Journeys are the midwives of thought.Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel (54)
The project of a volume on Women and Traveling originated at the Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago (January 2014) after a table ronde organized and presided by Christine McCall Probes, Voyages de femmes, entrepris et rapportés: Représentations littéraires et/ou artistiques, was particularly well received. Speakers included Linda Alcott, Hélène Diaz Brown, Arline E. Cravens, Molly Krueger Enz, Perry J. Gethner and Catherine R. Montfort. Soon after the MLA, Christine McCall Probes and Catherine R. Montfort sent a call for papers inviting scholars to submit essays on the topic Les femmes et le voyage for a Special Volume of WIF Studies. Our stated goal was to include articles ranging from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century that focused on the literary and artistic representations of women travelers—in forced voyages or not—and the rhetorical strategies employed in the past as these voyages were recorded. At the MLA session, genres and topics included representations of women travelers in plays, fantastic and mystical voyages, memoirs, epistolary novels and women travelers of color. In this volume we present case studies of women travelers and a number of analyses of travel narratives in the pre-modern and modern periods. Of course we realize that this volume is only a small token in the analysis of a genre that has encompassed "a bewildering diversity of forms, modes and itineraries" (Thompson 1-2).1
There have been many studies on traveling and many studies on male travel writers in France such as Montaigne, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Chateaubriand or Nerval to mention just [End Page 6] a few. There have also been studies on British and American female writers (see among others Shirley Foster, Sara Mills, Mary-Louise Pratt and Yaël Schlick).2 Strikingly there have been many fewer studies on French and Francophone female travelers and writers until recently, mostly due to historical and cultural differences.3 From Odysseus to Aeneas to the Knights of the Round Table, to Columbus to more modern times, travel has functioned as "a defining arena of agency" for men and male travel narratives have been inseparable from masculinity (Sidonie Smith ix). Marie-Christine Gomez-Géraud notes in Écrire le voyage au XVIe siècle en France that Nicolas de Nicolay wrote in Dans l'Empire de Soliman le Magnifique, texte de navigations et de pérégrinations: "La raison veut et nature semble le commander à l'homme, de chercher, visiter et enquérir, savoir et connaître tous les ȇtres, toutes les parties et mansions de son universelle habitation" (44-45). Men, then, have been crusaders, adventurers, scientists, missionaries, entrepreneurs—and always narrators. While the man of the Middle Ages chose pilgrimages in his spiritual journey to God and generally had little curiosity about this world,4 the Renaissance and 17th century traveler in contrast wanted above all to be an informer telling the truth and being the "miroir du monde" here on earth. Followed "le grand tour" and educational voyages stretching roughly from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth century. And then in the nineteenth century, there was a shift to subjectivity. As exemplified by Chateaubriand, the "moi" prevailed and "le sujet qui voyage est l'objet du récit au mȇme titre que les territoires évoqués" (Bénédicte Monicat, Itinéraires 1).
In contrast the relation of women to mobility has been problematic. In the Middle Ages, "the underlying principle that a woman's proper sphere was the private one prevailed" (Webb 80): and similarly, "the message of many prescriptive Renaissance texts was that the virtuous woman stays at home" (Hackett 126). And yet, women too, like men, have always traveled, from pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Land5 to voyages to "spas" or for health reasons, to voyages for familial obligations (especially marriages),6 to scientific voyages to accompany their husband, to lonely voyages to far-flung lands to flee the role patriarchy had allotted [End Page 7] them, but récits de voyage have...