Vindicating The Suffering Revolutionary Women In Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria

2410 words - 10 pages

To force me to give my fortune, I was imprisoned-yes: in a private madhouse…” (Maria 131-32). These lines from Mary Wollstonecraft’s (1759-1797) unfinished novella Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman substantiates the private operation of the madhouse where the protagonist Maria is confined. The importance of private ownership is that this places the madhouse outside the discourse of law. It is illegitimate yet it is legitimized as it is a symbol of male-dominated state oppression. Parallel to this Bastille becomes the direct symbol of the same repression which is used by Wollstonecraft to depict the predicament of dissenting revolutionary women in the late Eighteenth- century England. The language which she is using is evidently from the French Revolution as we know the symbolic importance of the dreaded tower of Bastille where political ‘criminals’ were imprisoned. So, Wollstonecraft’s objective is to politicize the genre of novel as the other Jacobin women writers- novel, for them, is a vehicle of political propaganda.

The objective of this paper is twofold. Firstly, to examine why Wollstonecraft felt this quest into the genre of novel for the politics which she already had discussed at length in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)? The second strand of inquiry will be into the domestic ideas of despotism which arise from gender discrimination perpetuated by the state machinery, with the legal system, in particular. This second strand will envelope the prevalent issues like the legally disadvantageous position of married as well as maternal women and how the revolutionary bodies of these mothers are confined along with infliction of mental harassment by both private and state systems. The issue of the imprisonment of female body will be examined in the light of female desire. I will attempt to chart out the direction and outcome of this desire to challenge legal strictures to give precedence to rights over duty. The practice of disciplining by confinement will be examined using Foucauldian model of “disciplinality.”

Coming to the question of the choice of genre by Wollstonecraft, it is a fact that novel was the most accessible narrative form to the masses in her times made the author along with the other Jacobin women writers, like Elizabeth Inchbald and Mary Hays, to use this form for their political content. Sadly, her attempt was aborted as the novel was left unfinished by Wollstonecraft. On the 10th of September 1797, (the same year she had married the radical Dissenter William Godwin, 1756-1856) she died after the birth of the daughter who lived to become Mary Shelly, the famed writer of Frankenstein. The fragmentary nature of this novella has its own political implications in the gender discourse. A fragment in patriarchal discourse is essentially feminine mode. Godwin’s Memoir (1798) for Wollstonecraft also substantiates that how patriarchy resisted to give women a voice of their own. There, evidently, was a paucity...

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