The Stigma of Emotions

Mary Wollstonecraft's Travel Writing

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Mary Wollstonecraft, the first writer to establish a coherent feminist assessment of her society’s treatment of women, in effect started the feminist movement as we know it today. Her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was a landmark proclamation of women’s political/social rights.1 Less well known, however, is her Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, an account of her 1795 travels in Scandinavia and an important text for understanding the situation of later nineteenth-century women travel writers.2 This book, Wollstonecraft’s last work before her untimely death, is a complex text. Here, Wollstonecraft tries to come to terms with her personal despair while securing her intellectual reputation. Additionally, this work established the travel genre as a form women could use to present themselves authoritatively in a narration and within a vocation. In essence, Wollstonecraft’s writing offered an invitation for women to participate in a narration of exploration, one very different from the traditional narration that required that the woman hold a fixed position and wait for experience to come to her. Instead, as Mary Morris indicates in her collection of women’s travels, Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers, travel narratives allow a woman to ‘be the stranger who comes to town’ (1993: xxii). At the same time, the public interpretation of Wollstonecraft’s life, an unusually public life for her time, provided warning signs for later women of the boundaries for behaviour which they could not ignore if they wished to maintain a level of social acceptance. As a result, Wollstonecraft’s own reception and reputation, the narration which others made of her life, delineated and established the boundaries of nineteenth-century women’s discourse.


The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing


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