Between Landscape and Confinement

Title: Between Landscape and Confinement: Situating the Writings of Mary Wollstonecraft

Author: Emma Cheatle

In: Architecture and Feminisms: Ecologies, Economies, Technologies, ed. by Hélène Frichot, Catharina Gabrielsson and Helen Runting (London: Routledge, 2018), Chapter 5. ISBN: 9780203729717 (ebk.)

Year: 2018

Abstract: This piece of writing is an excerpt from an essay that speculates on the importance of spatial and material references to the eighteenth-century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. The essay uses critical and creative writing to present the way in which Wollstonecraft’s feminism developed through references to landscape, domestic objects, and interior space. There are two sections. ‘Landscape’ (reproduced here) sets out the way that Wollstonecraft used the material motifs of place, air, and built structure to repudiate Edmund Burke’s condemnation of the French Revolution. Her subsequent book, on the natural landscape of Scandinavia, dwells on the detailed materiality of place to argue that Burke’s gendered tropes of ‘sublime’ and ‘beautiful’ are interdependent and grounding rather than in terrifying opposition. ‘Confinement’ draws out Wollstonecraft’s seemingly contradictory positions towards domesticity: though she was known for her caustic rejection of the conventions of Georgian marriage, domesticity, and property, and their ensuing confinement of women, she carefully positioned the objects of domesticity at the centre of family life. Her own maternal ‘confinement’ at home in the Polygon, Somers Town, London, resulted in the birth of her second child – the future Mary Shelley – and her own death eleven days later. 

In the essay, the critical text is punctuated with ‘found’ postcards (figures 1–5) – creative texts composed whilst walking through Somers Town in search of the signs of the long-vanished Polygon. Written to Mary as ‘love letters’, these provide an alternative literary thread, drawing out imagined, personal detail. Written now into the past, and both intimate and public, the postcards recall Jacques Derrida’s The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (1980) where the ‘post card’ operates as a material and metaphorical ‘lever’, a switch-point or gear, to reconnect time, place, and people.