Making Space for Wollstonecraft: Mary Barker’s A Welsh Story

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Abstract

As Jane Aaron observes, as a setting for novels of sensibility and domestic fiction, Wales ‘could prove attractive to the Romantic radical, disillusioned by the restrictions and artifice of contemporary English culture.’ This certainly appears to be true of Mary Barker (1774–1853) who published the almost forgotten A Welsh Story in 1798. As its title suggests, Barker’s text is an example of ‘Wales-related fiction’, Andrew Davies’s umbrella term for the fashionable Romantic novels which set some part of their narrative in Wales and which contain ‘a degree of Welsh interest sufficient to draw meaningful and workable conclusions about how Wales, its people and culture were viewed by the author and received by contemporary readers.’ Jane Austen’s burlesque of the genre in ‘Love and Freindship’ demonstrates its popularity and notable examples include Anna Maria Bennett’s Anna; or, Memoirs of a Welch Heiress (1785) and Ellen, Countess of Castle Howel (1794), Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline; or, The Orphan of the Castle (1788) and Elizabeth Hervey’s The History of Ned Evans (1796). Throughout her novel, Barker focuses on female education and its effects on young women, and on the necessity of sincerity and integrity rather than artifice and deception in men’s and women’s dealings with each other, themes which are key also to Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Here, I read A Welsh Story alongside the Vindication as I argue that Barker utilised the radical potential which the imagined space of Wales offered her in order to create a fictionalised vision ofWollstonecraft’s depictions of, and idealistic hopes for, British society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-35
Number of pages15
JournalRomantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840
Volume22
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017

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