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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.1, 127 ~ 145, 2019
Title
Traveling as the “Art of Thinking” in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark
Ja Yun Choi
abstract
This article examines Mary Wollstonecraft’s epistolary travelogue Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) in the context of conjectural history. By illustrating how she borrows the methodology of conjectural history to trace the improvement of manners in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, the article analyzes the utopia (or dys-topia) Wollstonecraft imagines based on the social progress she observes during her northern travels. It demonstrates that despite her initial faith in human industry and economic prosperity as the driving forces behind civilization, Wollstonecraft later expresses grave reservations about the “future improvement of the world” by drawing attention to the harmful effects that commerce can bring to societies. It suggests that such concerns largely derive from her status as a female traveler who does not enjoy the privileges of the leisured male traveler and is therefore in a more favorable position to reflect on the conditions of the socially disenfranchised such as women and the laboring poor. By exploring how Wollstonecraft’s unstable status leads her to critically examine stadial theory and use various criteria in assessing a nation’s state of civilization, the article examines how she ultimately envisions the world as a “vast prison” in her travel narrative, thereby anticipating the pessimistic turn in her political vision and later writings.
Key Words
Mary Wollstonecraft, Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, travel narrative, conjectural history, social utopia
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