This book, let me tell you about it. This is a synopsis: "I am Mary Wollstonecraft! I am a woman (of feeling!), in case you did not know. And a writer! Watch me make this harrowing journey into the wilds of Scandinavia all alone! Listen to me whine about every inconvenience I encounter and speculate about how it reflects the grand nature of human progress! Woe that all the savages to the south and west of Europe have already been described and I am stuck philosophizing about the savages of Sweden! They are so primitive and unrefined, and yet so natural and unencumbered by the burdens of our evil Christian civilization! My soul is so delicate and sensitive! I see beauty and misery everywhere--in this rock! and in this blade of grass! I will describe this blade of grass for three pages! So sublime! Yet so melancholy! I feel so deeply and poetically that I can hardly stand it! Perhaps I shall kill myself! Oh, foiled! No worries, I shall try again!" In case you are not convinced, here is an actual quote:
I visited, near Gothenburg, a house with improved land about it, with which I was particularly delighted. It was close to a lake embosomed in pine-clad rocks. In one part of the meadows your eye was directed to the broad expanse, in another you were led into a shade, to see a part of it, in the form of a river, rush amongst the fragments of rocks and roots of trees; nothing seemed forced. One recess, particularly grand and solemn amongst the towering cliffs, had a rude stone table and seat placed in it, that might have served for a Druid's haunt, whilst a placid stream below enlivened the flowers on its margin, where light-footed elves would gladly have danced their airy rounds.Really. Embosomed. With dancing elves. This is followed by a commentary on how gauche the middle classes are compared to the poor, a theme that alternates with equally annoying discussions of how backwards but good-hearted the poor are. No one in Scandinavia quite passes muster, except maybe nature, which is described as "sublime" approximately one million times. There is even a passage where she complains about the terrible stench of the dried herring that the Swedes use as fertilizer, as though the cow dung in England smells like roses. Apparently though, people of "advanced views" in Europe swooned over this book. (Ugh, let me never come across that phrase again and I will be content.)
The only point I've so far thought of for this presentation is that this book might be the world's first instance of the unfortunate and widespread modern phenomena of both the emo style and oversharing. I'm pretty sure though that these are not legitimate observations for a history course.
Maybe I should study the 17th century instead?
UPDATE: Vindicated by 19th century French critic I have never heard of! If you care, you can search for Tocnaye in the Amazon preview of the Penguin edition.