As the coeditor of the internationally bestselling expatriate women's anthology Tales from the Expat Harem, I contributed my favorite titles to VisualThesaurus.com last year for its “Dog Eared: Books We Love” column. The online tool for writers, students and teachers of writing, and marketing communications professionals worldwide, asked me to share books about the cultural wisdom that historically pools at the intersection of women and travel.
Here’s my list…
UNSUITABLE FOR LADIES: An Anthology of Women Travellers, selected by Jane Robinson“In this spunky companion volume to Wayward Women (her book about women travel writers through history), Robinson collects the global travels of 200 women across 16 centuries – from the obscure to better known authors like Lady Mary Wortley Montague, Karen Blixen, Freya Stark and Jan Morris. Grouped by geography with numerous entries for each place which serve as a conversation between the region, the time and the characters themselves, the chapters are bookended by thoughtful selections in “Setting Out” and “Coming Home”, indicating that the act of travel is and has always been a transformative force in women’s lives. Sometimes reputation risking and life threatening, but often culturally redeeming and personally empowering, travel must be intellectually prepared for, and assimilated.”
“Part of the terrific Oxford-in-Asia series, this easy-reading collection by various scholars examines the lives of 19th century Western women in the Asian tropics – pioneers like Sophia Raffles, the calamity-stricken wife of the British founder of Singapore, and Isabella Bird, the opinionated world traveler seeking to escape from civilization. It helped put into context my own struggling expatriate experience when I was living in steamy Malaysia... I especially appreciated reading about the dark side of these women’s lives, like the widely unknown and checkered past of Anna Leonowens, the famous governess hired by the King of Siam! Illustrated with fine engravings from the women’s own publications.”
DREAMING OF EAST: Western Women and the Exotic Allure of the Orient, by Barbara Hodgson
“For generations of Western women, Eastern travel has signified freedom. Yet in the more ‘liberal’ West this does not compute. How can the cloistered East be a place of emancipation? Through a series of portraits of 18th to 20th century women who traveled to the eastern Ottoman empire – Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Turkey – Hodgson demonstrates the calculus. Among Eastern liberties counted by women like Isabel Burton, the wife of adventurer Richard Burton: ‘the inconsequence of time’ and the loose clothing. The Canadian author is a book designer, and the engravings, paintings, sketches and photographs make this book a jewel to behold.”