WOMEN'S FREEDOM IN THE VICTORIAN PERIOD: WOMAN TRAVELLERS.
By Patricia Marin del Ojo.
In the Victorian Period, men dominated the public and private spheres while women, having less privileges, dominated the domestic and private spheres. Women had not the chance to go alone anywhere and they could not take part in the public, political and bussiness life. However, with the arrival of the industry, they began to take part of the working world at the same time they were at home being subject to look after their children. Furthermore, in spite of their hard work, their salaries were negligible and lower than men's.
Woman began to travel before Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and it was usual for them to travel between the main European cities. For many centuries, it was socially frowned upon women travel without a lady's companion, a tutor or her husband, that is why they were almost always accompanied by someone in their journies. A woman travelling alone meant to run a big risk, not only for her phisical integrity, but even for her moral and social image. The freedom of knowing and exploring the world was something dangerous for them; adventures which could provide them non appropiate companies and knowledges. Besides, they were forced to keep their feelings and to overvalue romance and love.
“One cannot divide 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…” Willa Cather
However, things became to change in the nineteenth century when women started to travel more and more indepently and as a result, they got to create a new stereotype of 'woman travellers', very far away from the image of sheltered female domesticity. Ladies who had the privilege of travelling were women from the upper class since they could afford their trips.
Why did they begin to travel? There are many personal and political reasons: Some of them traveled for a missionary reason while others only wanted to satisfy personal curiosities and write about them. However, most of them traveled to escape gender oppression in Europe, that is to say they looked for the freedom they did not available at home.
In addition, thanks to these travels, these intrepid travellers could observe the great difference between people of different parts of the world. Mary Carpenter wrote (India):
“In England, such girls would be generally intended for domestic service, and prepared for its duties while at school. I was informed, however, that such can rarely be the case in India, owing to the universal employment of men in the household occupations with us exclusively appropriate to women; it would not, therefore, be safe for a young girl to be placed as a servant in the family. The girls are usually married when about fifteen or sixteen to native converts, and it is of importance that they should be prepared to be good wives and mothers of families … The singing is sweet, and in other respect this school gave me satisfactory proof that, under good female instruction, Hindoo girls are quite equal to their English sisters”. (Qtd in Ghose, 1998:117)
Carpenter traveled to India and she visited some schools and prisons with the aim of improving the female education, establishing reformatories and improving the state of prisons. Thus, in this extract of Ghose's book, “Women Travellers in Colonial India: The Power of the Female Gaze”, Carpenter shows and compares the English and Hindu education. India was a country where women got married very early to become the perfect housewife who their husbunds needed while English girls were prepared to be in the domestic service at the same time they went to the school.
Besides, all these facts were successfully propelled by the major development of transport. Thus, the safety, comfort and rapidity that this huge development provided increased the curiosity and interesting of going abroad and meeting other countries and societies. In 1889, Lillias Campbell Davidson wrote:
“Now-a-days, when the increased facilities of communication, and the greater freedom of transit, have placed distant lands within easy reach of our own, and made travelling everywhere an infinitely simpler and more pleasant thing than it once was, lady travellers have vastly multiplied in numbers. Even in the most remote parts of the world where, a generation ago, they would not have ventured, ladies now travel in perfect security and with every advantage”(Qtd in Sterry, 2009:3).
Kings Cross station, Metropolitan Railway, 1863.
In London, the use of the underground by women was therefore very extensive. This picture shows some women very well dressed in a railway, travelling on their own, across the city.
Most female travellers drew attention to European destinations because of educational and scientific reasons (such as cures of some maladies). Thus, some of their usual destinations were to France, Italy and Switzerland and very few ladies traveled to Africa and the Middle East. However, as it was said before, few women could travel completely independiently. Many travelled with their husbands or brothers as missionaries or as companions on journeys of discovery but very few went with them to the war. Nevertheless, others as Isabella Bird encouraged alone in their journeys: “Nearly always conquered her territories alone ... she faced the wilderness almost single-handed … she observed and recorded without companionship” (Qtd in Sterry, 2009: 3-4).
Obviously, the ladies's experiences of that period were quite different than men's and there were very few travel stories written by women. The way of assimilating the knowledges, the way of getting used to different cultures, the fear of suffering any physical aggression and the social rejections were factors which showed that big differentiation.
These are some of the female writers of the epoch who experienced these travels :
Frances Trollope was a British prolific author who published a total of thirty four novels. Her most successful book was “Domestic Manners of the Americans”, inspired by journeys around the United States. From a British point of view,she described the new American society, their costums and personality and she focused specially on the rural world.
In addition, this book shows a deep concern about the woman role in the domestic and public sphere.
ISABELLA BIRD (1831- 1904)
She was born in Yorkshire. Isabella Bird was the first woman accepted in the Royal Geographical Society. She was very ill and their travels were her means to recover. At the beginning, she started to travel with her sister Hanny, but after seeing that her conservative personality stopped her adventurous spirit she decided to travel in her own. She began to travel to Australia, Hawaii and the United States. Thus, living in Hawaii, she published her successful book “A Lady's life in the Rocky Mountains” in 1876. Afterwards, she needed to know other exotic cultures and she set out on new journeys towards Japan, China, Malasya and Singapore.
MARY KINGSLEY (1862-1900)
Mary Kingsley was one of the writers who better represent the stereotype of Victorian travellers because she showed nearly all the topics of the Victorian period. Her father, George Kingsley, was a writer and her uncle, Charles Kingsley too. Her longing of travelling and discovering the world were stopped by her mother's disability since she had to take care of her. However, she never stopped dreaming of travelling to exotic places and when her parents died she could set out on new destinations. Thus, she wrote the book “Travels in West Africa” where she showed her discoveries. Moreover, she developed a great claiming spirit struggling for African indigenes's rights and helping them to preserve their own idiosyncrasy.
“If we grow weary of waiting, we can go on a journey.
We can be the stranger who comes to town” Mary Morris.
Sterry,L. “Victorian Woman Travellers in Meiji Japan: Discovering a 'New' Land”: Global Oriental, 2009. P. 2-4.
Ghose, Indira. “Women Travelers In Colonial India: The Power of the Female Gaze”. Calcutta: Oxford University Press, 1998.“La Casa Victoriana” <http://lacasavictoriana.com/category/viajeras-victorianas/ > [22/11/2015].
Bahry,D; 2014. Emory University. “Post Colonial Studies” <https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/postcolonialstudies/2014/06/21/victorian-women-travelers-in-the-19th-century/> [22/11/2015].
Nead, L; 2014. BBC. “Women and Urban Life in Victorian Britain” <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/victorian_britain/women_out/urban_life_04.shtml> [23/11/2015].
Eade, C; 2011. “A different world: Travel tips for that most intrepid of species, the Victorian lady tourist” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1378848/Tips-lady-travellers-Victorian-age.html [23/11/2015].