The Language of Men

Mary Wollstonecraft’s primary critique of Barbauld’s poem lies with its language, which Wollstonecraft attributes more to that of men than that of a “Bluestocking” feminist. Indeed, Barbauld’s syntax and word choice is almost painfully “flowery,” drawing on such clichés as natural metaphors and “romantic” sentiments. Perhaps Wollstonecraft was not so much objecting to the message of the poem, which is clearly up to interpretation, but to the way that Barbauld presented her message.

In comparing the writings of Barbauld and Wollstonecraft, it soon becomes clear that the two feminists went about proclaiming their message of equality via very different routes. Where Wollstonecraft clung primarily to treatises, essays, and novels, Barbauld explored the realm of expressive poetry, drawing on an incredible number of references to extra-literary events and personalities.  In another of her famous poems, “Eighteen Hundred and Eleven,” Barbauld stays true to form by inserting an almost irritating amount of references to ancient times (similar to the Eden reference in the flowers poem), as if she was trying to show off her education, leveling herself with male poets through a display of equal intelligence and creativity. While the prompt for this week suggests two different Barbaulds, I would argue that the Barbauld of these two poems is the same woman expressing different ideas through the same medium. With that in mind, it seems like Wollstonecraft’s problem is not with Barbauld’s flowers, but with her flowery writing style.

Wollstonecraft dislikes Barbauld’s poetry because it plays along with the patriarchal stereotype of women trapped in their feelings and sentiments, incapable of reason or mental prowess. Further research suggests that Wollstonecraft avoided these stereotypes as much as possible. Even her portraits can look particularly mannish:

Man or woman?

Keeping all this in perspective, perhaps Wollstonecraft was overreacting to the content in Barbauld’s poem, but we’re pointing a finger at the wrong source of her indignation. Form and style can make just as powerful of an impact!


~ by lostinthekeys on September 27, 2012.

One Response to “The Language of Men”

  1. Not a bad analysis of Wollstonecraft’s issues with Barbauld, but we had a problem with your presentation. Your post is based on language and how the different authors use it, yet you do not quote either one explicitly, leaving us with only your interpretation of their writings, which seems to hurt your overall argument. Also, we felt like much of this was talked about in class. The note on the patriarchal stereotypes was good; were you to tease that out more, and take out some of the earlier fluff, this could be much stronger.

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