Was Jane Austen influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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This is a good question. In terms of dates, it is not impossible that Jane Austen would have heard of Mary Wollstonecraft or encountered some of her work. On the other hand, there are several factors that make direct influence improbable.

For 21st century readers, both these writers fall into the category of late 18th/early 19th century female authors, and both may be studied together in classes on women’s literature and often read from a feminist perspective.

From a 19th century perspective, Mary Wollstonecraft was a scandalous woman who had two illegitimate children. Respectable women would not associate with her or read her work. Jane Austen was a clergyman’s daughter and outwardly conventional. In Northanger Abbey, we get a sense that although she sees a single young woman riding in an open carriage with a man on Sunday as more imprudent than immoral, she thinks such behaviour best avoided. We don’t see evidence that she approved of any radical ideas (or of radicalism as a mode of action) , but like many latitudinarians, would have argued that better education for women (e.g. reading Addison and Blair rather than Anne Radcliffe) would make them better members of society and better Christians.


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