A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

by Mary Wollstonecraft
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In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in the paragraph beginning with “Nature, or to speak with strict propriety God” and ending with “that rare as true love is, true friendship is still rarer,” what kinds of rhetorical appeals and rhetorical devices are used? How do they help develop the central idea? Please cite textual evidence. What is the central idea?

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The central idea of this paragraph in Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women is that love is fleeting but friendship remains. Wollstonecraft uses rhetorical devices like figurative language, tone, contrast, and allusion to present and support her point.

The author begins the paragraph with the statement that nature, or rather God, has “made all things right.” By contrast, it is human beings who have marred the order of creation. Women do this, the author implies, when they follow advice like that of Dr. Gregory (allusion here) and try to hide their love from their husbands.

Wollstonecraft calls this “Voluptuous precaution” that is “as ineffectual as absurd.” The language here is quite appealing. The adjective voluptuous is rarely used to modify precaution, and this sets a striking, even startling tone. The author is pushing her readers into new views. She shocks us again when she says that love “must be transitory.” We must think carefully about the kind of love she means here.

She then goes on to present a simile. Seeking to make love constant is like searching for “the philosopher’s stone” (the ideal creation of the alchemist who would use it to make gold and extend life indefinitely) or “the grand panacea” (the cure for everything). So love cannot last, and there is no way to make it last.

What does last, then? The “most holy band” of friendship. This, too, is rare, but it is permanent. Friendship involves love, we know, so we can infer that the “love” the author refers to earlier is actually erotic love. This fact, Wollstonecraft implies, is embedded in the very nature of creation.

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