Reflection on Annotated Bib

Upon the first read and with limited knowledge of the political and social context, I sensed, like most, that the story was much bigger than a single character or situation, and the preface also attempts to communicate this idea. However, having never read much on the socio-political works of the eighteenth-century considering women and their societal position, these three sources all help to frame Maria in the same circumstances as Wollstonecraft and other female contemporaries. Maria certainly is unique from other novels of the same time, as it is much more direct in its confrontation with social injustices, and even goes as far as mentioning Rousseau by name as the work Maria reads while in the asylum, which is what truly caught my attention. To what extent does the concept of motherhood in Maria leave the domestic sphere to occupy the political, and what is the significance of this overlap?

Field’s article, focused primarily on The Vindication of the Rights of Woman as a reaction to Enlightenment ideas on women and Rousseau’s justifications for their inferiority, speaks to the novel as a socio-political text under influence of the French Revolution. This brings into question Wollstonecraft’s argument for female equality and independence, as it appears counter to feminism, at least to modern feminism. However, whether Vindication is or is not a solid argument is not the point of my search. Rather, I thought to translate the ideas of Vindication over to Maria and assess if and how Maria serves as a literary vehicle for the same beliefs.

Literature also seems, based on the articles, a means in which maternity entered a larger cultural sphere outside the home. “The Maternal Ailment” touches on the developing literary discourse relating to such things as pregnancy and breastfeeding, along with highly influential and popular handbooks circulating the public with instructions on what constitutes a good pregnancy and a good mother. Obviously, this is helpful in the examination of changes in cultural approaches to maternity, but, I thought, the infiltration of motherhood and the injustices done to female subjects into fiction by Wollstonecraft and others, seems like a counter move to the cultural turn.

In examining Maria as both resistance and reformation literature with hefty and serious interests in political and cultural emphases, I began to wonder why other text we had read this semester (besides maybe Clarissa’s center on spiritual growth) seems to match this novel in weight. The early amatory fiction, for example, although claiming moral guidance as a main purpose, is nowhere near matching Maria’s treatment of the female condition. Perhaps this has something to do with the lack of (or just less) realism, whereas Maria at least has psychological realism? Either way, issues of maternity, while a cultural commodity in the popular cultural literature, takes on a new socio-political gravity in Maria and is now in discourse with texts outside a purely domestic concern. Of course, much more research is still necessary for this inquiry.


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,

            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,

            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.

Kelly on Wollstonecraft

When considering how anti-sentimentality Maria is while also being a bit sentimental itself, I cannot help but picture Wollstonecraft’s argument at cyclical. What I mean is that she participates within this tradition, because this is the medium with which she not only can address her targeted audience but also because she must operate within the system she wishes to reform. For Wollstonecraft, sentimentality infiltrates literature as much as it does those who read and write it. This leads me to a quote from Johnson:
“Given the aversion to sentimental femininity evinced in Mary, it is not hard to see what Wollstonecraft considered so promising in the feminist-inflected version of Commonwealth ideology articulated in Rights of Woman. Having reclaimed men from customs of hereditary wealth and privilege that debase them, Wollstonecraft’s politics would improve women as well: de-essentializing republican masculinity by opening it out to women, it would emancipate women from the etiolated, amoral, and unfree body to which they had been assigned; it would de-eroticize their incapacity, and urge them on to the physical and intellectual strength recommended for men […]” (59).

The betterment of the female position being dependent on the reestablishment of the male counterpart sheds an interesting perspective on the patriarchal hierarchy Wollstonecraft is addressing both in literature and in the domestic sphere. Instead of the roles of superior and inferior being fixed, they are instead fluid, but only so much in the sense that the female position moves according to the male:
“It is bad enough that women […] have been brought up to be weak, idle, spoiled, dependent, and self-indulgent. But when men typify women’s worst faults, we cannot wonder to find mankind enthralled by tyrants” (Johnson 30).

