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Mary Wollstonecraft

Letters Written During a Short Residence
in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark

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A deeply personal and still politically and socially minded travel narrative by the great 18th century British feminist, the last of her works to be published during her lifetime.

“If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration,” said her future husband, the revolutionary philosopher William Godwin.

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About the Author

Mary Wollstonecraft, born April 27, 1759, was an English writer, philosopher and feminist who led an unconventional and eventful, if not always happy, life. Here is not the place to go into biographical details, but some of her writings have to be mentioned: Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787), the novel Mary (1788), A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), its unfinished novelistic sequel, Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (published posthumously), and the present book, the travel narrative Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796).

Living in Paris during the French Revolution, Mary Wollstonecraft strongly welcomed it, but became horrified by the Jacobin Reign of Terror, during which some of her friends were executed. She entered into a relationship with the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay, and in 1794 gave birth to their daughter Fanny. Imlay soon afterwards left Paris for London, where she followed him the next year, but found him unwilling to continue their relationship. After a failed suicide attempt in May 1795 with poison she tried to win Imlay back by undertaking a journey to Sweden, Norway and Denmark, hoping to conduct some business transactions on his behalf -- the letters she wrote to him during that journey, edited by her for publication, make up this book.

When upon her return to London she realized that the relationship with Imlay was definitely over, she made another suicide attempt, jumping into the River Thames on a rainy night, but was rescued by a passer-by. Eventually she began a relationship with the journalist, political philosopher and novelist William Godwin, a happy relationship of mutual love and respect. About her Letters he 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. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration.” They married in March 1797 after she had become pregnant. Giving birth to her second daughter, Mary -- who would become famous as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein -- she contracted sepsis, and died after days of agony on September 10, 1797.

In January 1798 Godwin published his biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which he had begun writing immediately after her death. While he portrayed her with love and appreciation, the book was received very badly, and he was scathed for openly speaking about her love affairs, her close friendships with women, her illegitimate child, and her suicide attempts. This book and its reception severely damaged her reputation, and it took almost a century before, in the late 1800s, her person, her writings and her thoughts slowly began to find their rightful place in the history of feminism, and to gain the recognition they deserve.

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