At the source of a nineteenth-century women's literature: the discovery of the distant world through travel. For the first time, unknown cultures under the gaze of women, as well as slavery and colonization.

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Ellen Julia Hollond


This site is dedicated to an extensive corpus of "minor" women's literature from the 19th Century – minor in that it did not earn its authors a lasting literary reputation, but nevertheless of more than slight interest, as these works continue to transmit a powerful, strongly gendered image of the prevalent societal attitudes of their era. The site has been designed to aid in the discovery of this little-known but precious literature, for the most part fully consultable on the Internet – mainly thanks to the Gallica website in France, as well as to the Library of Congress and a number of American universities. It is also intended to draw attention to the lives of women who were voluntarily engaged in processes of emancipation through travel and travel-writing.
The site presents various sets of texts which illuminate female attitudes in an era when women of the bourgeoisie, in the wake of the voyages undertaken by aristocratic women, criss-crossed the globe, from the North Pole to Futuna. Their discovery of foreign populations and countries was contemporaneous with two larger historical phenomena – slavery and colonisation – while they also participated in a third system of confrontation between the West and the rest of the world : tourism.
- Narratives by female travellers of the 19th Century, seventy-seven Frenchwomen who travelled across the world beyond European borders – including more than one hundred publications, whether in books or in articles in the important monthly magazines of the time.
- Narratives by travellers who were witness to slavery in Africa, in the Middle East, in the United States or in the Carribean. One hundred and four female travellers of the period recount their own visions of slavery in stories that they published upon their return – some approving of it, many criticising the form it took, a few expressing their hatred for it.
- Narratives by women who went big game hunting in Kenya during the colonial period in the 1930s, whether they were living there as settlers or – among the very wealthy – participated in the luxury safaris of the period. Apart from Karen Blixen and a Swiss woman, Vivienne de Watteville, these female hunters were all of English or American extraction. Their accounts of a greedy and merciless sport, and their remarks about the Kenyans and their way of life, are highly revealing of colonial attitudes.
- Narratives by women kidnapped and held for ransom between the 17th Century and today, and who were able to give an account of their ordeals. Mostly the narratives of Christian women kidnapped in the Mediterranean by Barbary pirates, or women settlers captured by Native North Americans. These are narratives written according to the ideological norms of their society and their epoch and which, in turn, were used to solidify these.
François Lapeyre has analyed this corpus in four different books:
- Le roman des voyageuses françaises,
- Quand les voyageuses découvraient l'esclavage,
- Une écrivaine au Kenya, Vivienne de Watteville - Une histoire de la chasse féminine coloniale,
- C'était un matin rouge - Récits de femmes captives.






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In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Westerners scour the world to learn and discover, but also to wage war, colonize, evangelize or to do business. Although less spoken of, women hit the road despite the terrible perils and discomfort of travelling.





Françoise Lapeyre

BOOKS

France knows very little of her great women travellers before Alexandra David-Neel. And yet, they were many before 1900 - adventurers, artists, expatriates, tourists, colonists, activists, pioneering women journalists, ethnologists in the field or missionaries - to take off for Siberia, Senegal, China, Brazil or Persia, often triumphing over extraordinary hardships. Charlotte-Adélaïde Dard survived the wreck of the Méduse, and Louise Fusil, a French actress with the Imperial Theatre of Moscow, crossed the Berezina with Napoleon’s retreating armies. It was rare courage which allowed Jane Dieulafoy to carry back priceless archaeological treasures from Persia for the Louvre. The narratives of the first French women travellers are part of the history of the 19th century, the century of the expansion of knowledge and territories, of cultural, social and religious proselytism. Destined as they were by law and by the mindset of the age to domestic life rather than adventure, these authors, modest as people but proud as travellers, are the foundation of our women’s travel literature, where we may discover true talents in the double quality of the writing and the viewpoint, as well as exceptional personalities.

Between the accounts of the very first women travellers of the 18th century and those who were travelling in numbers around 1880, slavery had not only been maintained throughout the world but sometimes intensified, and then later abolished. During this period of almost two centuries, all the women concerned here witnessed scenes of slavery. Their accounts deny it, approve of it, or else condemn it. The diversity of information and attitudes according to country or period constitutes the wealth of this collection of commentaries gleaned from the writings of some fifty British women, as many Continental Europeans and a few American women. The object, however, is not the history of slavery but the history of Western women’s thinking about slavery, a fragment of the overall history of slavery. At first it was especially aristocrats who travelled or went off to live abroad, and for whom Oriental harem slavery or the serfdom of the great Russian landholdings seemed a condition natural to a part of humanity. Then came the women who found themselves exposed to the spectacle of slavery on the plantations in the Caribbean and in the southern states of the United States, torn between anguish and revolt and their fascinated discovery of the tropics, where slavery was perceived as one more aspect of exoticism. At the end came those who were rather within the sphere of abolitionist ideas, then those who commented upon the post-abolition situation with all its ambiguities.

BOOKS

France knows very little of her great women travellers before Alexandra David-Neel. And yet, they were many before 1900 - adventurers, artists, expatriates, tourists, colonists, activists, pioneering women journalists, ethnologists in the field or missionaries - to take off for Siberia, Senegal, China, Brazil or Persia, often triumphing over extraordinary hardships. Charlotte-Adélaïde Dard survived the wreck of the Méduse, and Louise Fusil, a French actress with the Imperial Theatre of Moscow, crossed the Berezina with Napoleon’s retreating armies. It was rare courage which allowed Jane Dieulafoy to carry back priceless archaeological treasures from Persia for the Louvre. The narratives of the first French women travellers are part of the history of the 19th century, the century of the expansion of knowledge and territories, of cultural, social and religious proselytism. Destined as they were by law and by the mindset of the age to domestic life rather than adventure, these authors, modest as people but proud as travellers, are the foundation of our women’s travel literature, where we may discover true talents in the double quality of the writing and the viewpoint, as well as exceptional personalities.

Between the accounts of the very first women travellers of the 18th century and those who were travelling in numbers around 1880, slavery had not only been maintained throughout the world but sometimes intensified, and then later abolished. During this period of almost two centuries, all the women concerned here witnessed scenes of slavery. Their accounts deny it, approve of it, or else condemn it. The diversity of information and attitudes according to country or period constitutes the wealth of this collection of commentaries gleaned from the writings of some fifty British women, as many Continental Europeans and a few American women. The object, however, is not the history of slavery but the history of Western women’s thinking about slavery, a fragment of the overall history of slavery. At first it was especially aristocrats who travelled or went off to live abroad, and for whom Oriental harem slavery or the serfdom of the great Russian landholdings seemed a condition natural to a part of humanity. Then came the women who found themselves exposed to the spectacle of slavery on the plantations in the Caribbean and in the southern states of the United States, torn between anguish and revolt and their fascinated discovery of the tropics, where slavery was perceived as one more aspect of exoticism. At the end came those who were rather within the sphere of abolitionist ideas, then those who commented upon the post-abolition situation with all its ambiguities.

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