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Reviewed by:
  • Women and the Politics of Travel, 1870–1914
  • Barbara T. Gates (bio)
Monica Anderson . Women and the Politics of Travel, 1870–1914. Madison, NJ: Farleigh Dickinson UP, 2006. 236 pp. ISBN 0-838-64091-5, $49.50.

In Women and the Politics of Travel, Monica Anderson sets out to describe and analyze the "construction of gender, nation and performance in nineteenth century women's travel writing" (13) during a crucial era—the time of the expanding empires of European countries. This subject demands a broad canvas even when narrowed, as in this study, to the British and their significant heyday of colonial acquisition. It requires a full knowledge and assimilation of the considerable body of scholarship about colonialism, travel writing, and Victorian women's travel writing—particularly the strong body of work generated since the 1980s—and an equal ability to generalize insightfully from and advance the arguments of this scholarship. A model in terms of its careful scholarship and distillation of its predecessors, the book comes up shorter when it comes to originality. For example, one often finds this sort of tease: "To return to my argument, Philip Curtin writes that . . ." (50). As here, one eagerly awaits Anderson's deepening or broadening of a previous point but is returned to another scholar's insights—Mary Louise Pratt's, or Patrick Brantlinger's, or Simon Gikandi's, to cite just a few more examples. [End Page 733]

In terms of its structure, the book is introduced by two chapters outlining its intentions followed by three chapters on three significant women writers—Isabella Bird, Lady Florence Dixie, and Kate Marsden—and finally by a brief, coda-like section on traveling women's dress. The longest portion of the study, the sections on the three writers, is based in close readings of three texts: Bird's The Golden Chersonese (1883), Dixie's In the Land of Misfortune (1882), and Marsden's On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers (1893). Despite the interesting countries covered here (Anglo Malay and Anglo-China, South Africa, and of course Siberia) and the sound rationale of choosing places that take the women to the outward boundaries of the empire in order to indicate their autonomy, the limitations of Anderson's approach are probably obvious. The texts are close in date and do not span the years 1870–1914, as the book's title would suggest they should, and detailed readings of just three literary texts do not yield a truly authoritative view of women and the politics of turn-of-the-century travel.

Yet Anderson's desire to show how the women occupy different positions in terms of their strategies as travel writers provides some fascinating contrasts. Bird's strategy is seen as a combination of public and private narrative, a melding of the scientific with the semi-autobiographical. Dixie's is examined as a fascinating mix of the professional news-writer with an attitude more sympathetic to native peoples than her role as foreign war correspondent might warrant. And Marsden's is viewed as a strategy that backfires. Marsden set out to write a narrative valorizing and celebrating her compassion and womanly virtue as comforter and healer, but she was criticized widely and received most of her attention not as a legitimate travel writer but as a fraud who falsified her account. Thus in terms of their interest to readers of Biography, each of these writers as represented by Anderson has something different to offer. Bird employs letters as a means to enhance her role as interested observer and relay immediacy to the reader; Dixie finds herself at odds with the two voices she must assume in order to relay what she feels she must; and Marsden's personal account and legitimate self-presentation are undermined by a powerful, negative critique generated by the press. This reader enjoyed these contrasts but would have liked some further points to have been drawn from the three cases. Was Dixie under less pressure from the press because she herself served the business of news reporting? Just how far might Marsden's alleged lesbianism have been responsible for her lack of acceptance as an autobiographer, and what...


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