Maiden voyages, p.1

Maiden Voyages, page 1


Maiden Voyages

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Maiden Voyages


  A Mother’s Love

  Wall to Wall:

  From Beijing to Berlin by Rail

  The Waiting Room

  Nothing to Declare:

  Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone

  The Bus of Dreams


  Vanishing Animals and Other Stories



  Introduction and compilation copyright © 1993 by Mary Morris

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

  Published in the United States by Vintage Books,

  a division of Random House, Inc.,

  New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House

  of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  A portion of the introduction was published in different form in

  Ms. magazine in June 1992.

  this page–this page constitute an extension of this copyright page.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Maiden voyages: writings of women travelers / edited and with an introduction by Mary Morris, in collaboration with Larry O’Connor. — 1st ed.

  p. cm.—(Vintage departures)

  “A Vintage departures original”—T.p. verso.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-76647-2

  1. Voyages and travels. 2. Women travelers. I. Morris, Mary, 1947–

  II. O’Connor, Larry.

  G465.M336 1993

  910.4—dc20 93-10059


  to Kate,

  our fellow traveler



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page






  from Embassy to Constantinople


  from Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark

  FLORA TRISTAN (1803–1844)

  from Peregrinations of a Pariah

  FRANCES TROLLOPE (1780–1863)

  from Domestic Manners of the Americans

  ELIZA FARNHAM (1815–1864)

  from Life in Prairie Land

  AMELIA EDWARDS (1831–1892)

  from Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys: A Midsummer Ramble in the Dolomites

  MABEL SHARMAN CRAWFORD (ca. 1830–1860)

  from Through Algeria

  MRS. F. D. BRIDGES (ca. 1840–?)

  from Journal of a Lady’s Travels Round the World

  MARY KINGSLEY (1862–1900)

  from Travels in West Africa

  ISABELLA BIRD (1831–1904)

  from A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains


  from The Passionate Nomad


  from Station Life in New Zealand


  from A Girl’s Ride in Iceland

  ANNA LEONOWENS (1834–1914)

  from The English Governess at the Siamese Court


  from Love Among the Butterflies

  GERTRUDE BELL (1868–1926)

  from The Desert and the Sown

  KATE MARSDEN (1859–1931)

  from On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers

  EDITH WHARTON (1862–1937)

  from In Morocco

  WILLA CATHER (1876–1947)

  from Willa Cather in Europe


  from Passenger to Teheran


  from My Journey to Lhasa

  ISAK DINESEN (1885–1962)

  from Out of Africa

  BOX-CAR BERTHA (ca. 1900–?)

  from Sister of the Road

  KATE O’BRIEN (1897–1974)

  from Farewell Spain

  MAUD PARRISH (1878–1976)

  from Nine Pounds of Luggage


  from Speak to the Earth: Wanderings and Reflections among Elephants and Mountains

  FREYA STARK (1893–1993)

  from Winter in Arabia

  REBECCA WEST (1892–1983)

  from Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

  EMILY CARR (1871–1945)

  from Klee Wyck

  MILDRED CABLE (1878–1952) AND FRANCESCA FRENCH (1871–1960)

  from The Gobi Desert

  BERYL MARKHAM (1902–1986)

  from West with the Night


  from The Cruel Way

  ROSE MACAULAY (1881–1958)

  from The Fabled Shore

  MARY MCCARTHY (1912–1989)

  from Stones of Florence

  MARGARET MEAD (1901–1978)

  from A Way of Seeing

  EMILY HAHN (1905–)

  from Times and Places

  M. F. K. FISHER (1908–1992)

  from Long Ago in France


  from Tamrart: Thirteen Days in the Sahara


  from Muddling Through in Madagascar


  from Italian Days


  from Turkish Reflections

  JOAN DIDION (1934–)

  from The White Album

  SARAH HOBSON (1947–)

  from Through Persia in Disguise

  MARY MORRIS (1947–)

  from Wall-to-Wall


  from Travels with Fortune: An African Adventure

  ANDREA LEE (1953–)

  from Russian Journal

  ROBIN MORGAN (1941–)

  from The Demon Lover


  from Season of Stones

  GWENDOLYN MacEWEN (1941–1987)

  from Noman’s Land


  from Teaching a Stone to Talk

  LEILA PHILIP (1962–)

  from The Road Through Miyama

  ISABELLA BIRD (1831–1904)

  from A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains


  About the Editors

  “One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days …”



  The late John Gardner once said that there are only two plots in all of literature. You go on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Since women, for so many years, were denied the journey, they were left with only one plot in their lives—to await the stranger. Indeed, there is essentially no picaresque tradition among women novelists. While the latter part of the twentieth century has seen a change of tendency, women’s literature from Austen to Woolf is by and large a literature about waiting, usually for love.

