Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark by Mary Wollstonecraft Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark

Originally published in 1796, Mary Wollstonecraft’s account of her trip to Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, is compelling both in its picture of countries rarely visited in Regency times and insights into Mary’s personal life. Her scenic descriptions and political comments about Norway and her encounters with an impoverished peasantry and Danish townsfolk greedily obsessed by


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    Jan-Maat

    I probably bought this book because of its cover, not the only time I’ve bought a book purely on the strength of Caspar David Friedrich.

    A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway & Denmark is written in the form of twenty-five letters, possibly originally composed as a travel journal, in places it seems that they are addressed to Gilbert Imlay, who had been more or less her husband, and published in 1796, Mary Wollstonecraft’s intention was simply to endeavour to give a just view of the present st

    A Short Residence in Sweden, Norway & Denmark is written in the form of twenty-five letters, possibly originally composed as a travel journal, in places it seems that they are addressed to Gilbert Imlay, who had been more or less her husband, and published in 1796, Mary Wollstonecraft’s intention was simply to endeavour to give a just view of the present state of the countries I have passed through, as far as I could obtain information during so short a residence (p62).

    Wollstonecraft was not the ideal traveller. She spoke none of the languages of the countries she travels through. She dislikes the duvets (view spoiler), the meal times (view spoiler), the drinking (view spoiler), the stoves (view spoiler) and the smoking. She disapproves of the sugar and spice in the diet finding this to be the cause of the women’s bad teeth (view spoiler). Fortunately she wasn’t a traveller, she was a woman on a mission.

    Gilbert Imlay, her common-law husband and father of her first child, aspired to a “mushroom fortune” of his own. Taking advantage of the ongoing British blockade of France, with a partner he invested in a blockade runner registered under a false name, filled her with cargo and found a young Norwegian captain for her. The gentleman absconded at the earliest opportunity with ship and cargo. This wasn’t a matter that Imlay could pursue in the British or French courts, however the Danes were prepared to look into it. Wollstonecraft was accredited by Imlay as his representative and travelled with a maid and her toddler, with no language skills to negotiate on his behalf. At the same time their romantic relationship was, at least as far he was concerned, over and she had shortly before attempted suicide (view spoiler).

    Unmentioned but very much present in the background of her account of this journey into Norway are her visits to judges and influential men and the Captain of the ship who she follows to his home town, Risør in south-eastern Norway (view spoiler) dramatically described after a night rowing round skerries and crags to reach the place:

    We were a considerable time entering amongst the islands, before we saw about two hundred houses crowded together, under a very high rock – still higher appearing above. Talk not of bastilles! To be born here, was to be bastilled by nature – shut out from all that opens the understanding, or enlarges the heart. Huddled one behind another, not more than a quarter of the dwellings even had a prospect of the sea. A few planks formed passages from house to house, which you must often scale, mounting steps like a ladder, to enter

    (p131)

    Flittering across the foreground of her letters however is her pain at the end of the relationship with Imlay and her bitterness towards commercial undertakings and greed which she sees as the cause of the breakdown between the two of them.

    Above all for me these letters arise out of the Enlightenment and Romanticism, well mixed with Wollstonecraft’s passionate engagement, presented in delightful though wordy late eighteenth century English prose. Reading her meditations on future ages and her vision of bleak and rocky landscapes I was struck that Wollstonecraft was Mary Shelley’s mother in more than simply a physical sense:

    The view of this wild coast, as we sailed along it, afforded me a continual subject for meditation. I anticipated the future improvement of the world, & observed how much man had still to do, to obtain of the earth all it could yield. I even carried my speculations so far as to advance a million or two of years to the moment when the earth would perhaps be so perfectly cultivated, and so completely peopled, as to render it necessary to inhabit every spot; yes; these bleak shores. Imagination went still farther, and pictured the state of man when the earth would no longer support him. Where was he to fly to from universal famine? Do not smile: I really became distressed for these fellow creatures, yet unborn. The images fastened on me, and the world appeared a vast prison

    (p130)

    Although then again having a vision of the character of the landscape was very much in the Zeitgeist and not unique to the two of them.

    As an observer Wollstonecraft was alive to the manners of the places she travelled through and the characteristics of men and women as well as the cattle winding their weary way to cosy cottages for milking. For all her strictures about Scandinavian teeth, she is struck by the kindness of the people she meets towards her and her enthusiasm for beauty and liveliness is contagious.

    There may be many grounds on which to criticise her account, based on a brief visit to a limited number of places, but the power of the book is that “if ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book” as William Godwin wrote in his Memoirs of the Author of ‘The Rights of Woman’(p249).

    These memoirs were written shortly after Wollstonecraft’s death and are striking for there careful, even analytical, tone and sense of loss. Godwin was roundly criticised for these memoirs because he scandalously mentioned Wollstonescraft’s lack of belief in hell and made clear that she had sexual relationships outside of the state of matrimony. This edition has footnotes and several appendixes for the amendments that Godwin made to the second edition in which he tried to soft pedal and make Wollstonecraft’s life approximate the norms of Georgian Britain’s polite society. Imagine Jane Austen confronted with a woman of similar social background who attempted to earn a living through running schools and translation, provided for her siblings setting them up as best she could, assisted her father through the morass of his financial affairs until his death, was in France during the revolution and was acquainted with the Girondist leadership, had an illegitimate child and so on… Public outcry over the memoir comes as no surprise.

