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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.4, 607 ~ 623, 2019
Mary Wollstonecraft’s Reflections on the French Revolution in her Letters
Jihee Kim
Mary Wollstonecraft went to Paris in December 1792 to see revolutionary France for herself. Her experience in France had significant effects on her understanding of the French Revolution and even changed her earlier ideas about the Revolution. This paper traces Wollstonecraft’s view of the Revolution by examining her lesser known epistolary introduction for “A Series of Letters on the Present Character of the French Nation” and her other writings, including her reviews of other writers’ epistolary works and her personal correspondence. This paper first looks at Wollstonecraft’s reviews on Helen Maria Williams’s Letters Written in France (1790) and Catharine Macaulay’s Letters on Education (1790) to investigate Wollstonecraft’s ideas of the published epistolary writings and to illuminate their influence on her introductory letter. It also explores her personal letter to Joseph Johnson on 26 December 1792 to examine the ways in which she wrote her eyewitness account of revolutionary France in her personal correspondence. The introductory letter, written two months after her arrival in Paris, reveals her initial response to France and shows her confusion between her expectations of the Revolution and what she actually witnessed in France. By exploring the internal evidence in the introductory letter, this paper sketches out what “A Series of Letters on the Present Character of the French Nation” was like. It then examines how Wollstonecraft offered her philosophical reflection on the Revolution in this introductory letter. However, she discontinued her epistolary project and instead started writing the history of the Revolution of 1789. This paper finishes by tracing the reasons why she stopped writing the epistolary work and began writing in the genre of history.
Key Words
Mary Wollstonecraft, Epistolary Writing, French Revolution, Personal Letters, Helen Maria Williams
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