Wollstonecraft Annotated Bib 2 – McCafferty

Field, Corinne. “BREAST-FEEDING, SEXUAL PLEASURE, AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT’S VINDICATION.” Critical Matrix, vol. 9, no. 2, Princeton University, Program in the Study of Women and Gender, Dec. 1995, p. 25, http://search.proquest.com/docview/89070870/.

            In this article, Field discusses and dissects Mary Wollstonecraft’s argument for female equality in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by means of historical, political, biographical, and cultural contexts concerning maternity. In understanding Wollstonecraft’s text as a response to Enlightenment ideas on women’s bodies and their inferior position to male counterparts, Field notes that Vindication, addressed more specifically to Rousseau, employs the act of breastfeeding as evidence for women’s education and independence rather than against it. Flipping Rousseau’s argument over, Wollstonecraft refers to the anti-wet nurse campaign as reason women are meant to be more than sexual objects in the role as mother and also suggests that “men’s desire turned women into sexual objects for male consumption, but this male-defined sexuality could not be natural because it prevented women from being good mothers.” Aside from establishing the female breast as the location of female independence and agency, Field also speculates on Wollstonecraft’s rationale of rejecting coquetry for “rational affection” as a reaction to her own witnessing of the unpleasant interactions between her parents. Ending the article, Field acknowledges the irony between Wollstonecraft’s idea that nature granted pregnant women and mothers a status above a mere sexual object and her untimely death after complications during giving birth and also the irony of her argument regarding the female breast and how it is seemingly counter-revolutionary to feminism, particularly modern feminism.

“The Maternal Aliment: Feeding Daughters in the Works of Mary       Wollstonecraft.” Spilling the Beans: Eating, Cooking, Reading and Writing in British   Women’s Fiction, 1770-1830, Manchester University Press, 2013.

            In this rather lengthy chapter, issues of consumption and (re)production regarding the mother’s body in both socio-historical and literary contexts are the main concentration. The change of culture relating to breastfeeding and pregnancy shifted according to literary discourse. Taking, for example, William Buchan, a popular obstetrician who wrote books on pregnancy and maternity and who expressed the opinion that a mother was more than a woman who birthed a child, is one of many influential writers of these handbooks. These handbooks sought to instruct women on how to conduct themselves during pregnancy and childbirth to adhere to the “ideal” status. The chapter continues with this eighteenth-century idea on mothers as both consumers and producers in relation to Mary Wollstonecraft’s texts, where mothers also exist in the contexts of food and nutrition (in the sense of both food and instruction). When milk is no longer needed or available, the mother’s writing becomes its substitute nutrients, particularly to girls. Within Wollstonecraft’s texts, images of food reflect the quality of mothering they receive.

Raisanen, Elizabeth. Childbirth and Confinement: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Politics of Pregnancy. eScholarship, Mar. 2011, http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/18p0x4r5.

            Raisanen draws a parallel connection between the events or possible events in Maria and the choices Mary Wollstonecraft made regarding her own time giving birth. Beginning with the latter, Raisanen notes the puerperal fever Wollstonecraft developed after one male physician, with unwashed hands, extracted the placenta still lodged within her. Although Wollstonecraft had and much preferred a midwife, she did not have as much of an influence in the room as the obstetrician. Of course, as Raisanen acknowledges, was a current issue of the time, as female practitioners were not well received, and “a male physician was now deemed necessary to interpret the female body.” Although Maria is an unfinished work, Raisanen argues that its treatment of pregnancy and childbirth is one example of women writers’ expressing against the lack of influence eighteenth-century women possess. Maria is confined within a miserable marriage, pregnancy, and a madhouse while also stifled under the laws which subjects her and her child to the husband. Reflecting on the fragments of Maria, Raisanen concentrates on the suicide scenario, in which Jemima guides Maria back from the act during her second pregnancy. This, Raisanen assumes, is Wollstonecraft choosing female company and authority over her own body.

While this text is much shorter than the others and admittedly not as insightful, it may be useful in considering how much Wollstonecraft’s pregnancy influenced or would have influenced the ending of Maria. I believe this may be helpful to consider how she was received, since her contemporaries and some other earlier scholars have been known to hold Wollstonecraft’s texts up against her biography.

