Abstract: I teach Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) in an undergraduate English literature course on “Survival Narratives of the Eighteenth Century” at the University of California, Davis. The aim of this course is to show how significant perilous voyages were to the ways in which writers in eighteenth-century Britain imagined and interpreted their world. The course draws from the burst of new scholarship on rethinking the traditional “rise of the novel” narrative in imperial, oceanic, and global contexts and develops interpretive frameworks for the eighteenth century’s changing relationship to commerce and exploration. Wollstonecraft’s travelogue is the final text in a syllabus that begins with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and continues with Phillis Wheatley’s poetry about ocean voyages and Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789). Wollstonecraft’s account of traveling in Scandinavia, written in the aftermath of the French Revolution, is more concerned with the survival of the human species than the survival of the individual. But reading Wollstonecraft’s travelogue in a course on survival narratives primes students to understand how the material conditions of reading and writing—often taking place under extreme circumstances—shaped the literature being produced in the eighteenth century. In this essay, I describe a metacognitive exercise in which students reflected on Wollstonecraft’s meditation on survival in an era of environmental catastrophe with their own “travelogues” written from where they logged into the Zoom classroom. With classes online at the time due to COVID-19, many of my students drew on this lesson to discuss how a moment of crisis shaped their skills and experiences as writers.
Travelogue, trauma, transatlantic slave trade, survival
"Teaching Mary Wollstonecraft's Travelogue of Historical Trauma,"
ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830: Vol.12: Iss.2, Article 8.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/abo/vol12/iss2/8