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Origins of Modern Feminism and Literature

The truism that modern feminism is rooted in Mary Wollstonecraft's 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Women requires some qualification. It was contemporary with the sea change wrought by the American and French Revolutions and arguably an exercise in the discourse of social revolution on that account, but if it is modern feminism's first manifesto it is also rather different from modern feminism in sensibility and emphasis. For it was also contemporary with nascent Romanticism, which was as much metaphysical and aesthetic, or as it were engaged by "new possibilities in poetic expression" (Weigel, 1986, p. 67) as practical in outlook. The quest for woman's suffrage that, in the United States, began with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, stated that "the same basic and inalienable rights . . . won by the French and American Revolutions should also be applied to women" (Martin, 1972, p. 42). Its orientation was practical, resulting in woman's suffrage in 1920--the culmination of what is often called feminism's "first wave" (e.g., Hoffman, 1981).

Subsequent "waves" of feminism have been problematized in contemporary discourse. However, certain key signposts can be identified. Virginia Woolf's 1929 lecture/screed A Room of One's Own is undoubtedly influential in its focus on the social differentials that accrue to men and women and its explanation for the absence of a significantly canonical female literary tradition. It belongs to modern feminism's "second wave," which began as a between-the-wars phenomenon and which was punctuated during World War II, when many women assumed industrial and other jobs formerly held by the men who entered military service (Gluck, 1987). However, on the very eve of World War II, when the country was still recovering from the Great Depression and unemployment rates had been reduced, hostility toward women in the workplace remained high. Prevailing cultural ...

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Origins of Modern Feminism and Literature. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:42, October 25, 2014, from