Rebellious Marys at the Crossroads

Self-Development in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Novels, Mary and Maria


  • Éva ANTAL



reading, self-development, Bildungsroman, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary, Maria


The context of the present article is my research on philosophies of female education and the questions of female Bildung in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in England. Female writings seem to rely on the theoretical background provided by the well-known male authors in order to present a critical and ironical reading. In my study, I highlight the ways of development expressed in the open and closed spaces in Mary Wollstonecraft’s novels. In the quite autobiographical Mary (1788), in accordance with the characteristic aversion to the household, the heroine feels at home in nature, or on the road (cf. homelessness). Meanwhile, having left the suffocating milieu of her home and her marriage, she finds her peace and partner in her own way. In the unfinished novel, Maria (1798), the prisonlike environment of the wife with her actual imprisonment in the Gothic asylum, physically represents the patriarchal restraints in women’s lives. Maria is a rebel, she leaves her husband, and later her readings free her mind. In both novels the heroines struggle with the expectations of the age and their paths of life display the possibilities for development offered to a young woman in the second half of the eighteenth century—in the framework of Wollstonecraft’s early Bildungsromane.