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  • Feminism and the Politics of Travel after the Enlightenment by Yaël Schlick
  • Barbara Pauk (bio)
Feminism and the Politics of Travel after the Enlightenment, by Yaël Schlick. Transits: Literature, Thought, and Culture, 1650-1850. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2012. 233 pp. $70.00.

Yaël Schlick’s Feminism and the Politics of Travel after the Enlightenment explores the intersections between women’s travel and feminism. Her study offers new insights into the ways travel and travel writing were used to further feminist causes, an aspect which has not received much critical attention. In the years that the primary texts of this study were published—from the second half of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the Third Republic in the 1870s—women’s nature and roles were contentious issues in French society. At the same time as ideas about women’s domestic role gained intensity, feminists such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Germaine de Staël, Flora Tristan, Suzanne Voilquin, and George Sand challenged them. Schlick bases her work on the idea that discourses and cultural practices surrounding travel are “a technology of gender,” that [End Page 260] is, they are instrumental in constructing gender (p. 6). She argues that women used travel and travel writing to demand more freedom and access to the public sphere and the realm of politics.

Schlick’s analysis of Enlightenment ideas on travel and gender forms a backdrop for her investigation into notions of women’s travel, mobility, and education. With the example of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s influential work Emile (1762), she convincingly shows how the Enlightenment concept of travel—as a means of gaining knowledge and becoming a responsible, informed, and cosmopolitan citizen—was coded male and predicated on a specific type of woman. While critiques have noted Rousseau’s belief in domesticity, Schlick observes that he emphasizes women’s lack of “spacial aptitude” and their unsuitability for travel (p. 24). 1 In other words, Schlick demonstrates that Rousseau’s social and sexual contracts are interdependent. He constructs “Sophie’s betrothal to Emile as a bond, akin to patriotism but wholly domestic, that will eventually bring this traveler home” (p. 32). Sophie’s domesticity ensures Emile’s return to France and settling down to fulfill his duties as a citizen.

Feminism and the Politics of Travel is chronologically structured and contains three parts, each consisting of one or two chapters. In the first part, Schlick investigates Enlightenment ideas of travel and domesticity as they appear in writings by Rousseau as well as Wollstonecraft, Stéphanie-Félicité de Genlis, Frances Burney, and Staël. In the first chapter Schlick contrasts Rousseau’s and Wollstonecraft’s view of travel and women. She argues that Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) is to a large extent a travel narrative that constructs an enlightened female traveler, not a mainly private and emotional text as it has been often considered to be. Like Rousseau, Wollstonecraft presents travel to be a means of critically investigating other societies, of gaining knowledge, and becoming a political subject, yet her traveler is female. In the second chapter, Schlick analyzes works by Staël, Genlis, and Burney published in the first and second decade of the nineteenth century. She maps out their ideas on women’s education, their mobility and travels, their presence in the public sphere, and in particular the public display of their talents. Further, Schlick discusses to what extent Staël, Genlis, and Burney portray their female characters as cosmopolitan—cosmopolitanism being what men achieve through enlightened travel according to Rousseau.

In the second part, “Travel and New Communities,” Schlick investigates how travel and feminism complement each other in the life and work of the French socialist feminist Flora Tristan and Simone Voiquin, a member of the political and social movement founded by Claude Henri de Rouvroy, the Comte de Saint-Simon. For both these women, travel, in addition to being educational, was part of their social and political activism, part of [End Page 261] their quest to create a more equal society regardless of class and gender. Schlick argues that for Tristan travel was crucial...