Brief Biography of John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was the son of James Mill, a Scottish philosopher who worked in the fields of history, economics, and political theory. James ensured that his son had a highly rigorous education that included receiving instruction from famous utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. From an early age, Mill determined that the purpose of his life was to use his education and intellect to help construct a just, happy society. However, at the age of 20, he underwent a crisis when he realized that fulfilling this goal would not bring him personal joy, and he contemplated suicide. He was able to survive this period in part by finding renewed inspiration through the poetry of William Wordsworth. After studying at University College London, Mill embarked on a career as a colonial administrator in India. He defended British imperialism in India but disliked the system of direct rule by the British monarchy, which ultimately led him to return to England. In 1851 he married his close friend of 21 years, Harriet Taylor, after her husband died in 1849. Harriet had a profound influence on Mill’s work, including his advocacy of women’s rights, as did Mill’s stepdaughter, Helen Taylor. In the late 1860s, Mill served as a Liberal Member of Parliament for City and Westminster. As an MP, he campaigned enthusiastically for female suffrage. He died in Avignon, France at the age of 66.
Historical Context of The Subjection of Women
As Mill mentions in the book, at the time he was writing (the mid-19th century), the status of women was undergoing profound change. Divorce had become less prohibitively expensive, more women were publishing their writing, and the women’s suffrage movement was gaining momentum. (Although the first law granting suffrage to certain English women would not be passed until 1918.) In general, the 19th century saw a series of reforms that transformed England into a more liberal society. The power of the monarchy and nobility was diminished and there were greater opportunities for social mobility, particularly via the wealth generated by colonialism and the Industrial Revolution. Yet the historical event most frequently cited within The Subjection of Women is undoubtedly the abolition of slavery. Britain officially banned the slave trade in 1807 and abolished slavery within its colonies in 1811. Mill most frequently makes reference to the abolition of slavery in the U.S., which happened while he was writing the book in 1865. However, while Mill tends to discuss slavery as a concept that is firmly in the past, in reality there were still several countries—such as Cuba and Brazil—that had not yet abolished slavery at the time he was writing. This is important, as Mill’s framing of slavery as something that was widely condemned at the time he was writing is historically accurate.
Other Books Related to The Subjection of Women
The Subjection of Women
is an early predecessor of feminist philosophy, but it was far from the first of its kind. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
, a text that argued in favor of women’s human rights (without necessarily going so far as to assert that men and women were truly equal). Mill’s own wife, Harriet Taylor Mill—with whom he collaborated on The Subjection of Women
as well as other works—published an essay in 1851 entitled “The Enfranchisement of Women” which contains many similar arguments to those Mill makes. Later, in 1858, the formerly enslaved abolitionist Sojourner Truth gave a speech entitled “Ain’t I a Woman?” that is considered to be one of the most important early predecessors of Black feminist theory.
Key Facts about The Subjection of Women
Full Title: The Subjection of Women
When Written: 1851–1869
Where Written: London, England
When Published: 1869
Literary Period: Victorian
Genre: Political Essay
Point of View: First Person
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