This essay explores the issue of agitation in Mary Wollstonecraft's work and its relationship to political and legal subjectivity in the context of recent work on the history and theory of emotion. Wollstonecraft's expressions of agitation have consumed much attention in the critical literature over the past four decades, with some scholars arguing that her emotional life undermined her arguments for rationality. However, in recent years, critics have begun to reinterpret her emotional expressiveness as a literary and rhetorical device. This essay builds on that work while suggesting that agitation in Wollstonecraft serves not only literary, but also political and legal purposes. Agitation signifies distress on a personal and a social level as it attempts to communicate that distress to others. In Wollstonecraft's late work, Maria, for instance, agitation characterizes her central character who brings a charged emotional nexus to the courtroom through the presentation of a "paper" expressing her emotions. An analysis of this scene connects Wollstonecraft's efforts to construct an agitated, vulnerable legal subjectivity to recent work from Martha Fineman on vulnerability as a defining characteristic of a humane understanding of legal subjectivity.


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pp. 371-382
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