  Denied the freedom to roam outside of themselves, women turned inward, into their emotions and their private, often amorous but chaste relations. Elaine Showalter comments on this phenomenon in her critical volume, A Literature of Her Own: “Denied participation in public life, women were forced to cultivate their feelings and to overvalue romance.… Emotions rushed in to fill the vacuum of experience.”

  For centuries it was frowned upon for women to travel without escort, chaperon, or husband. To journey was to put oneself at risk, not only physically but morally as well
. A little freedom could be a dangerous thing. Erica Jong chose well when she picked the metaphor of “fear of flying” to represent the tremulous onset of a woman’s sexual awakening. The language of sexual initiation is oddly similar to the language of travel. We speak of sexual “exploits” or “adventures.” Both the body and the globe are objects for exploration and the great “explorers,” whether Marco Polo or Don Juan, have been men.

  Gulliver begins his famous travels after the death of his “good Master Bates” (much obvious discussion surrounds this phrase), with whom he has apprenticed. Facing a failing business as well, he consults his “Wife” and determines “to go again to Sea.” Flights and evasion, the need to escape domestic constraints and routine, to get away and at the same time to conquer—this form of flight from the home is more typical of the male experience.

  Yet at the turn of the century Maud Parrish was not unlike Gulliver as she set off to the Yukon. “So I ran away. I hurried more than if lions had chased me. Without telling him. Without telling my mother or father. There wasn’t any liberty in San Francisco for ordinary women. But I found some. No jobs for girls in offices like there are now. You got married, were an old maid, or went to hell. Take your pick.” Similarly, Flora Tristan, at great social and financial risk, left her marriage and, as a “pariah,” traveled up and down Peru. And Margaret Fountaine journeyed the world ostensibly in search of butterflies, but really in pursuit of amorous adventures.

  These women—and many of the women in this volume—are the exceptions. I find it revealing that the metal bindings in women’s corsets were called “stays.” Someone who wore “stays” wouldn’t be going far. Nor would a woman with bound feet. While cloaked under the guise of the aesthetics of their times and cultures, the corseting in stays in the West and the binding of feet in the Orient were essentially ways of restricting women’s freedom of movement.

  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a woman writer who went to Turkey with her husband in 1716 and is best known for her letters, offered an interesting anecdote about stays. Upon visiting a Turkish bath in Sophia in which the women implored her to undress, Lady Montagu writes: “I was forced at last to open my shirt and shew them my stays; which satisfied them very well for, I saw, they believed I was so locked up in that machine that it was not in my power to open it, which contrivance they attributed to my husband.”

  It has been said that women don’t have what Baudelaire referred to as the “gout du gouffre,” the taste for the abyss. Even Louise Bogan has written that women have no wilderness in them. And Elizabeth Bishop in her poem “Questions of Travel” addresses the ambivalence about travel when she speaks about going “there,” to another place, while yearning to be “here,” or home. Surely such musings don’t indicate a serious impetus for travel or for serious travel writing by women.

  Yet there have been many women who have traveled extensively and written seriously about their journeys. Their voices have not always been recognized and heard.

  * * *

  I began thinking about travel literature a number of years ago. In the mid-1980s the New York Times Sunday Book Review published a special summer issue on travel books. It reviewed some twenty-five or thirty recent volumes, virtually all written by men. It seemed strange to me that that issue had mentioned so few books by women.

  I wondered why it was that the women who certainly traveled (I had traveled with many myself) weren’t writing about their journeys. Perhaps they didn’t travel as men did or perhaps they did not feel their experiences were comparable to those of men. Or perhaps they did write about them, but they were not finding their audience.

  Women, I have come to feel, move through the world differently than men. The constraints and perils, the perceptions and complex emotions women journey with are different from those of men. The fear of rape, for example, whether crossing the Sahara or, as Robin Morgan writes in her excerpt here from Demon Lover, just crossing a city street at night, most dramatically affects the ways women move through the world. But there are other subtler forms of harassment. Christina Dodwell has to pretend she has fleas when a militiaman refuses to leave her campsite at night. In rural Japan a woman should hang her husband’s washing on a separate clothesline from her own impure clothing, which we see in Leila Philip’s account.

  As I read through the literature of male travel writers in the 1980s, I found that their experiences did not correspond to or validate my own. Most explored a world that is essentially external and revealed only glimpses of who and what they are, whom they long for, whom they miss. The writers’ own inner workings in most cases (with marvelous exceptions such as Peter Matthiessen in The Snow Leopard, Henry Miller in The Colossus of Maroussi, and Colin Thubron in his travel books on China and Russia) are obscured.

