Reflection

In approaching the second annotated bibliography, my initial thought was to seek articles or chapters dealing with the inset narratives in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria, or The Wrongs of Women. In particular, I was interested in Jemima, and the first source I found dealt with Jemima’s self-narration as it provides a potential commentary on prostitute biographies, a popular genre of the eighteenth century. As I continued to peruse the articles available, I noticed several titles making reference to theories of trauma and discussion of Wollstonecraft. The two that I chose deal specifically with narration and trauma, examining the ways that trauma both can and can’t be expressed through spoken narrative or writing.

I hadn’t considered the lens of trauma theory when I first explored the topic, and I’m still pondering how those considerations color ideas of the power of narration. My interest in form began with the first annotated bibliography, which focused specifically on Clarissa’s epistolary framework. One point that came up during class discussion of my annotated bibliography on Maria, however, was the potential for the ideas of trauma and narration to be examined in relation to Clarissa as well. Looking back on those earlier annotations, I recall Kvande’s connection between the epistolary form and the “female expressive self” (240). It’s interesting to consider the moments when Clarissa is able to put words to her trauma, and the moments where her ability to express herself fail. Maria is fragmentary in its form, which speaks in some ways to the nature of its heroine’s conflicts; Clarissa’s mental state in the aftermath of her rape by Lovelace is also represented through textual fragments. Trauma often seems to impede narrative in these texts, even as characters seek to use narrative—written or spoken—to articulate or to resolve trauma.

Both assignments provided an opportunity to investigate the minutia of the related works’ structures to a more significant extent. Schönfelder’s article, for example, noted that as many as twenty-five narratives of female experiences are articulated, to either a limited or deeper extent, as Maria develops. I enjoyed pursuing those threads for purposes of the annotations; I am interested in the way that those narrative details influence the work as a whole. I’m not certain how much bearing the lens of trauma theory will have on my work as I anticipate the final project. However, I hope that the discussions of narrative will in some way prove useful even if my project isn’t centered on Clarissa or Maria in particular.

As I mentioned in class, I am interested in developing a final project based on gaming treatment of, for lack of a better phrase, the “world of Jane Austen.” Thus far, I have done some reading about an online game called Ever, Jane and a card-based game called Good Society: A Jane Austen RPG. Both involve a multiplayer format, and dynamics and storylines are based in character/player interactions. For the project itself, I might explore how the narrative style that the gaming structure facilitates approximates the forms we have seen in the texts we have read this semester. The desire to engage with material in something like a game implies significant appreciation; I am also curious to consider what conclusions games like these might allow us to draw about the way contemporary audiences think about the world surrounding Austen.

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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.

Annotations (Clarissa, Week 4)

I have remained particularly fascinated by the narrative framework of Clarissa. The epistolary form allows for a complex interweaving of perspectives, which Richardson has complicated still further by the pointed addition of the editor as a figure who oversees the compilation of the novel’s correspondences. Our understandings are mediated on several levels. There are plenty of examples today of texts presented as collections of material: novels (usually “chick lit” or young adult) written entirely in the form of fictional email correspondence between characters come to mind, as well as films structured as “found footage.”

Annotations

Johnson, Glen M. “Richardson’s ‘Editor’ in Clarissa.” Journal of Narrative Technique, vol. 10, 1980, pp. 99–114. JSTOR.

In this article, Johnson addresses what he deems a lack of critical attention to the editorial voice that provides the “extensive apparatus” of the Richardson’s Clarissa (99). Although the editorial voice does not purport to narrate, the presence does hold “important narrative force” in offering footnotes and cross-references; the editor is also responsible for the arrangement and selective excerpting of documents. Johnson argues that the editorial voice both adds to the novel’s sense of verisimilitude and guides reader understanding. The editor can fill in where including relevant details in letters would feel inorganic and undermine the sense of “real-life” correspondence (105). Importantly for Richardson, the apparatus also lends a sense of authority to the novel’s moral arguments.

Johnson’s article is an interesting study in the editorial presence’s mediation of our reception of the story of Clarissa. It is also useful for a background on the technique, which did not originate with Richardson; the practice of “writing elaborate notes to a literary text” had grown relatively widespread by the mid-1700s (104). The article also provides a detailed account of the number of footnotes and editorial asides. I appreciated the discussion of the ways that the editorial notes provide an intrusion within the novel’s epistolary structure. Those intrusions are, of course, attributable to Richardson’s anxiety over his characters and messages being misinterpreted.

Kvande, Marta. “Printed in a Book: Negotiating Print and Manuscript Cultures in Fantomina and Clarissa.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 46, no. 2, Winter 2013, pp. 239–257. Academic Search Complete.

In this article, Marta Kvande points to both Clarissa and Fantomina as making important statements about the intersection between manuscript and print culture. Kvande’s argument hinges importantly on a “one-to-one relationship between body, letter, and self” found in the construction of Clarissa’s character (247). In her letters, representative of the social function essential to manuscript culture, Clarissa can represent her body—both with words and, sometimes, with form—and present her authentic self. However, the purity of that self proves unsustainable. The collection of her correspondence in print, as the reader is purported to receive it, allows for the preservation of Clarissa’s pure self; however, it also “mystifies” her control (246).  

Fantomina, Kvande explains, maintains control of her own representation; because that heroine “separates self from body and letters, [she] is not bound to a single unified self” (251). Where Clarissa embodies manuscript culture, Fantomina embodies the mutability of print. She uses letters as a way to manipulate Beauplaisir’s “investment in surfaces” (249). Kvande draws connections between both heroines and their creators’ level of investment in questions of manuscript versus print culture, and expressiveness versus rhetoric; there is particular attention to the conceptions of authority inherent to each.

Kvande addresses the connection between the epistolary form and the “female expressive self” (240). While she acknowledges that “it is Lovelace who has thoroughly mastered the manipulation of letters to gain his ends,” Kvande doesn’t account for the potential parallels between Lovelace’s letters and Fantomina’s, or between Clarissa’s tendency to accept Lovelace at surface value and Beauplaisir’s manipulability. It might be productive to explore the implications of the potential reversal a bit further.