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

Wollstonecraft, Gabrielle Dubois author historical fiction

I had a little trouble getting into these Scandinavian letters that didn't take me away at first sight and I understood why in letter XX: Mary Wollstonecraft lacks the freedom and humour of a Gautier Theophile or nan Alexandre Dumas when they were writing their own travel stories. This may be due to the nature of MW, but it is also due to the fact that she is a woman. Let me explain:
Although she had already written The Vindication of the Rights of Women, MW, in my very humble opinion, does not seem to allow herself to express herself too much on her own feelings: those of the betrayed but still loving lover, those of the mother who loves her baby tenderly. She probably thought that this would be considered "female sentimentality" in the most pejorative sense and that it would undermine the respect that would be given to her work as a writer.
Secondly, she does not take a leisure trip or a curious adventurer's trip, as Gautier or Dumas may have done in Spain or Russia, for example. Her trip is for the benefit of the lover who betrayed her, so that she can investigate the disappearance of one of his merchant ships. MW therefore has work requirements. Perhaps she also hopes that her lover will come back to her because of the trouble she has gone to for his business?
Finally, she travels with her daughter Fanny, who is barely a year old. This does not leave the freedom of mind of a male traveller, single and unfettered.

But perhaps MW has prevented herself from revealing her heart too much out of restraint if not out of modesty? Does she want to prove that a woman is as smart as a man and would it be the reason why she would only allow herself very, very little humour or carelessness? These letters are those of an intelligent and strong woman ― with a good big child's heart that can be so easily hurt ― doubled by an "investigator concerned about the happiness of men," more than a tourist... and that's a good thing!
In any case, each letter contains a gold nugget, such as the

Letter I:
"At supper my host told me bluntly that I was a woman of observation, for I asked him men's questions. "

Letter II:
A very fine remark on civilization, imagination, pleasures and senses, which I let you discover.

Letter III:
A reflection on tourism that I have already done for myself:
Two or three years ago, I went to Rome. I had dreamed of going there for many years, to see the paintings in the churches, the magnificent squares, the wonderful fountains... But I must say that the number of tourists who came to this historic city only because the flight of a low-cost airline allows them to and who multiply their destinations without distinction, has completely disgusted me. The streets were black with people taking selfies to prove that they had been to Rome. These tourists seem to be aiming only to tick a long list of destinations without even appreciating the architecture, history, inhabitants or their cuisine.
MW expresses this so well and with what right intuition!
"As in travelling, the keeping of a journal excites to many useful inquiries that would not have been thought of had the traveller only determined to see all he could see, without ever asking himself for what purpose."

Letter VI :
An extremely touching welcome from Norwegian hosts that reveals MW's disturbed state of mind:
"The sympathy I inspired, thus dropping down from the clouds in a strange land, affected me more than it would have done had not my spirits been harassed by various causes--by much thinking--musing almost to madness--and even by a sort of weak melancholy that hung about my heart at parting with my daughter for the first time."
MW had left her child with her maid in Sweden during her trip to Norway. We'll see that she'll miss her daughter much more than that. But this leads to the following paragraph:
"You know that, as a female, I am particularly attached to her; 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. With trembling hand I shall cultivate sensibility and cherish delicacy of sentiment, lest, whilst I lend fresh blushes to the rose, I sharpen the thorns that will wound the breast I would fain guard; I dread to unfold her mind, lest it should render her unfit for the world she is to inhabit. Hapless woman! what a fate is thine!"
It is clairvoyant, heartbreaking, I have nothing to add, except that the last lines of this letter, which I do not quote you, are full of emotion and sensitivity.

Letter VII:
A beautiful question about our existence on earth that ends with a more personal sentence about the absence of the loved one.

Letter VIII :
Intelligent reflections on the establishment of power and the reasoning of the people. I can't quote you everything, you'd be angry if I didn't let you discover these letters for yourself!

