On the contrary: counter-narratives of British women travellers, 1832-1885

Carol Anderson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This study examines five counter-narratives written by British women between 1832 and 1885 who wrote in a non-conformist or negative manner about their travel experiences in foreign countries. In considering a small number of women travellers who took an alternative approach to narrating their experiences, a key objective of this study is to consider the reasons for the way in which the women writing counter-narratives positioned their writing. After considering how the quasi-scientific concept of domestic womanhood attempted to restrict Victorian women in general, and in particular influenced how women travellers were viewed, an exploration of counter-narratives questions whether the sustained interest in more positive travel accounts reflects a simplified contemporary, if not feminist, reading of Victorian women. An examination follows of the influence of discourse criticism, alternative interpretations of geographical space, and the presence of intertextuality in travel writing. The chapters are then arranged chronologically, with each counter-narrative being analysed as emanating from the range of discourses that were in conflict during the period. The writers form a varied group, travelling and living in five different countries, with a range of contradictory voices. Susannah Moodie and Emily Innes are outspoken in their criticism of British government policy for Canada and the Malay States respectively; Isabella Fane in India and Emmeline Lott in Egypt are disdainful of foreign practices which were otherwise considered fascinating on account of their exoticism; Frances Elliot differentiates her writing by opposing the ubiquitous influence of guidebooks for European travel. Thus each account records an aspect of political or cultural opposition to established discourses circulating at the time, as the women challenge the 'grand narratives' of foreign travel in different ways. Because such accounts may be challenged by literature of the period, the study positions the women in the context of their contemporaries, and thus each chapter examines the counter-narrative alongside another account by a female writer who travelled or lived in a similar area during the same era. Moreover, before examining the range of discursive complexities and tensions that emerge in each case study, the writers are positioned in their geographical locations and historical moments so that the texts are read against the cultural background to which the women were originally responding. The marginalisation of such counter-narratives has led to gaps in our understanding of travel writing from the period: where accounts once coexisted they are separated, and positive accounts are privileged over negative ones. It is this discontinuity of knowledge that the study will address in order to create a truer picture of the diversity of travel writing at the time.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008


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