Annotated Bibliography: Self-Narration in Wollstonecraft’s Maria

Borham-Puyal, Miriam. “Jemima’s Wrongs: Reading the Female Body in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Prostitute Biography.” International Journal of English Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, Jan. 2019, pp. 97–112.

In this article, Borham-Puyal focuses on Jemima’s self-narration as a moment in conversation with the genre of “prostitute’s biographies” popular among eighteenth-century audiences; she draws comparisons, particularly, with Defoe’s Moll Flanders. The inset narrative, the writer argues, allows Jemima the agency and space to frame the ways that society has both constructed her body as monstrous and forced her to act as a machine, with the first-person voice allowing her to become more than the commodity the genre typically makes its female subjects. Borham-Puyal concludes by re-stating the connection between Wollstonecraft’s narratives of entrapment and current feminist debates, highlighting a “need for feminist history to be understood as multilinear and multidirectional” (110).

Hoeveler, Diane Long. “Reading the Wound: Wollstonecraft’s ‘Wrongs of Woman, or Maria’ and Trauma Theory.” Studies in the Novel, vol. 31, no. 4, 1999, pp. 387–408.

Hoeveler uses Freud’s theory of trauma to examine the implications of the inset narratives and aborted endings in Maria. Important for this article is the discussion of character experiences and the resulting behaviors as cyclical; this is representative of the ways that trauma cannot be dismissed, and instead “lives a life of its own, twisting and turning in the victim’s psyche and on whatever page he or she attempts to compose” (402). Jemima, as a result of her traumas, becomes “as damaged and damaging as her oppressors” (395). In a testament to the “persistent power of traumatic residue,” Maria consistently “finds herself in yet another victimized situation” (399). For Hoeveler, these considerations are important in that they show us the ways that Wollstonecraft used fiction to transform her own traumas. Importantly, Hoeveler also points out that Maria’s self-narrative never reaches its intended audience; additionally, when Maria writes to speak in court, she is dismissed by the judge.

Schönfelder, Christa. “The ‘Wounded Mind’: Feminism, Trauma, and Self-Narration in Mary Wollstonecraft’s The Wrongs of Woman.” Wounds and Words: Childhood and Family Trauma in Romantic and Postmodern Fiction, pp. 87–126. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2013.

Central to Schönfelder’s discussion is the importance of childhood trauma, in the form of “unhealthy and destructive parent-child relationships,” to the accounts of Jemima, Darnford and Maria, with the consequences depicted as less severe in the man’s case (96). Childhood trauma, Schönfelder reads, has a formative effect that readers can trace through the novel’s numerous narratives about women’s suffering. She emphasizes the resourcefulness and resilience of characters like Maria and Jemima, and the potential of narrative to create bonds and “facilitate personal and political change” (100). The importance of narrative, here, is not simply in expression—personal therapy—but in its allowing the formation of communities; response to trauma becomes a source of (female) power. The complex and fragmentary nature of the text, however, with gaps evidence both in the novel’s structure and in its characters’ individual languages, serves as a lingering testament to the “persistent power of trauma” (120). Like Hoeveler, Schönfelder concludes that the cyclical nature of the novel’s story undercuts the potential healing power of narration.