    In Godwin’s account there are two important influences on Wollstonecraft’s life. Her childhood, the girl was the mother of the woman, and the French Revolution which cracked apart her mind forg’d manacles, opening up everything to question. For a person as decisive and sure of her own opinion as she was allowed the possibility of attempting to live as she wanted. However he is also open about how important an influence Wollstonecraft was on his own life and development. As a whole the brief life is as tender a memorial to a lost love as I can imagine. The distinct phraseology of Georgian literary English in its own way only adds to the sadness underlying the careful sentences.

    This volume is nicely presented with a thorough introduction, notes and a map.
    …more

    Majenta

    Jun 11, 2016

    rated it
    really liked it

    “It is so delightful to love our fellow-creatures, and meet the honest affections as they break forth. Still, my good friend, I begin to think that I should not like to live continually in the country with people whose minds have such a narrow range.” (p.15)

    “…I feel more than a mother’s fondness and anxiety when I reflect on the dependent and oppressed state of her sex. I dread lest she should be forced to sacrifice her heart to her principles, or principles to her heart.” (p.24)

    “Marguerite an

    “…I feel more than a mother’s fondness and anxiety when I reflect on the dependent and oppressed state of her sex. I dread lest she should be forced to sacrifice her heart to her principles, or principles to her heart.” (p.24)

    “Marguerite and the child often fell asleep, and when they were awake I might still reckon myself alone, as our train of thoughts had nothing in common.” (p.86)

    Happiness is an 18th-century Scandinavian tour in June 2016. Thanks for hopping on!
    …more

    Jim

    Dec 29, 2014

    rated it
    really liked it

     · 
    review of another edition

    Recommended to Jim by:
    Jan-Maat


    I read this one based on a friend’s review of another edition. It is not my normal reading fare and I was quite pleased with what I found in these pages.

    It was obvious from the start that Wollstonecraft was a very strong and determined woman, independent and intelligent to the max. The book is based on letters she wrote to her lover/common-law husband whose business interests she was pursuing during her travels in the Scandinavian countries. I doubt that she intended that they be published.

    This

    It was obvious from the start that Wollstonecraft was a very strong and determined woman, independent and intelligent to the max. The book is based on letters she wrote to her lover/common-law husband whose business interests she was pursuing during her travels in the Scandinavian countries. I doubt that she intended that they be published.

    This trip occurred during the late eighteenth century, and certainly was no easy accomplishment. In the days before railways travellers travelled by carriage over rough roads. Teams had to be changed along the way and the traveller often had to depend on the hospitality of households along the way for meals and overnight accommodations. Additionally, a lot of the route was traversed by ship and rowboat. It was a long and slow journey, and Mary had lots of time to marvel at the countryside through which she passed. She was no shrinking violet when it came to dishing out her opinions, and she had plenty of them!

    In fact, at times her remarks go right past what would be considered fair commentary and carry on to what could only be termed bitching. Bitching about the teeth of the hosts, the softness of the beds, the way they overdressed kids, smoking, drinking, the length of the meals, and so on and etcetera until it came as no surprise to me that Imlay had already replaced her as his paramour. To be fair, the letters were a private communication and quite possibly she had no idea they would see anyone’s eyes but Imlay’s.

    What impressed me the most about our girl Mary is that she had an active mind and interests that covered all the points of the intellectual compass. She comments on morality, capital punishment, agriculture, the future of mankind…a finger in every intellectual and philosophical pie, so to speak. More importantly, many of her observations, made hundreds of years ago, still hold true today. Here’s a sampling of quotes to show that her mind was not constrained to a single line of thought:

    Health and idleness will always account for promiscuous amours, and in some degree I term every person idle, the exercise of whose mind does not bear some proportion to that of the body (P.35) (Are you fellows down at the gym paying attention to this?)

    But few people have sufficient taste to discern, that the that the art of embellishing, consists in interesting, not astonishing (P.124)(Regarding landscaping)

    I have always been of opinion that the allowing actors to die, in the presence of the audience, has an immoral tendency; but trifling when compared with the ferocity acquired by viewing the reality as a show; for it seems to me, that in all countries the common people go to executions to see how the poor wretch plays his part, rather than to commiserate his fate, much less to think of the breach of morality which has brought him to such a deplorable end. (P.155) (No question about where she would stand on modern TV programmes and violent video games.)

    All commas in the quotes above are Ms Wollstonecraft’s. Mary loved commas and I believe she applied them to the page with a shotgun. I have to say that I expected to have to fight my way through this book but I enjoyed it immensely. I will be hunting down more of her work in the future. In spite of her kvetching and superior airs, a fascinating woman!
    …more

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