Saturday, December 8, 2012

Enlightened women

The ivy-covered walls of Wellesley College
“You can’t go home again,” warned Thomas Wolfe.

I spent four years at Wellesley College, my home away from home; and I’ve always wanted to go back.

Alums can audit any course for free, but there was never space enough in my life to squeeze one in.

But at summer’s end, the opportunity presented itself. I checked the course catalog, and there was a philosophy class being offered at a time that I could fit into my flexible work schedule.

So after a long absence, I became a college student again.

Arriving on campus for the first class, I drove into the new parking garage and headed to the Campus Police Department to purchase a parking permit. It cost a whopping $50. This course isn’t free at all, I thought to myself.

The garage abutted the new Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center, which I explored before walking to the Margaret Clapp Library. Climbing to the fourth floor, I found the carrel, where I spent most of my time writing my thesis, “Fogland: A Collection of Nonfiction Essays.”

Unused to walking miles around campus, I was winded as I trudged up the three flights of stairs to the Philosophy Library, where the class was held.

The last student to arrive, I slipped in quietly and took in my surroundings. The young male professor sat at the head of the long table, and there were five young women taking the class.

The course entitled “Women of the Enlightenment” intrigued me. An English and Medieval-Renaissance Studies double major, my education stopped at the seventeenth century – a gap that I was attempting to fill.

A few minutes into the lecture, and it was as comfortable as college has always been for me. I took lots of notes and listened intently as auditors are apt to do.

During the break, however, the professor invited me to participate vocally in class and to do the homework, if I so desired.

On my way home I stopped at Barnes & Noble and picked up the book “A History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Leibniz.” The book covered the canon: the philosophy of Descartes, Pascal, Malebranche, Spinoza and Leibniz – but there was not a woman among them.

Throughout the next 13 weeks, I studied the philosophies of the little known women of this period who had contributed to modern thought: Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Damaris Cudworth, Mary Astell, Mary Shepherd, Gabrielle Suchon, Emilie du Chatelet and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Last Wednesday the course ended, and six smarter women exited the Philosophy Library.

No comments:

Post a Comment