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How did race, class and gender affect women's travel writing

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R Allen

on 5 November 2013

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Transcript of How did race, class and gender affect women's travel writing

Women's travel writing: key tropes and how it was affected by social categories
Gender roles
'the figure of the eccentric and adventurous women traveller...set the discursive boundaries for women writing about their travels'
- Sara Mills, Shirley Foster
Colonial and Orientalist discourses
'travel writing is essentially an instrument within colonial expansion and served to reinforce colonial rule'
- Edward Said

How did race, class and
gender affect women's
travel writing?

"social restraints and lack of money limited most women's opportunity to travel...however, many (wealthier) women had the initiative, fortitude and money to travel"
- McEwan
"mobility became a marker of social progression towards the end of the nineteenth century"
- Mills and Foster
'travel writings by white women were positioned geographically, metaphorically, and metaphysically between the dominant culture and the 'wild zone'' - Cheryl McEwan
"travel is an activity in which mobility is defined by gender, race and class parameters"
- Sara Mills and Shirley Foster
"women could only travel as gendered individuals with clearly delineated roles"
- Sara Mills
'the racial, national and economic privilege that makes their journey possible belies the powerlessness this persona suggests'
- Evelyn O'Callaghan
"with the advent of imperialism, and especially colonialism [middle-class women] were required to undertake more and more traveling as part of their duty to family and country"
- McEwan
"female accounts of indigenous peoples were by no means free from the discursive constraints of nationalism and racism"
- Mills and Foster
"most women conformed to the racial discourse of the day which guaranteed them privilege"
- O'Callaghan
women were concerned with "self-realisation in the spaces of an 'other'"
- Gikandi
Why did women travel?
"at the centre of these narratives of travel is the Caribbean region - imagined, historical, coveted, fragmented, multilingual, hybrid - at once object of desire and confined place from which to escape"
- Paravisini-Gilbert and
“In different ways, black and white women were chattels, and thus outside the dominant narrative of colonialism in which the dominant players were men and the main topic was conquest”
- Evelyn O'Callaghan
Scientific Knowledge
"many Victorians viewed lone women travellers as oddities, eccentric 'globetrotteresses' with little to contribute to scientific or geographical knowledge' - Cheryl McEwan
Sara Mills and Shirley Foster:

- taking up a scientific posture:
- allegiances with authoritative
- making claims to competence
within a masculine sphere

'nineteenth century convention held that women's travel narratives were not supposed to be 'scientific' and authoritative, but, rather, supposed to be amateurish and subjective'
- Cheryl McEwan
Mary Louise Pratt (1992):

claiming scientific knowledge "involved setting yourself up in a particular relation to indigenous culture"

- this, according to Mills and Foster: "situates
them within a hegemonic scientific tradition"
- Western/Eurocentric system of knowledge

"botanising was seen as an appropriate and safe preoccupation for nineteenth-century young ladies"
- Mills and Foster
Marianne North: 'Some further recollections of a happy life' (1892)
Recounting a trip into 'open country' in Jamaica:

- "flowers were sent afterwards to England, and Sir J.
Hooker declared it a new genus, naming it {Northea
Seychellana} after me."

- "Near the edge of the summit were fine tufts of brown
flowering grass, as high as pampas grass, and quantities of
the lovely {Angroecum eburneum}"
1. Professional advancement
2. Reform and missionary work
3. Attached to colonial institutions
4. Health
5. 'travels own sake'
6. Fascination with the exotic
7. Desire to escape the restrictions of

- Evelyn O'Callaghan
What were the key tropes of women's travel writing?
Landscapes and Aesthetics
the process of 'aestheticising the landscape involved emptying it of its people except as structural elements within a composition or as signifiers of the rustic'
- Mills and Foster
Foster and Mills:

- marked out a class position for women; education
and knowledge of aestheticising vocabulary
- tourists rather than explorers
- 'part of a self-validating cultural hegemony'
- often accompanied by a 'feminine emotional
Marianne North
"Little negro huts nestled amongst the 'bush' everywhere, and zigzag paths led in all directions around the house...I was in a state of ecstasy, and hardly knew what to paint first. The black people were always too kind and seemed in character with the scenery. They were always friendly and ready for a chat with their 'missus'"
Domestic Matters
Tim Youngs (1997) :

- special relationship between femininity and material objects
- "For travellers, the relationship to commodities that are taken
with them becomes an important means of negotiating and
affirming identity at a time when it is under threat"

Foster and Mills:

- "cultural disorientation may thus be countered by a
reiteration of the known"
- "departure from the interiority of the domestic sphere
involved greater justification and management, both
ideologically and practically"
- use of domestic tedium to remain feminine

Lady Nugent's Journal
Numerous trivial observations - not intended for publishing but references to domestic management
"Margaret set the black ladies to work, that our rooms may be less filthy when we retire"
"The table was loaded with large joints of meat, turkey, turtle and other odd things"
"Dress soon after 7, and at 8 the company assembled"
"Manners and Customs"
description of the "human society and culture" of the travel destination
- Roy Bridges
"obviously imperial in intention"
- O'Callaghan
"representations of otherness"
- McEwan
it "produces the indigenous inhabitants as bodyscapes, scanned also for prospects"
- Pratt
"the women too, I mean the black women, wear little or no clothing, nothing on their bodies, and they are hardly prevailed upon to wear a petticoat"
Janet Schaw, Journal of a Lady of Quality (1921)
"we met the Negroes in joyful troops on the way to town with their Merchandize. It was one of the most beautiful sights I ever saw. "
race, gender and class are intersecting factors in dictating what women could write about

whilst these women were writing from an oriental perspective, they were uniquely placed on the margins of the dominant culture

women travelled wrote for a variety of different reasons and in different sets of circumstances, which contributes to the heterogeneity of the genre
There were four key tropes of women's travel writing:

scientific knowledge
landscape and aesthetics
domestic matters
"manners and customs" narratives

all were influenced greatly by racial, gender-based and class-based assumptions both at home and during the travels of the authors
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