Connecting Eliot’s “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft” and Mill’s Autobiography

In George Eliot’s article called “Margaret Fuller and Mary Wollstonecraft,” she states that “There is in some quarters a vague prejudice against The Rights of Woman [by Mary Wollstonecraft] as in some way or other a reprehensible book.” This is not a surprising observation due to the severe opposition to women gaining anything even resembling more rights when Wollstonecraft’s groundbreaking essay was published in 1792. This refusal to accept anything that challenges the status quo reminds me of a sentiment expressed by John Stuart Mill in Autobiography: He states, “My course of study had led me to believe, that all mental and moral feelings and qualities, whether of a good or of a bad kind, were the results of association; that we love one thing, and hate another, take pleasure in one sort of action or contemplation, and pain in another sort, through the clinging of pleasurable or painful ideas to those things, from the effect of education or of experience.” Here, Mill really hits home on exactly why humans are so opposed to change–we as humans are so used to the things we know and have been trained–like Mill said, by either “education or experience”–to accept what we know and be fearful of any diversion from that concept. In other words, people in the 1790s rejected Wollstonecraft’s work not because it wasn’t persuasive, but because the place of women in society was rigidly defined and people could not fathom a world in which women were emancipated beyond their clearly-defined roles.

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