As sentimentality encourages, for Wollstonecraft, men to occupy what are considered female positions or faults, women are forced down to the level of children or even animals (I believe Johnson somewhere mentions Maria as creature-like, while she is abused, sold, hunted, and captured). As seen from the order of the quotes below, Wollstonecraft brings forth this issue of infantilizing women and a shifting hierarchy from the domestic and personal sphere into the public and political:
“Grief and care had mellowed, without obscuring, the bright tints of youth, and the thoughtfulness which resided on her brow did not take from the feminine softness of her features; nay, such was the sensibility which often mantled over it, that she frequently appeared, like a large proportion of her sex, only born to feel; and the activity of her well-proportioned, and even almost voluptuous figure, inspired the idea of strength of mind, rather than of body. There was a simplicity sometimes indeed in her manner, which bordered on infantine ingenuousness, that led people of common discernment to underrate her talents, and smile at the flights of her imagination” (32).

“By allowing women but one way of rising in the world, the fostering of libertinism of men, society makes monsters of them, and then their ignoble vices are brought forward as a proof of inferiority of intellect” (72).

“Men who are inferior to their fellow men, are always most anxious to establish their superiority over women” (79).

Aside from the domestic space, I am wondering how much emphasis Maria puts on the rejection of sentimentality in literature and how this coexists with realism that we’ve read so far.

Kelly’s Annotated Bib

REEVES, JAMES BRYANT. “Posthumous Presence in Richardson’s ‘Clarissa.’” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 53, no. 3, 2013, pp. 601–621.,

Reeves’ article argues against the mainstream criticisms which state Clarissa’s voice, after death, is silenced forever, and she remains unheard as she was when she was alive. Instead, through her letters and the will, Clarissa not only maintains agency but also an agenda to reform the secular world while deceased. Moreover, Reeves has a different stance on Richardson’s eschatology and idea of providence. He contradicts the opinion many scholars share regarding Richardson’s material world, that of the spiritual, and how they never overlap. While recognizing that the spiritual realm is superior to the material, Reeves asserts the material world is still contained within the divine, and the purpose of the spiritual is to redeem and reform its counter, not to abandon it. Thus, Clarissa, described as angelic throughout the novel, embodies the mixing of both the corporeal and divine; once she dies, her documents disrupt the linear timeline of the earlier parts of the novel, forcing the reader to reevaluate the meaning of time, and gives way to the eternal.

NAZAR, HINA. “JUDGING CLARISSA’S HEART.” ELH, vol. 79, no. 1, 2012, pp. 85–109.,

Nazar’s article approaches Clarissa as a novel which questions traditional morality. Primarily focusing on Clarissa’s two sources of morality, her heart and Anna, her best friend, Nazar examines the ways in which the inner and outer voices aid in Clarissa’s understanding of what is right. The heart, or her conscious, is god-given and allows her enough autonomy to disobey her family under the claim of spiritual obedience. Yet, at the same time, her heart judges freely without any participation from Clarissa’s mind, and, as Nazar points out, Clarissa is often skeptical of her initial judgements. Thus, employing Anna as her mirror, Clarissa engages in reflective judgement, a relative morality based on accordance with others and which grants its own validity. This social engagement, Nazar comments, is perpetuated in the epistolary form, as letters are a social space, unlike a diary. Again, the duality of secular and divine issues exist within Clarissa, and, with her refusal to adhere ultimately to Anna’s suggestions to marry Lovelace, she ultimately rejects the new morality constructed on social participation. Ending on a quote by Kant, Nazar explains how the social morality everyone seems to be pushing onto Clarissa is self-fulfilling and nothing more.

While Nazar’s article is not exactly in the same vein as Reeves’, the choice Clarissa makes to follow her heart rather than the thoughts of others is an act of her transcending the secular. But, most importantly, it links the spiritual with the material world and offers the latter up for scrutiny and, possibly, reform.