Hey, guys! It’s been a little while. This is another read I had for school, from my Women and Literature class, which thus far has been enjoyable. We first read Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and then segued into her last work, Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman. Wollstonecraft worked on this novel for 12 months, though it was never finished because she died giving birth to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Her husband, William Godwin, took the unfinished manuscript for Maria and added some editor’s notes, including in the published work the notes he found that Wollstonecraft had left indicating the ending to the story. All in all, an interesting format and an intriguing read. Let’s get into some of the good and not-so-good things about this one.
The main characters tell lengthy backstories that pulled me in because they have the same level of detail as Dickens or Austen. Additionally, the minor characters are fascinating at times: I really liked hearing about Peggy’s belief in Providence. There’s also talented, appealing prose: “gloomy receptacle of disjointed souls” describes one of the settings early on in the novel. By a certain point, I made a note of being emotionally invested in the characters; so this is also something I consider a strong point of hers. Lastly, the ending based on the notes that we have is poignant. I actually was surprised, I won’t say in what way, by the suggested conclusion of events.
On the not so good side, there is a lot of telling at times, both in terms of action and characters’ emotions. I’m not sure if this stems solely from a stylistic difference of that time from today, or if it’s also partially Wollstonecraft’s inexperience with the novel form of writing…or some other things. Obviously, it’s an incomplete work, so that’s a downside to anyone needing closure or further clarity; but I didn’t feel this intruded on the enjoyment of what we are given in any remarkable way. Wollstonecraft’s critics say that because her works were generally rushed (she penned Vindication of the Rights of Woman) in 6 weeks, and just the fraction I’ve read was a marathon of a read) it resulted in a more sloppy, less polished product than most other novelists. I think the part we do have was well-written; if nothing more, I could discern that she infused loving details into each part of the narrative and each character’s backstory.
As I’ve seen my own life’s story come out in things I write, I admire this same transparency, whether intentional or not, with Wollstonecraft. It’s clearly evident that traces of her inspiration for Vindication came through in Maria, as well. Her voice is especially apparent in the title character, our protagonist. We also discussed in class how other characters who aren’t ideal reflect Wollstonecraft’s later disenchantment with the world, romantically and politically. To an extent, I think everyone, male or female, can find something—a minor character, circumstances, or principle—in Maria that arouses common experience or sympathy. I thought it was fairly well done for only having been under construction for a year (and most of that time she having been pregnant. I mean, come on. 🙂 )
Finally, another obvious: it’s admirable because it was the last building block in her written contribution to a new kind of literature: Wollstonecraft was key in ushering in new ways of thinking about female education, manners, upbringing. Her fearlessness and frank candor are especially admirable because they emerged from a society that seems to have encouraged the exact opposite from women.