Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On the frontier of the United States

By DevinCook [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Mary Wollstonecraft travelled widely for an unmarried woman of modest means, but she never made it to the United States. She lived in many parts of England as a child and young woman; she visited Lisbon, under unhappy circumstances, and found its earthquaked cityscape matched her heart; she worked in Ireland, as a governess to the aristocracy, with whom she had little patience; she moved to France to document the ongoing revolution, and returned a mother; she (and her babe) wandered through Scandinavia, searching for a missing silver ship.

from Open Library
The first man she called husband was Gilbert Imlay, soldier, writer, businessman, diplomat, possibly spy. They met in Paris, but he had made a name for himself by publishing A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America in London in 1792. It was based on his time in Kentucky, speculating in land among other things. (When he left, it was suddenly and with debts undischarged.) 

This book about the frontier was intended to encourage other settlers, and with these visions he wooed Mary. She was quite willing to begin a new life, far from the strife of Europe; her youngest brother was already over there. In France the Revolution had become the Terror; in England the state was repressive. Far better to risk it all in some new, clean, unspoiled land! What she thought of the indigenous inhabitants, I do not know.

Imagining Mary Wollstonecraft on the frontiers of American wilderness, I think of Susannah Moodie, a gently brought up Englishwoman who found herself Roughing It in the Bush. How would Mary have coped?
George Caleb Bingham [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment