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Close Encounters of the Imaginative Kind

By Reema Faris

November 02, 2015

“Did you see that?”

“What?’

“The door moved.”

My son stared at me.  “So what if the door moved?”

“It’s Mary’s ghost,” I said.  “She dropped by to say hello.”

“It was not a ghost, Mother.  It was a draft.  It’s an old house.”  He dismissed me with a teenager’s certainty and strolled down the corridor to rejoin our group.

I watched him walk away, then glanced back at the door, and nodded my thanks to Mary Wollstonecraft’s ghost.

We were visiting Gunnebo House outside Gothenburg (Göteborg), Sweden.  Wollstonecraft had also visited the estate during her travels in 1795.  Back then the house had been the private summer residence of John Hall (1735-1802), a wealthy Scottish merchant, and his family.

Wollstonecraft “was particularly delighted” by the house which was situated “close to a lake embosomed in pine clad rocks.”  She wrote that the nearby stream “enlivened the flowers on its margin, where light-footed elves would gladly have danced their airy rounds.”*

When organizing our summer vacation, I had included Gothenburg on the itinerary because I knew Wollstonecraft had spent time in the city.  She was one of two authors featured in my graduating project.  The other was Elizabeth Gilbert.

I had been studying Wollstonecraft’s book of letters from Scandinavia and although I felt I had a good grasp of the material, I did not feel I had a full appreciation of the personal aspect of her journey.  I thought that travelling to the region, via England, would allow me to deepen my understanding of her, her writing, and her experience of traveling in Northern Europe.

Or perhaps I simply rationalized my desire to travel somewhere I had never been.  Whatever my motivation, I gained new insight into my work by embarking on this adventure which also helped me prepare to defend it in front of the examining committee.

In London, I visited Old St. Pancras Church where Wollstonecraft was buried (although her remains were moved to Bournemouth in 1851 to allow for expansion of the railway station).  The church is also where she married William Godwin on March 29, 1797.  

In Copenhagen, I searched for signs earmarking neighbourhoods or buildings which predated her arrival there.  Large portions of the centre had been destroyed in a fire prior to her visit. 

On August 25, my son and I arrived in Gothenburg and we spent the afternoon exploring the downtown core.  Once settled into our hotel room for the night, I reread the letters that Wollstonecraft had written about her time in the city.  An editors’ note for “Letter III” identified Gunnebo House and made mention of its proximity.  A quick internet search later, I had details on how to get there and the hours of operation. I planned our excursion for the next day.

It was one of the highlights of our trip.

After all, it’s not every day that the ghost of a revered eighteenth century advocate for social justice and women’s rights drops by to say hello.

___________________________

* Wollstonecraft, Mary. Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, ed. Tone Brekke and Jon Mee (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 21.

Reema Faris successfully defended her MA graduating project, "Once Upon A Journey - Travel Narratives by Women: The Philosophical Observations of Mary Wollstonecraft and the Cultural Meme of Elizabeth Gilbert," on October 15, 2015.  A student in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at Simon Fraser University, Ms. Faris has worked as a Teaching Assistant in the Humanities, English, and History departments.  Her future plans will always involve travel and chocolate.