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Annie’s 2nd Annotated Bibliography

Updated 10/24/19: I’ve added my third source and annotation to the end of this list.

Mckeon, Michael. “Generic Transformation and Social Change: Rethinking the Rise of the Novel.” Cultural Critique 1 (1985): 159–181. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1354286.

McKeon argues that there are “great instances of categorical instability” that led to the rise of the novel: instability of literary genre categories and instability of “social categories” (161). He describes the first as “a major cultural transition in attitudes toward how to tell the truth in narrative” (161). And the second, as “a cultural crisis in attitudes toward how the external social order is related to the internal, moral state of its members” (161).

Regarding genre categories, there was on one side a criticism of “romantic” novels that became a “naive empiricist championing of ‘true history’” (163). But which was then met by a counter-critique that insisted the version these “naïve empiricists” put forth still wasn’t “real.” Fielding’s fiction, he argues, criticized the camp he labels the “extreme skeptics,” who had somehow become critical of “romance” in a way that made their writings become merely a species of an older type of romance. Ultimately, he argues that the novel came into existence “not in the isolated emergence of a great text or two, but as an experimental process consisting of many different stages” (170).

This was a difficult text for me, but one big takeaway for me is merely the witnessing of the “fights” over which narrative form was the most realistic. The squabbles happening over which genre was “best” at representing truth makes me feel that since then not much has changed: one person writes a novel, and soon after another writer writes a novel that somehow criticizes the previous for not being “real” enough but in the process executes some type of form that someone in the following generation will also find unrealistic.

Ross, Deborah L. “Introduction.” Excellence of Falsehood : Romance, Realism, and Women’s Contribution to the Novel, University Press of Kentucky, 1991. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uh/detail.action?docID=1915419.

Deborah Ross’ introduction argues that some of the debate surrounding the realistic capabilities of the “romance” vs. the realistic novel actually falls along gender lines. She writes the following:

“But this particular battle was clearly, in part, a battle of the sexes, a continued attempt to fortify serious literature against the encroachment of women’s writings, which were becoming ever more abundant and popular. When novels were the preferred form, writers such as Henry Fielding scornfully classed Eliza Haywood’s productions with French romances. And later, when romance was enjoying a new respectability, writers such as Sir Walter Scott wrote patronizingly of the “realist” Jane Austen. The need to draw and redraw lines that would keep women on the wrong side added zest to critics’ attempts to use “resemblance to truth” to separate “romance” from ‘novel'” (10).

Part of Ross’ argument, however, is that even the “realist” novels being written by men in the later part of the 18th century were still borrowing conventions from earlier romances. And that the 18th “romances” written by women (Burney among them) held elements that were in certain ways very real and true to the people writing them.

This source, again, makes me troubled simply that we have a mode called “realism.” Is this mode more “real” than other modes of writing? I question its name.

Carnell, Rachel. “Introduction.” Partisan Politics, Narrative Realism, and the Rise of the British Novel, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uh/detail.action?docID=308021.

Carnell in this book is analyzing Richardson, Austen, and others from a political perspective: how were their novels commenting on the political parties of the time? Her overall thesis is essentially that the political partisanship of the time “helped determine the formal structures we have come to call narrative realism” (1). A couple claims in this introduction I found pertinent to my questions about realism: that more recent scholarship of the 18th century novel has been “cautious about focusing on formalist conventions that have been used to distinguish ‘great’ from ‘lesser’ works of literature” (1). And that what for a time was honored as the most realistic novels of the century falls not just along gender lines but also at times along political lines:

“Given the outcome of the events of 1688 and the subsequent emergence of Whig political dominance in eighteenth-century Britain, those writers handed down to us as serious, ‘realistic’ novelists have frequently been either Whig or anti-Jacobite Tory. Defoe has been admired since the early nineteenth century for his ‘natural painting.’ Fielding and Austen have been touted for their use of irony in depicting the social realities of their eras. By contrast, the narrative irony in Eliza Haywood’s late pro-Jacobite novels has rarely been mentioned by critics, and the pro-Stuart Behn is seldom considered a realist novelist, even though she employs many of the techniques associated with narrative realism in traditional scholarship” (9-10).