|Battery at Holmen, Risør -1814|
Bee's evocative and lively travel piece has finally appeared in The Telegraph:
She is a broken-hearted treasure-hunting single mum philosopher on the high seas, and I think I am a bit in love with her. So I am retracing her steps, on the part of her journey where she pursues a notorious Norwegian captain down the rocky coastline of the Skagerrak. Wollstonecraft undertook the voyage with her baby and a trusty maid. I am bringing my baby and a large rucksack but alas, no maid.
Wollstonecraft Letters map. Kmusser [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
|Tønsberg,by Karl Ragnar Gjertsen Krg.|
[GFDL or CC-BY-3.0]
We begin in Tønsberg, a coastal town to the south of Oslo where Wollstonecraft made a base for her treasure hunt. It's a pretty town, a jumble of coloured wooden houses that look like attractive garden sheds.
With a delightful local guide, Ursula Houge, I visit the places where our heroine relaxed, posted many letters to the undeserving Imlay, and dined out with Tønsberg's finest.
Wollstonecraft exclaims: "Norwegians enjoy all the blessings of freedom," but it's not just Norway's political possibilities that inspire her. Nature is hugely important. She responds to the sublime in the wilderness around her with abandon, and a lot of exclamation marks. Her new way of travel writing profoundly influenced subsequent Romantic writers; Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" has clear echoes of the book.Let us not forget that those exclamation marks made William Godwin her husband: the anarchist philosopher had written against the institution of marriage, and was acquainted with Mary only somewhat unwillingly, but he fell head over bachelor heels on reading the newly published Letters. The only line of his that I can quote from memory is: "If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book." Phwoar! That's about as racy as dearest Wm ever got. Bee named her travelling companion William, by the way:
Will (the baby) and I are staying in a hostel just below the brow of the hill on which Wollstonecraft often sat, overlooking the town and the surrounding sea. She wrote: "the white sails… turned the cliffs, or seemed to take shelter under the pines which covered the little islands that so gracefully rose to render the terrific ocean beautiful. The fishermen were calmly casting their nets; whilst the seagulls hovered over the unruffled deep."
|By Bilden är tagen av en amatörfotograf.Pihlbaoge|
Wollstonecraft travelled mostly by boat, heading westward in pursuit of the Norwegian captain who did a runner with Imlay's cargo of silver. I've enlisted the help of Gunnar Molden, a local historian and Wollstonecraft enthusiast, whose dogged research into this treacherous tale spans decades and countries. From Kragerø, Molden has arranged for a boat to take us on to Wollstonecraft's final stop. The moment we meet, we set about speculating on the missing silver and the Norwegian captain. Mick, the skipper, hadn't heard of Wollstonecraft's adventures here, but he's soon drawn in. We eat sugared cinnamon buns and I count jellyfish as we set sail. The sun is dazzling, there's a fair wind, and I'm so excited I can't sit still.
The lure of these islands is strong; there is magic in the notion of a miniature world, of setting foot on a child-sized kingdom. Watery adventures from childhood books spring to mind: Swallows and Amazons, The Famous Five, The Wind in the Willows.
|Visor Museum, by Jarvin - Jarle Vines [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0]|
Norway is expensive.... Wollstonecraft remarked that "my bill at Tønsberg was ... much higher than it ought to have been" and the intervening 216 years have done nothing to change this.Speaking of dosh, Bee has very kindly donated her payment for Norway and Mary Wollstonecraft: My heroine of the high seas to the campaign to raise a memorial statue. (I'm on the working group and have written about the project here.) In fact, Bee is offering more of her talents than mere money, and Mary on the Green can only benefit from her energy and enthusiasm. "She is a warm-hearted multi-mum writer/producer on the high seas, and I think I am a bit in love with her."