of the gender. And as Shakespeare so perfectly puts, “What is in a name? that which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” So what is in a woman? And by any other view would she not smell as sweet as the flowers of Barbauld’s text? And would she not be the same regardless of the light she is painted in? It is not that Wollstonecraft does not take to Barbauld’s description. It is simply that they call a woman different names. To Wollstonecraft, the “woman” is degraded by society, dethroned by tradition, and despite the power and strength of a woman, she is beneath the common man. And to Barbauld, the “woman” is a delicacy from the garden of Eden, an “emblem of innocence,” and without societal purpose but to bring delight. They agree that a woman should be seen differently–that women should be empowered and reign in the “empire.” But they also both acknowledge that society has blocked the gender from rising to the top and flourishing. Instead, a woman is called a woman, for her simple, supposed “purpose” to bring pleasure alone. And despite the discord of Wollstonecraft’s piece and the reflection of Barbauld’s, they both provide images of women, despite the names they call them.


~ by katiearata on September 27, 2012.

One Response to “A Woman by Any Other Name”

  1. In the first paragraph, you say that they are writing from different perspectives, but then go on to try and prove that they are approaching the same observations – this confused us a bit. The second paragraph started out strongly, but the Shakespeare quote threw us off a bit and seemed to completely shift the tone and focus of the post. We came to the conclusion if you had started with “So what is in a woman…” and continued along that thread, you could have had a much more cohesive, promising argument, as we appreciated your following analysis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: