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  William Godwin

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Registration date : 2010-10-10

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PostSubject: William Godwin    William Godwin EmptySun Nov 21, 2010 1:54 am

In describing her heroine, Wollstonecraft drew on the emerging eighteenth-century conception of the genius, a word that was slowly changing meaning from "a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit" to "extraordinary intellectual power especially as manifested in creative activity".[39] She offered readers the first representation of a female genius. The masculinity, particularly the "energy and decisiveness", that characterizes Mary is therefore portrayed positively and contrasted with the "passivity and sickliness" of the feminized Ann and Henry. It is Mary's "strong, original opinions" and her resistance to "conventional wisdom" that mark her as a genius. Making her heroine a genius allowed Wollstonecraft to criticize marriage as well: geniuses were "enchained" rather than enriched by marriage.[4]
Strength of mind, by which Wollstonecraft meant "the degree to which [the mind] can independently reach its own conclusions" (emphasis in original), is central to her idea of the female genius.[40] Merely imitating others is not enough, even if one imitates the "correct" actions and thoughts. Reason, for Wollstonecraft, is what controls the emotions; without reason, she contends, people would fail to understand their own feelings. Moreover, reason allows for the distinction between a useful sensibility and a harmful sensualism. She writes: "sensibility is indeed the foundation of all our happiness; but these raptures are unknown to the depraved sensualist, who is only moved by what strikes his gross senses."[41] Useful sensibility allows Mary to embark upon charity projects. Yet, this highly attuned sensibility separates the classes along emotional lines: only the middle-class Mary is able to understand what the poor around her require.[42]
Wollstonecraft modelled Mary after herself, even to the point of giving the heroine her own name.[20] Using free indirect discourse, which blurs the line between the third-person narrator and the first-person dialogue of a text, she ties the narrator's voice, which resembles the "Wollstonecraft" of the advertisement, to the heroine.[42] This rhetorical device highlights the autobiographical elements in the story and emphasizes the reality of "the fiction".[42]

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