Millenium Hall (Wollstonecraft, 2011) and Maria (Scott, 1767) are texts that show marriage as the ultimate or inevitable goal of the conventional lives of women at this time. The female character either “Marries happily or dies tragically” (Rabb, 8) in the typically accepted narratives of the 1700s, and both Scott and Wollstonecraft critique this narrow view of womanhood through their very different explorations of the feminine experience. Whilst Wollstonecraft lays bare the injustices made possible by marriage, Scott envisions a place free of marriage and masculine control.
Maria is forced in to increasingly constrained circumstances by the cruelty of her husband, who was able to deceive Maria and those around her due to the legal and social constructs of marriage. Wollstonecraft’s bleak and inhumane depiction of the ills that could befall a woman who enters into marriage is not only a critique of the institution of marriage itself but also serves as a wider condemnation of the servitude in which women were forced into, granted to varying degrees based on class, due to the inherent patriarchal hegemony built almost inextricably into every aspect of a women’s life (Mackenzie, 36). Wollstonecraft is vocal in both Maria and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Wollstonecraft, 2010) about the importance of education in the process of liberation and empowerment, positing that women are doomed to uneducated servitude through a lack of access to academic opportunities and condemnation of those women who pursue them.
The withholding of education and money from women, with men as the initial gatekeepers to these means of independence in both texts, serves as a method of control, effectively indenturing women to men. Maria in particular paints a picture of men being the trustees of these means, not by virtue of their superior judgement but by virtue of their gender alone with Maria’s husband squandering their money and making other poor choices, whilst all she can do is watch helplessly a solicit assistance from her uncle.
Men as the arbitrary fiscal gatekeepers is also explored in Millenium Hall, in which the women are more that capable of managing their own affairs but a masculine benefactor is still the catalyst for Scott’s feminist utopia. The lack of autonomy afforded the women outside the bounds of Millenium Hall is demonstrated through the lens of marriage, for example Sarah’s potential marriage is viewed in purely financial terms by her father (Scott, 21) and is frequently represented as a transaction with the woman used as a bargaining chip between a male relative and a potential suitor. Marriage is also presented as an obstacle to education and enlightenment with those who are married distracted by domestic concerns, whilst those who are not are free to develop their own minds.
Scott and Wollstonecraft both point to the indentured servitude of the wife as an obstacle to the financial, legal and intellectual freedom of women. Marriage in these texts is indicative of the greater imbalances in power at work in society. The state of gender politics within this domestic setting lays bare the way that women at this time were utterly dependent, willingly or unwillingly, on men both in their immediate family sphere and in society at large.
• MacKenzie, Catriona. “Reason and Sensibility: The Ideal of Women’s Self-Governance in the Writings of Mary Wollstonecraft.” Hypatia, vol. 8, no. 4, 1993, pp. 35–55., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3810368.
• Rabb, Melinda Alliker. “Making and Rethinking the Canon: General Introduction and the Case of ‘Millenium Hall.’” Modern Language Studies, vol. 18, no. 1, 1988, pp. 3–16., http://www.jstor.org/stable/3194697.
• Scott, Sarah. A Description Of Millenium Hall … By A Gentleman On His Travels [Or Rather By Sarah Scott]. The Third Edition. 1st ed., J. Newbery, London, 1767.
• Wollstonecraft, Mary. Maria, Or The Wrongs Of Woman. 1st ed., Hamburg, Tredition, Project Gutenburg, 2011.
• Wollstonecraft, Mary. Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman. 1st ed., [Auckland, N.Z.], Floating Press, 2010,.