Travel writing brings the traveler into contact with the Other. Between here and there, home and abroad, and self and the Other, travel inspires the traveler to reflect upon who she is. Paradoxically, writing about someplace else, inadvertently turns intro writing about home.
With a focus on the 19th century travel writing by women from the United States, this blogs contends with the complex intersections of gender and (national) identity constructions from multiple perpectives. It interrogates multiple types of travel, from leisure and activist endeavors undertaken to promote feminism and ablolitionism, to journalism, imperial missions, and forced migration.
Travel and travel writing afforded women a new kind of freedom and allowed them to transgress the private/public divide, which they had to manage delicately. Ella W. Thompson attests to both these phenomena in the opening to her 1874 book on her European travels (pp. 9-10):
I want to say, to begin with, that the writer of this book is one of „the few, the immortal few,“ left of her sex in America, who would rather have an India shawl any day than the suffrage; but in dark moments, when both have seemed equally unattainable, it has occurred to her that most women’s lives are passed, so to speak, in long, narrow galleries, built about with customs and conventionalities more impervious than stone. Sometimes they contract to a hot little kitchen, and the owner might as well be a Vestal Virgin, and done with it, her whole life being spent in keeping up the fires. . . . Plenty of doors lead out of these galleries, but only those marked „Church,“ „Visits,“ and „Shopping,“ move easily on their hinges.
Most of us . . . . cast longing eyes at the door marked with the magical word „Europe,“ and it has opened freely enough when the husband said the „Open, sesame“; it is only of late years that women have made the amazing dicovery that they can say it themselves with like success, but it is well to keep the hinges well oiled, and the rubbish cleared away from the threshold. When my turn came, I felt as if I had been taken into a high mountain and been promised all the Kingdoms of the earth, and had at once accepted the offer.