Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 13. A Female Gaze? Women's Travel Writing and Alterity

Women have always travelled, yet unequal access to education and the fact that travel and publishing are historically gendered as male domains meant that relatively few women wrote about their travels until the late eighteenth century. Scholarship on women's travel writing reflects this history, with most work focusing on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Anglophone women travellers from the upper and middle classes. Following such studies, this seminar will ask whether women experienced travel inherently differently from men, whether it is fruitful to think in terms of a typically female gaze, and how gender norms and conventions shaped women's authorial voice. We will also discuss how women travellers have been seen to both subvert and uphold imperial projects, and the importance of factors of class, race, age, place, and period alongside and through their intersections with gender.

Core Readings (pick two)

Shirley Foster and Sara Mills, An Anthology of Women's Travel Writing (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 'Introduction' and 'Women Writing about Women', pp. 1-23. Link + Link.

Carl Thompson, Travel Writing (London and New York: Routledge, 2011), Ch. 7: 'Questions of Gender and Sexuality', pp. 168-194. Link.

Lambert-Hurley, Siobhan, 'A Princess's Pilgrimage: Nawab Sikandar Begam's Account of Hajj', in: Tim Youngs (ed.), Travel Writing in the Nineteenth Century: Filling the Blank Spaces (London: Anthem, 2006), pp. 107-27. Link.

Primary Source

Browse the anthologies by Robinson (2001) and Bohls and Duncan (2005) and select one extract to read. You can also browse the Women's Travel Writing, 1780-1840 database, select a text, search for the original, and read a chapter of choice.

Seminar Questions

  1. Is the way women and men engage in and experience travel fundamentally different? Why/why not?
  2. How have gender norms and expectations shaped women's travel writing and what are the authorial strategies women travel writers have adopted to negotiate this?
  3. Did the relationship of female travellers to imperial power differ from that of men?
  4. Have travel and travel writing offered routes to emancipation and empowerment for women?
  5. How do studies of non-Western women travellers expand and challenge historiographical assumptions?
  6. How does gender interact with other variables such as ethnicity, class, age, religion, political position, place, and period in the primary source you've read?

Further Reading

Agorni, Mirella, Translating Italy for the Eighteenth Century: British Women, Translation and Travel Writing (1739-1797) (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2002). Link.

Bird, Dúnlaith, Travelling in Different Skins: Gender Identity in European Women's Oriental Travelogues, 1850-1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Link.

Bohls, Elizabeth A., Women Travel Writers and the Language of Aesthetics, 1716–1818 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), Ch. 1: 'Aesthetics and Orientalism in Mary Wortley Montagu's Letters', pp. 23-45. Link

Bohls, Elizabeth A., 'Gender', Barbara Schaff (ed.), Handbook of British Travel Writing (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2020), pp. 55-78. Link.

Bohls, Elizabeth, and Ian Duncan (eds.), Travel Writing 1700-1830: An Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Link.

Brisson, Ulrike, 'Discovering Scheherazade: Representations of Oriental Women in the Travel Writing of Nineteenth-Century German Women', Women in German Yearbook 29 (2013), pp. 97-117. Link.

Brookes, Douglas Scott (ed.), The Concubine, the Princess and the Teacher: Voices from the Ottoman Harem (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2008). Link.

Colbert, Benjamin, 'British Women's Travel Writing, 1780-1840: Bibliographical Reflections', Women's Writing 24.2 (2017), pp. 151-169. Link.

Drautzburg, Anja, 'Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, The Turkish Embassy Letters', in: Barbara Schaff (ed.), Handbook of British Travel Writing (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2020), pp. 213-230. Link.

Foster, Shirley, and Sara Mills (eds.), An Anthology of Women's Travel Writing (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002). Library [primary source extracts].

Foster, Shirley, 'Colonialism and Gender in the East: Representations of the Harem in the Writings of Women Travellers', The Yearbook of English Studies 34 (2004), pp. 6-17. Link.

Ghaderi, Farah, and Wan Roselezam Wan Yahya, 'Exoticism in Gertrude Bell's Persian Pictures', Victorian Literature and Culture 42.1 (2014), pp. 123-138. Link.

Ghose, Indira, Memsahibs Abroad: Writings by Women Travellers in Nineteenth-Century India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998). Library.

Guest, Harriet, 'Travel Writing', in: Catherine Ingrassia (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Women's Writing in Britain, 1660–1789 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 196-209. Link.

Horrocks, Ingrid, Women Wanderers and the Writing of Mobility, 1784–1814 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017). Link.

Hunt, Tamara L., and Micheline R. Lessard (eds.), Women and the Colonial Gaze (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). Link.

Kietzman, Mary Jo, 'Montagu's Turkish Embassy Letters and Cultural Dislocation', Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 38.3 (1998), pp. 537-551. Link.

Kinsley, Zoë, 'Narrating Travel, Narrating the Self: Considering Women‘s Travel Writing as Life Writing', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 90.2 (2014), pp. 67-84. Link.

Lawrence, Karen R., Penelope Travels: Women and Travel in the British Literary Tradition (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994). Link.

Lewis, Reina, 'The Harem: Gendering Orientalism', in: Geoffrey P. Nash (ed.), Orientalism and Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), pp. 166-184. Link.

Melman, Billie, Women's Orients: English Women and the Middle East, 1718-1918. Sexuality, Religion and Work (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1995). Library.

Mills, Sara, Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women's Travel Writing and Colonialism (London: Routledge, 1991). Library.

Morgan, Susan, Place Matters: Gendered Geography in Victorian Women's Travel Books about Southeast Asia (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996). Link.

Nussbaum, Felicity A., 'British Women Write the East after 1750: Revisiting a ‘Feminine’ Orient, in: Jennie Batchelor and Cora Kaplan (eds.), British Women’s Writing in the Long Eighteenth Century: Authorship, Politics and History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), pp. 121-139. Link.

O'Loughlin, Katrina, Women, Writing, and Travel in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). Link.

Ramli, Aimillia Mohd, 'Contemporary Criticism on the Representation of Female Travellers of the Ottoman Harem in the 19th Century: A Review', Intellectual Discourse 19.2 (2011), pp. 263-279. Link.

Robinson, Jane, Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). Library.

Robinson, Jane, Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers (2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001). Link.

Schlick, Yaël, Feminism and the Politics of Travel after the Enlightenment (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2012). Link.

Simour, Lhoussain, 'Gendered Eyewitness in Narration: Imagining Morocco in British Women Travel-Inspired Narratives in Late Nineteenth Century', Anglo-Saxonica 17.1 (2020), pp. 1-11. Link.

Thompson, Carl, 'Journeys to Authority: Reassessing Women's Early Travel Writing, 1763-1862', Women's Writing 24.2 (2017), pp. 131-150. Link.

Thompson, Carl (ed.), Women’s Travel Writings in India 1777–1854, Volume I: Jemima Kindersley, Letters from the Island of Teneriffe, Brazil, the Cape of Good Hope and the East Indies (1777); and Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in India (1812) (London: Routledge, 2020). Link.

Whitlock, Gillian, The Intimate Empire: Reading Women's Autobiography (London: Bloomsbury, 2000). Link.

Yegenoglu, Meyda, Colonial Fantasies: Towards a Feminist Reading of Orientalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), Ch. 3: 'Supplementing the Orientalist Lack: European Ladies in the Harem', pp. 68-94. Link.