"'Is it safe to travel alone?': British Women Travelers and False Concepts of Vulnerability" MLA 2014, January 9-12, 2014

full name / name of organization: 
Modern Language Association/College English Association

During the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, upper-class British men participated in the Grand Tour, visiting the Continent, exploring their sexuality, and learning about the world in ways that their churches, homes, and universities could not offer them. Women during this time period, however, were not generally offered such educational accommodations. Portrayed in literature and history as vulnerable to worldly dangers, women were believed to be better off at home, in the private sphere. By the mid-Victorian period, however, women were traveling – and writing about their travels – and their (in)vulnerability.

Women traveled to India, surviving the 1857 Indian Uprisings and recalling their experiences in Day by Day at Lucknow (Adelaide Case) and A Lady's Escape from Gwalior and Life in the Fort of Agra During the Mutinies of 1857 (R.M. Cooper). Others, like Amelia Edwards, Gertrude Bell, Lucie Duff Gordon, Mary Kingsley, and Lady Anne Blunt traveled through Africa and the Middle East for health or research. Fictional women traveled, too. Some, like Olive Schreiner's Lyndall in A Story of an African Farm, suffered death on their travels while others, like Kate Erlton in Flora Annie Steel's On the Face of the Waters, Elizabeth in George Orwell's Burmese Days, or Adela Quested in E.M. Forster's A Passage to India, further complicated the colonial landscape with their movements. Finally, many contemporary authors, such as Hilary Mantel and Jeanette Winterson, have confronted these historical narratives of false vulnerability during travel by, for example, breaking down the Victorian stereotype of the traveling hysterical woman. Their fiction revalorizes the empowering nature of travel for British women.

Attending to the conference theme of "Vulnerable Times," this panel seeks to explore how British women left behind their vulnerability and found power within their travels in the last 200 years. It is interested in fictional and non-fictional, historical and contemporary, accounts of women travelers. We seek the narratives of both those women who were successful in combatting the stereotype of the vulnerable woman and those who may have suffered in their travels but moved outside of the private sphere with confidence.

Panel members must be members of both CEA and MLA to present. Please send abstracts to Danielle Nielsen by March 20.

Contact Information
Danielle Nielsen
Assistant Professor of English
Faculty Hall 7C
Murray State University
Murray, KY 42071