Mary Wollstonecraft - Major Works - Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796)

Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796)

Wollstonecraft's Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is a deeply personal travel narrative. The twenty-five letters cover a wide range of topics, from sociological reflections on Scandinavia and its peoples to philosophical questions regarding identity to musings on her relationship with Imlay (although he is not referred to by name in the text). Using the rhetoric of the sublime, Wollstonecraft explores the relationship between the self and society. Reflecting the strong influence of Rousseau, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark shares the themes of the French philosopher's Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1782): "the search for the source of human happiness, the stoic rejection of material goods, the ecstatic embrace of nature, and the essential role of sentiment in understanding". While Rousseau ultimately rejects society, however, Wollstonecraft celebrates domestic scenes and industrial progress in her text.

Wollstonecraft promotes subjective experience, particularly in relation to nature, exploring the connections between the sublime and sensibility. Many of the letters describe the breathtaking scenery of Scandinavia and Wollstonecraft's desire to create an emotional connection to that natural world. In so doing, she gives greater value to the imagination than she had in previous works. As in her previous writings, she champions the liberation and education of women. In a change from her earlier works, however, she illustrates the detrimental effects of commerce on society, contrasting the imaginative connection to the world with a commercial and mercenary one, an attitude she associates with Imlay.

Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark was Wollstonecraft's most popular book in the 1790s. It sold well and was reviewed positively by most critics. Godwin wrote "if ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book." It influenced Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who drew on its themes and its aesthetic.

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