I’ve been reading this hefty tome for a little while now, starting it last month to fit in with the LibraryThing Virago Group’s themed read on “Life Stories” as all the pieces in the book are excerpts from the real lives of intrepid women travellers. This is actually a reprint of a volume published in 1993 which I dimly recall having and reading – it’s been updated in that death dates and places have been added to the short biographies of the women that precede each excerpt. This was a gift from Ali, who was sent it by the publishers; it’s a big hardback that’s a bit hard to manipulate.

Mary Morris (ed.) – The Virago Book of Women Travellers”

(20 May 2021, from Ali)

We find 300 years of travelling women here, from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (born 1689) to Leila Philip (born 1962) and they travel across all the continents and regions of the world (apart from the Poles). In the introduction Morris explains their main criteria behind selecting pieces was the quality of writing and the vision behind the writing; she states that she “regret[s] the absence of more multi-cultural voices. It is our hope that in the future both the gender and racial gaps will be bridged, but for now the voices we present are those we found” (p. xxiii) and it would indeed be good to have a new collection that covered a wider variety.

These women are intrepid, brave, cheeky and defiant. Some of them dress as men to get where they need to go, some of them go alone, some accompanied. Dear Dervla Murphy, who just died recently, took a teenager on a huge long jungle walk; other women completed feats of travel under their own steam or were conveyed somewhere and stopped and observed it. Several sing the praises of a good, stout skirt. Cities and country, rivers and deserts are all covered and described by these indomitable women.

Although most of the pieces are straight travel, some are more thought-pieces and anthropologist extraordinaire Margaret Mead’s excerpt on training fieldworkers as she returns to ground she’s covered over decades, carefully considering the changes she’s seen and how these should be recorded.

An entertaining volume with something for everyone.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 6/41 – 35 to go.