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Hidden Polemic in Wollstonecraft's Letters from Norway: A Bakhtinian Reading (Mary Wollstonecraft) (Critical Essay)

Studies in Romanticism 2008, Fall, 47, 3

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MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT'S LETTERS WRITTEN DURING A SHORT RESIDENCE in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is probably one of the most interesting and complex literary works of its time in terms of genre/style. It combines a great variety of generic forms and discursive styles in a polyphonic simultaneity. It is a travel narrative and an instance of journalistic writing framed in the epistolary mode, (1) which is the dominant form of the literature of Sensibility. As letters addressed to the author's actual lover, it merges autobiography and sentimental discourse inextricably, erasing the boundaries between literary and non-literary discourses. Letters is also a Romantic work insofar as it embodies a discourse of Romantic imagination and the sublime uttered by a sentimental author/heroine who strives to redefine herself in terms of an empowered, transcendent subjectivity. This tentative construction of what contemporary criticism defines as the masculine Romantic subject position (2) is intricately and intriguingly fused with the feminine relationality, affectivity and vulnerability inscribed in the author's sentimental discourse at once reproducing and subverting the literary discourse of Sensibility. The fusion of sentimental and Romantic discourses is in turn fused with a discourse of reason embodying Enlightenment humanism and its progressive values. It is especially with reference to Letters that Wollstonecraft has been denoted one of the forerunners of Romanticism. (3) Given her lifelong preoccupation and struggle with Sensibility, and given the historical moment of intersection between early, or pre-Romanticism and late Sensibility, it is only natural that the Romanticism inscribed in this work is created through and in fusion with a pervasive discourse of Sensibility. Still, assessing the work from a contemporary point of view, we cannot but find it interesting that as a text embodying Enlightened humanism, rationalism and feminism, and what we have come to perceive as masculine Romanticism, Letters is predominantly an expression of Sensibility incorporating some of the main discursive and stylistic elements and characteristics of sentimental literature. Syndy McMillen Conger's remark on Wollstonecraft's whole oeuvre applies also singly and especially to Letters:

Hidden Polemic in Wollstonecraft's Letters from Norway: A Bakhtinian Reading (Mary Wollstonecraft) (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: Sep 22, 2008
  • Publisher: Boston University
  • Seller: The Gale Group, Inc.
  • Print Length: 48 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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