Dominique Meeùs
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Bibliographie : table des matières, index des notions — Retour à la page personnelle

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), 2015

Pas une image du livre, mais un portrait d’elle en 1790 par John Opie.
Figure 1.  
Pas une image du livre,
mais un portrait d’elle
en 1790 par John Opie.
Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Vintage Classics, Londres, 2015, xiv = 98 pages, ISBN : 978-1-784-87039-3.
With an introduction by Zoe Williams.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) est très moderne (infiniment plus moderne que beaucoup d’autres qui ont écrit après elle) dans la mesure où elle met en rapport le statut inférieur des femmes avec le statut inférieur d’autres dans la société ; par ailleurs, elle considère qu’il n’y a pas de vrais droits démocratiques sans indépendance économique.

Elle caractérise bien la myopie de Rousseau :

Impressed by this view of the misery and disorder which pervaded society, and fatigued with jostling against artificial fools, Rousseau became enamoured of solitude, and, being at the same time an optimist, he labours with uncommon eloquence to prove that man was naturally a solitary animal.

But, next to a state of nature, Rousseau celebrates barbarism, and apostrophising the shade of Fabricius, he forgets that, in conquering the world, the Romans never dreamed of establishing their own liberty on a firm basis, or of extending the reign of virtue. Eager to support his system, he stigmatises, as vicious, every effort of genius ; and, uttering the apotheosis of savage virtues, he exalts those to demi-gods, who were scarcely human —— the brutal Spartans, who, in defiance of justice and gratitude, sacrificed, in cold blood, the slaves who had shown themselves heroes to rescue their oppressors.

Disgusted with artificial manners and virtues, the citizen of Geneva, instead of properly sifting the subject, threw away the wheat with the chaff, without waiting to inquire whether the evils which his ardent soul turned from indignantly, were the consequence of civilisation or the vestiges of barbarism.

Page 11.

elle n’est pas de ceux qui admirent les vertus spartiates et elle comprend que l’homme est souvent plus ce qu’en fait la civilisation que la seule nature.

Elle a des lignes féroces contre la monarchie et, plus généralement, toute autorité qui n’est que de rang.

Nothing can set the regal character in a more contemptible point of view, than the various crimes that have elevated men to the supreme dignity. Vile intrigues, unnatural crimes, and every vice that degrades our nature, have been the steps to this distinguished eminence; yet millions of men have supinely allowed the nerveless limbs of the posterity of such rapacious prowlers to rest quietly on their ensanguined thrones.

It is impossible for any man, when the most favourable circumstances concur, to acquire sufficient knowledge and strength of mind to discharge the duties of a king, entrusted with uncontrolled power ; how then must they be violated when his very elevation is an insuperable bar to the attainment of either wisdom or virtue, when all the feelings of a man are stifled by flattery, and reflection shut out by pleasure ! Sure it is madness to make the fate of thousands depend on the caprice of a weak fellow-creature, whose very station sinks him necessarily below the meanest of his subjects ! But one power should not be thrown down to exalt another — for all power inebriates weak man ; and its abuse proves that the more equality there is established among men, the more virtue and happiness will reign in society.

After attacking the sacred majesty of kings, I shall scarcely excite surprise by adding my firm persuasion that every profession, in which great subordination of rank constitutes its power, is highly injurious to morality.

Page 12

Elle est radicalement progressiste. Pour elle, c’est la civilisation qui offre les moyens de corriger les imperfections de la civilisation : donc par plus de civilisation, pas par un retour au passé.

But the nature of the poison points out the antidote ; and had Rousseau mounted one step higher in his investigation, or could his eye have pierced through the foggy atmosphere, which he almost disdained to breathe, his active mind would have darted forward to contemplate the perfection of man in the establishment of true civilisation, instead of taking his ferocious flight back to the night of sensual ignorance.

Page 14.

Elle dénonce le paradoxe de l’éducation des filles (dans l’aristocratie et dans la classe moyenne) qui revient à les maintenir dans l'enfance, qui leur impose la chasteté et la pruderie tout en en faisant seulement des objets sexuels par le vêtement et les manières. Ainsi les filles ne devraient jamais penser au sexe, mais… à rien d’autre qu’à séduire les hommes, tandis que les hommes appréciant la chaste modestie d’une fille ne pensent qu’à la séduire (et à la rejeter si elle cède). Tout cela est étudié finement et fait la plus grande partie du livre. (De ces relations profondément viciées, elle tire une certaine méfiance pour l’amour, qu’elle voudrait voir sublimer en camaraderie.)

Elle trouve que l’on devrait vivre de son propre travail et non de la fortune et des titres. Chacun doit faire son devoir dans le travail social et il ne peut y avoir de moralité sans égalité. Il faut donc aussi que les femmes aient une indépendance économique.

There is a homely proverb, which speaks a shrewd truth, that whoever the devil finds idle he will employ. And what but habitual idleness can hereditary wealth and titles produce? For man is so constituted that he can only attain a proper use of his faculties by exercising them, and will not exercise them unless necessity of some kind first set the wheels in motion. Virtue likewise can only be acquired by the discharge of relative duties ; but the importance of these sacred duties will scarcely be felt by the being who is cajoled out of his humanity by the flattery of sycophants. There must be more equality established in society, or morality will never gain ground, and this virtuous equality will not rest firmly even when founded on a rock, if one-half of mankind be chained to its bottom by fate, for they will be continually undermining it through ignorance or pride.

It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men ; nay, it is vain to expect that strength of natural affection which would make them good wives and mothers. Whilst they are absolutely dependent on their husbands they will be cunning, mean, and selfish ; and the men who can be gratified by the fawning fondness of spaniel-like affection have not much delicacy, for love is not to be bought ; in any sense of the words, its silken wings are instantly shrivelled up when anything beside a return in kind is sought.Yet whilst wealth enervates men, and women live, as it were, by their personal charms, how ‘can we expect them to discharge those ennobling duties which equally require exertion and self-denial ?

Pages 72-73.

Elle revient sur les inégalités de rang :

The preposterous distinctions of rank, which render civilisation a curse, by dividing the world between voluptuous tyrants and cunning envious dependents, corrupt, almost equally, every class of people, because respectability is not attached to the discharge of the relative duties of life, but to the station, and when the duties are not fulfilled the affections cannot gain sufficient strength to fortify the virtue of which they are the natural reward.

Page 76.

(Voir aussi le personnage hors norme de Victoria Woodhull, décrite dans Gabriel 1998.)

Acheté à la Foire aux livres de ManiFiesta à Bredene le samedi 16 septembre 2017.
Dominique Meeùs. Date: 2017