Wollstonecraft’s Published Travel Letters: To Be Literary or Not To Be

I can’t stop thinking about our class’ conversation about if Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark could be considered “literary” or not. What are the boundaries? We talked about guide books for fixing toilets isn’t “literary,” but where does that leave works like fanfiction? And a collection of letters? Diaries? We talked about publishing, but when Anne Frank wrote her diary, I don’t think she ever intended or knew that one day her diary would be published. So, to me, publishing does not necessarily factor into the idea.

Iris mentioned something about emotions and feeling something when reading (at least, that’s the bit that I heard and then I started down a rabbit hole in my brain). That got me thinking about the later letters that are assigned for Thursday and how political the letters get. As I recall, Wollstonecraft was a supporter of the French Revolution so it surprised me that she was so in favor of this prince as so wonderful, pure, and selfless that I was waiting to hear the Disney tune from the beginning of the VHS tapes. Yes, maybe he was just that great and perfect, but I did roll my eyes at her description and view of him. That is, until she gets to complaining about a king that, from what I understand and remember, was not all mentally there (connected to age, not mentally disabled since she mentioned he was old). That was when I could hear her frustration quite clearly and she invoked similar frustration within me. I was right there with her, angrily folding towels and muttering about stupid governments. (I should clarify that I was listening to the audio-book while I did housework.) Wollstonecraft got me to feel something about the country that had to deal with a king that had to be babysit by his son and others around him.

That’s the point I’m trying to make: she made me feel something in the midst of chatting (writing) about her travels and observations. It made me feel and think. Isn’t that one of things that “literary” works do for us? To make us see something far away by bringing it closer, cradling in their written words and burning our minds by feelings and stirring up opinions? To provoke the humanity that we sometimes set aside in order to get through our day-to-day lives?

Of course, this is just my opinion, but I think sometimes with labeling what is “literary” and what is not, we lose sight of what the words were trying to say and make us feel. However, I know that it is a conversation that can be fun to have and is, at times, necessary to have when writing academically and critically. As an English major, I am quite aware.

(Word count: 472)