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Trading Women, Traded Women

A Historical Scrutiny of Gendered Trading

Edited By Gönül Bakay and Mihaela Mudure

For the scholarly reader it is a truism that trade, in its widest sense (exchange, interchange, deal) is the basis of human society, it is part of the human interaction which is the very texture of society. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss demonstrated in his seminal essay «The Elementary Structures of Kinship» that human society relies on the exchange of women by men. But women are not only the passive object of this trade among men. They also try and often succeed in trading goods, ideas, and changing their subject position by getting the upper hand in this crucial exchange. Little attention has been given to genderizing the connection between trade and the British Enlightenment and to its subsequent influence on women’s history and/or literary or visual representations of women by women or men. The contributors in this collection focus on women as physical or symbolic traded objects, as subversive women trading in spite of cultural and social stereotypes, and as women empowered in the cultural, political, and social trade.

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Oppression and Resistance: Woman as an Exchanged Object in Marriage in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798) (Sevinç Eleman Garner)


Sevinç Eleman Garner

Oppression and Resistance: Woman as an Exchanged Object in Marriage in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798)


Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman is a novel which remained unfinished with the death of its author, Mary Wollstonecraft, in 1797. When Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman she aimed to “call for particular investigation, especially laws relative to women, and the consideration of their peculiar duties.” (qtd in Strommer, p. 97) She also stated that she intended to treat these issues in a second volume. Her intention was partially fulfilled by her unfinished and fragmentary novel, The Wrongs of Woman, which she began writing in 1796. After her death, the novel was edited and published by her husband, William Godwin. In his preface to The Wrongs, Godwin links these two works and as Diana Strommer points out, Wollstonecraft’s aims were to convey “the misery and oppression, peculiar to women that arise out of the partial laws and customs of society [and to show] the wrongs of different classes of women, equally oppressive.” (p. 98)

Maria has usually been read as an autobiography of Wollstonecraft. One reviewer said in the novel, Maria, “we see […] the biography of Wollstonecraft herself, the continual disappointments in the weak mother, the failing father, the dependent sisters and the disappointing female friends.” (Hoeveler, p. 387) Referring to the similarity between Maria’s and Wollstonecraft’s early lives and their disappointing familial...

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