Letter X:
confirms her rigorous character in her taste for the majestic and straight pinetree that she prefers to the beechtree growing in all directions. MW is reason and observation:
It is fascinating when she tells how Norwegians live from a political organization point of view, from the king to the simple peasant or fisherman.
At the end of the letter, MW goes from sadness to joy, so strongly and quickly that it must be difficult for her to live so:
"Ah! let me be happy whilst I can. ... I must flee from thought, and find refuge from sorrow in a strong imagination--the only solace for a feeling heart."

Letter XI :
The third paragraph is surprising: In a boat that wanders between two coasts, avoiding deadly rocks, MW meditates on "the future progress of the world". It is not surprising that she is so easily moved, while she cries over the living conditions of men in a million years!
"Do not smile; I really became distressed for these fellow creatures yet unborn."

Letter XIII :
A beautiful one! MW pours out on the love for her daughter she misses and the lost love of Imlay who cheated on her and left her. It's very fair and very beautiful.
It should also be remembered that MW travels in an unknown country whose language she does not know, and whose no one knwos hers, or so few words. I know this feeling of loneliness that can be a challenge. A small quote, for the pleasure of beautiful quotes:
"I felt like a bird fluttering on the ground unable to mount, yet unwilling to crawl tranquilly like a reptile, whilst still conscious it had wings.Beyond poetry, what a pain for a woman to feel that!"

Letter XIV:
"…the world is still the world, and man the same compound of weakness and folly, who must occasionally excite love and disgust, admiration and contempt."
But MW writes:
"I want faith!"
So, despite everything, she has faith in men, but not in all men. On several occasions, MW returns to the misdeeds of alcohol, to the ineptitude of too much personal enrichment for the sole purpose of acquiring more material goods, and to the dubious honesty of politicians...
"To be honester than the laws require is by most people thought a work of supererogation; and to slip through the grate of the law has ever exercised the abilities of adventurers, who wish to get rich the shortest way. Knavery without personal danger is an art brought to great perfection by the statesman and swindler; and meaner knaves are not tardy in following their footsteps."
I quite agree!

Letter XV:
There is a paragraph of magnificent, moving, pessimistic thoughts inspired by a wooden bridge that spans a stream not far from a waterfall. I can hardly resist quoting it in its entirety, but here is the last line:
"I stretched out my hand to eternity, bounding over the dark speck of life to come."

Letter XIX:
There are also two paragraphs in this letter on the conditions of men and women and their interaction, which is very fair... feminism
"Still harping on the same subject, you will exclaim--How can I avoid it, when most of the struggles of an eventful life have been occasioned by the oppressed state of my sex? We reason deeply when we feel forcibly."

Letter XXII
MW is an intelligent traveller: you can feel a progression in her reasoning and even she does change her mind on certain points, which shows that her mind is open, curious, understanding and in constant evolution. MW is thinking, thinking. But her maid made a point and MW’s conclusion is funny:
"Marguerite, it is true, was much amused by the costume of the women, particularly by the pannier which adorned both their heads and tails, and with great glee recounted to me the stories she had treasured up for her family when once more within the barriers of dear Paris, not forgetting, with that arch, agreeable vanity peculiar to the French, which they exhibit whilst half ridiculing it, to remind me of the importance she should assume when she informed her friends of all her journeys by sea and land, showing the pieces of money she had collected, and stammering out a few foreign phrases, which she repeated in a true Parisian accent. Happy thoughtlessness! ay, and enviable harmless vanity, which thus produced a gaité du cœur worth all my philosophy!"

Annex of MW to her letters:
MW has observed peoples with different customs due to the climate, geographical location, their personal history and their political organization. She clearly sees what changes would be beneficial to these countries, what direction they should take to achieve more happiness, culture and peace. But she also understands that one cannot make a people happy suddenly and according to one's own conception of happiness.
I think that a people is like a person: it can only find happiness in itself. There is no point in upsetting it by war or by laws too quickly establish that would not follow the slower evolution of generations. A word to the wise!
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