While best remembered for her revolutionary work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), renowned feminist, author, and thinker Mary Wollstonecraft’s most popular book during her lifetime was a travel narrative, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. As acclaimed travel author and novelist Joanna Kavenna notes in an insightful new introduction, Wollstonecraft’s overlooked classic is timeless in its appeal and surprisingly modern in its sensibility.
The impetus behind her trip couldn’t be more dramatic: Just two weeks after her first suicide attempt, Wollstonecraft sets out for Scandinavia in order to retrieve a stolen treasure ship for her lover, Gilbert Imlay. Believing that the journey would restore their strained relationship, she eagerly embarks with her baby daughter and a nursemaid. As she travels across the dramatic landscape, she writes vividly of the people she encounters, events she witnesses, and the natural landscape in a sublime style that would later influence the Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Yet the letters also reflect her anguish as she comes to realize that her love affair is fated to end.
Letters Written from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is an arresting travel book, a deeply personal memoir, and a provocative, philosophical exploration of identity and politics. Wollstonecraft's future husband, philosopher William 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.” In its day, it inspired hordes of readers to travel to Scandinavia. Now, freshly reintroduced, Mary Wollstonecraft's remarkable Letters will enchant a new generation of readers and world travelers.
Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was published at the end of the 18th century—one marked by the concept of “enlightenment,” by the gradual erosion of monarchical authority (which reached its apex with the French Revolution in 1789), and by the birth of democracy. While the question of the rights of men engendered lively debate at that time, a woman's lot remained unconsidered. Wollstonecraft, however, was determined to change this and to add a dissenting female voice to the chorus debating political emancipation. Best known as a radical feminist, Wollstonecraft wrote about politics, history, and various aspects of philosophy in a number of different genres that included critical Praise for, translations, pamphlets, and novels. She also shaped the art of travel writing as a literary genre and, through her account of her journey through Scandinavia, she had an impact on the Romantic movement.
Joanna Kavenna grew up in various parts of Britain, and has also lived in the USA, France, Germany, Scandinavia, and the Baltic States. Her first book, The Ice Museum, was about traveling in the remote North, among other things. Her second was a novel called Inglorious, which won the Orange Award for New Writing. It was followed by a novel called The Birth of Love, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize. Her latest novel is a satire called Come to the Edge. Kavenna's writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, the Guardian and Observer, the Times Literary Supplement, the International Herald Tribune, the Spectator and the Telegraph, among others. She was named as one of the Telegraph's 20 "Writers under 40" in 2010. She has most recently been the Writer-in-Residence at St Peter's College, Oxford.