I have finally discovered the source of my previous inability to post to the blog. Hurrah!
I went into the research process knowing that I wanted to look into conceptions of maternity and motherhood, as Maria is so focused on this role. It’s likely, too, that I was particularly affected by the trauma of having one’s newborn torn from them and then likely killed via neglect or malice; as a mother myself, stories in which a child is lost or taken have a profound impact on me. It was interesting, too, that Maria was so focused on re-uniting with her child—not because it’s unusual for a mother to want to be with their child but because, in much of literature, children are somewhat of a trap for women characters. Literary children limit their mother’s autonomy even more than it already is, foreclose on avenues of freedom and self-sufficiency, and generally seem to represent a terrible burden that, ironically or paradoxically, also seem capable of exciting deep attachment and love.
As I researched Maria, however, I found that many of the articles were returning to this conversation about breastfeeding and Wollstonecraft’s general feminist philosophy. It was for this reason that I selected three texts, spanning roughly the last quarter-century, that sought to critique or redeem Wollstonecraft’s apparent focus on breast-feeding as something that could somehow grant women both the benefits of gendered femininity and the benefits of a less gendered citizenship or companionship. As my future research plans heavily incorporate women writers’ depictions of female relationships—motherhood, sisterhood, daughter…hood?—I am intrigued by the notion of seeing how the expectations and performance of motherhood evolved from its 18th century roots into the present. I may, then, attempt to build on this research by seeking to read more texts that discuss woman as a maternal figure; I’m not sure yet if this research should perform comparative work between Wollstonecraft and her contemporaries or if I should move further into the future to trace an evolution. At least three of the texts that I’m considering for my dissertation are contemporary women’s literature that prominently feature a mother/daughter relationship and some discuss the myth of the maternal rather explicitly.
Beyond this insight about the direction my research should take, I found the cultural context in these articles to be very interesting. One of the reasons I experience somewhat more difficulty in coming up with and making strong claims about historical fiction is my anxiety about the need for cultural context. I’m not particularly comfortable drawing conclusions about the significance or implications of a text when I know little-to-nothing about the issues it was addressing, the climate into which it was released, and the probable and actual responses of its audience. The research process did what I usually most want a research process to do: educate me about some of the things I didn’t know that the author and her readers would have. Perhaps this is because I’ve been teaching some version of Freshman Comp I & II for the last 5 years of my life, but I think the audience shapes the text. Obviously, we can see and argue that these types of classic literary texts remain relevant and are, in their way, timeless—but I still struggle to see how I can prove some difference or similarity to other texts if I have no concept of how that text would have been conceived and received.