This essay places Wollstonecraft’s late novel Maria; or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798) in conversation with Rousseau’s thought on natural education in Emile (1762). In both texts, aesthetic sensibility is a foundation of religious belief and a crucial feature of a program of natural education that aims at freedom. Education falters, however, as Rousseau’s student and Wollstonecraft’s heroine are consigned to exile by a prejudiced society. Though Rousseau and Wollstonecraft make strong claims for the moral and liberating possibilities of aesthetic sensibility, they differ in their interpretation of exile. Wollstonecraft rewrites Rousseau’s portrait of the self-sufficient exile to highlight her outcast heroine’s estrangement from the vital forces that animate life and the mind. Natural education fails in Wrongs of Woman because the cultivation of sensibility remains separate from the work of reforming the social structures that discredit women’s reason.

You do not currently have access to this content.