  Lawrence Durrell, describing Freya Stark, wrote, “A great traveller is a kind of introspective as she covers the ground outwardly, so she advances inwardly.” And indeed, for many women, the inner landscape is as important as the outer, the beholder as significant as the beheld. The landscape is shaped by the consciousness of the person who crosses it. There is a dialogue between what is happening within and without. The presence of a loved one such as Isabella Bird’s “Jim” in the excerpt from A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains or the ache of a painful absence in the case of Mary Wollstonecraft’s poignant longing for her daughter as she journeys through Scandinavia are all part of a woman’s experience. What is it like to fall in love or have to talk your way out of a difficult, sexually threatening situation. Often they bear witness to the experiences of women in different cultures; for instance, Mrs. Bridges sympathizes with the plight of Mormon women, and Anna Leonowens recounts the abuse endured by the women of the harem in Siam.

  “I am a connoisseur of roads,” the actor River Phoenix says in the film My Own Private Idaho. But for women perhaps the roads are different. The reality of a woman on the road is often a personal reality. This does not mean that the woman traveler is not politically aware, historically astute, or in touch with the customs and language of the place. But it does mean that a woman cannot travel and not be aware of her body and the limitations her sex presents. Isabelle Eberhardt, as well as Sarah Hobson, traveled incognito, disguised as men. Eliza Farnham, crossing the American frontier in 1852, put her trunk and body against her door to keep a man out of the room in which she was bathing. And Kali (Gwendolyn MacEwen) in “The Holyland Buffet” tells a contemporary story of being stoned by Arab boys who think she is a sabra and not “a female tourist traveling alone.”

  Gender often forms a bond between women travelers. Women confide in other women. They tell one another the secrets of their cycles, their children, their husbands, their lovers, the difficulties of their lives. They do this in bathrooms, on airplanes, and on the road, often with perfect strangers. In this, they are secret sharers. They may not hunt or fish together, but they can talk about a miscarriage and a miserable life as the Iranian woman does to Sarah Hobson when she realizes Hobson is a young woman, not a young man.

  Our goal in making the selections gathered here was to find the best writing about travel by women. Perhaps there are women who have scaled greater heights, delved deeper into jungles, or were more renowned, but our main concerns were the quality of the writing and the vision behind that writing. At the same time, we wanted to assemble a significant body of work, representative of women and their journeys and providing examples of early and recent feminist travel literature.

  Some of these women are observers of the world in which they wander. Their writings are rich in description, remarkable in detail. Mary McCarthy conveys the vitality of Florence while Willa Cather’s essay on Lavandou foreshadows her descriptions of the French countryside in later novels. Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s excerpt about the spiritual village of San Gimignano is a virtual love song. In M.F.K. Fisher’s sensual portrayal of Dijon one can literally smell the mustard in the street. Others are more active as participants in the culture they are visiting, such as
Leila Philip, as she harvests rice with chiding Japanese women, or Emily Carr, as she wins the respect and trust of the female chieftain of an Indian village in northern Canada where she has gone to do paintings of the unique totem poles of the region.

  Often they are storytellers, weaving tales about the people they encounter. We find ourselves moved by the stories they told which we felt grew out of their sensibilities as women: Flora Tristan’s story of the lovelorn ship’s commander (a Marquezian character if there ever was one), separated from his beloved wife for years at a time as a result of a prenuptial promise exacted by his father-in-law; Mildred Cable and Francesca French’s anecdote about the dissident Chinese fugitive in Mongolia who surreptitiously makes inquiries after his family; and Anna Leonowens’s (best known as Anna from The King and I) tale of a child scorned and a mother flogged, despite the child’s pleas, under the authoritarian rule of the King of Siam.

  In some cases gender is transcended, as in the remarkable story of Alexandra David-Neel who saves herself and her adopted son from freezing to death on a wintry Tibetan plain by raising her body temperature through the thumo reskiang practice, in the acerbic wit of Freya Stark, and in the raw courage of Dervla Murphy or Christina Dodwell. In some cases these women assumed leadership roles traditionally attributed to men. In 1894 Isabella Bird became the first female member of the Royal Geographical Society. Mary Kingsley and Kate Marsden would follow. Gertrude Bell became the leading Middle East expert, with T. E. Lawrence, in Baghdad for the British Empire.

  Perhaps they went as free spirits, as Maud Parrish went with banjo to Alaska. Perhaps the goal was to gaze into Persian gardens as it was for Vita Sackville-West, or to ride the boxcars, hoboing it across America as Box-Car Bertha did. But in each of these selections, a mosaic of the experiences of women on the road is revealed. In each case, the vision is personal and unique.

  Each of these women had a reason for going. Some, such as the Lady Travelers, Mary Kingsley and Isabella Bird, went as Mabel Sharman Crawford says in her extremely progressive “Plea for Lady Tourists,” because they were “women of independent means and without domestic ties.” Some, such as Lady Montagu or Isak Dinesen, were accompanying their husbands; others, such as Maud Parrish, were running away from domestic entanglements. Kate Marsden, Mildred Cable, and Francesca French went as missionaries.

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