Romancing the Sublime: Why Mary Wollstonecraft Fell in Love With That Cad, Gilbert Imlay

Cynthia D. Richards, Wittenberg University
Vol. 25, No. 1 (Spring 2006), 71-91

This essay explores a romantic relationship that most Wollstonecraft scholars have met with vaguely embarrassed puzzlement. Focusing on Imlay’s A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America, along with Wollstonecraft’s Letters to Imlay, the essay speculates that Wollstonecraft found a sort of intellectual and emotional fulfillment through this otherwise disappointing lover. Imlay’s writings and Wollstonecraft’s responses, the essay argues, helped Wollstonecraft gain access to and articulate a female sublime, an experience that Edmund Burke described only in relation to male subjects attempting to exert power over the objects of their gaze. Analyzing Wollstonecraft’s infatuation with Imlay thus helps readers and critics see how she sought to reformulate one of the definitive emotional experiences of a masculinized Romantic aesthetic for a female subject.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]