February 1st


  1. Where do monsters come from—Nature, Art, Science, Society, or Government?
  2. Answer this question from Rousseau’s perspective in the First Discourse.
  3. Answer this question from Rousseau’s perspective in the Second Discourse.
  4. Does Rousseau offer a unified answer to this question across the two Discourses?
  5. With this question in mind, think about the use of the term ‘monster’ in the following passages from Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Men:

    The civilization which has taken place in Europe has been very partial, and, like every custom that an arbitrary point of honour has established, refines the manners at the expence of morals, by making sentiments and opinions current in conversation that have no root in the heart, or weight in the cooler resolves of the mind.–And what has stopped its progress?–hereditary property–hereditary honours. The man has been changed into an artificial monster by the station in which he was born, and the consequent homage that benumbed his faculties like the torpedo's touch;–or a being, with a capacity of reasoning, would not have failed to discover, as his faculties unfolded, that true happiness arose from the friendship and intimacy which can only be enjoyed by equals; and that charity is not a condescending distribution of alms, but an intercourse of good offices and mutual benefits, founded on respect for justice and humanity. (8-9)

    In this state was the King, when you, with unfeeling disrespect, and indecent haste, wished to strip him of all his hereditary honours.–You were so eager to taste the sweets of power, that you could not wait till time had determined, whether a dreadful delirium would settle into a confirmed madness; but, prying into the secrets of Omnipotence, you thundered out that God had hurled him from his throne, and that it was the most insulting mockery to recollect that he had been a king, or to treat him with any particular respect on account of his former dignity.–And who was the monster whom Heaven had thus awfully deposed, and smitten with such an angry blow? Surely as harmless a character as Lewis XVIth; and the queen of Great Britain, though her heart may not be enlarged by generosity, who will presume to compare her character with that of the queen of France? (27)

     It is true you lay great stress on the effects produced by the bare idea of a liberal descent; but from the conduct of men of rank, men of discernment would rather be led to conclude, that this idea obliterated instead of inspiring native dignity, and substituted a factitious pride that disemboweled the man. The liberty of the rich has its ensigns armorial to puff the individual out with insubstantial honours, but where are blazoned the struggles of virtuous poverty? Who, indeed, would dare to blazon what would blur the pompous monumental inscription you boast of, and make us view with horror, as monsters in human shape, the superb gallery of portraits proudly set in battle array? (43)

    And what is this mighty revolution in property? The present incumbents only are injured, or the hierarchy of the clergy, an ideal part of the constitution, which you have personified, to render your affection more tender. How has posterity been injured by a distribution of the property snatched, perhaps, from innocent hands, but accumulated by the most abominable violation of every sentiment of justice and piety? Was the monument of former ignorance and iniquity to be held sacred, to enable the present possessors of enormous benefices to dissolve in indolent pleasures? Was not their convenience, for they have not been turned adrift on the world, to give place to a just partition of the land belonging to the state? And did not the respect due to the natural equality of man require this triumph over Monkish rapacity? Were those monsters to be reverenced on account of their antiquity, and their unjust claims perpetuated to their ideal children, the clergy, merely to preserve the sacred majesty of Property inviolate, and to enable the Church to retain her pristine splendor? Can posterity be injured by individuals losing the chance of obtaining great wealth, without meriting it, by its being diverted from a narrow channel, and disembogued into the sea that affords clouds to water all the land? Besides, the clergy not brought up with the expectation of great revenues will not feel the loss; and if bishops should happen to be chosen on account of their personal merit, religion may be benefited by the vulgar nomination. (50-51)

  1. How did Wollstonecraft’s reading of Rousseau’s First Discourse and Second Discourse affect the political argument of the Rights of Men?
  2. Given what you know of the novel, how might have Rousseau’s First Discourse and Second Discourse affected the moral, scientific, and political themes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?
  3. How does Wollstonecraft’s reaction to the Terror during her stay in Paris in 1792-1793 seem compatible or incompatible with the arguments she made about the French Revolution, and the need for further social and political revolutions, in the Rights of Men?  What is ‘monstrous’ about this stage of the French Revolution, in Wollstonecraft’s experience of it?
Citation: Botting, E. H. (2007, February 22). February 1st. Retrieved October 30, 2014, from Notre Dame OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.nd.edu/political-science/mary-wollstonecraft-and-mary-shelley/discussion-questions/february-1st.
Copyright 2012, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License