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Friends of our captivity: nature, terror and refugia in romantic women's literature

By S. E. Hunt


This essay explores the way that four Romantic women writers confronted perilous situations involving physical captivity, personal trauma and depression through engagement with the natural world. Mary Robinson and Charlotte Smith accompanied their husbands in the King’s Bench debtors’ prison. Helen Maria Williams was held captive in the Luxembourg Prison in Robespierre’s France. Mary Wollstonecraft also experienced and survived the Paris of the Terror but suffered protracted depression that culminated in two suicide attempts in the years that followed. Resilience derived from engagement with the natural world and transformed by the literary imagination helped these writers to cope with intensely threatening and disempowering spaces. Robinson, Smith and Williams in particular reiterate their desire for shared experience of the natural world. Such writings provide a counterpoint to more familiar Rousseauan and Wordsworthian evocations of the natural world, often predicated on the masculine convention of the solitary wanderer. For example a letter by Charlotte Smith fondly embraces the reassuring familiarity of the countryside and reunion with her family in a single conceit. While such a gendered distinction between the mutual and the solitary appreciation of nature is complicated by Wollstonecraft’s autobiographical essays these also strive to open up imaginative space for recuperation by negotiating the border between the natural and cultural

Publisher: Rodopi
Year: 2008
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