Top critical review
"Do all suffer like me; or am I framed so as to be particularly susceptible of misery?"
on 18 December 2016
The introduction to this work notes that 'Mary' "explores the position of an alienated intellectual woman and, in portraying her struggle against the constraints of a claustrophobic feminine world, began a line that would include the more substantial heroines of 'Jane Eyre' and 'Villette'."
I would only give 'Mary' a tentative *2.5, but the reader can certainly see it as a precursor to Bronte's later works of genius. This is a short (60p) story, partly autobiographical, where the independent heroine - after being married off against her will - accompanies her consumptive friend to Portugal. A principled, Christian woman, who delights in helping others, Mary observes life and the people around her. And falls in love for the first time... And as she wretchedly sails for England ""the tempest in her soul rendered every other trifling - it was not the contending elements but herself she feared".
I got into this more as I determinedly kept on with it, but I wouldn't call it reading for pleasure.
'Maria' (or 'The Wrongs of Woman'), written ten years later is a much more accomplished work. Very Gothic/ Romantic, the story opens with our eponymous heroine finding herself incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. The reader soon becomes aware that she is quite sane, and as she converses with her wardress, (and later a male inmate - also wrongfully detained - we come to know the stories of all three. Very much a vehicle for the author to continue the theme of her earlier 'Vindication of the Rights of Woman', we read of corrupt husbands having jurisdiction over their wives' money and automatic custody of their children, while the working-class wardress Jemima, tells of abuse by her employers, the plight of unmarried mothers and the way many are forced into prostitution. The opportunities of women as against those of their male counterparts are vastly worse. Although this story stops at a reasonable point, the appendix explains that the author had plans for further chapters, and gives an outline of the intended plot. A fairly interesting read.