My husband: What are you reading?
Me: Unsuitable for Ladies
Him: Why would you want to read something unsuitable for ladies?
Me: It’s not the content, it’s the title. It’s a travel anthology; travel used to be deemed unsuitable for ladies.
Jane Robinson has given us a gift. She has read the works of 190 authors —all women—, extracted the good parts and formed them into a book called Unsuitable for Ladies: An Anthology of Women Travellers. In it you will find remarkable stories by even more remarkable ladies. Extraordinary!
Robinson divides the book by the region traveled: Europe, Scandinavia, the Balkans, Middle East, Africa, Asia, India, Australasia, North and South America. Most of the writing is from the nineteenth century but the eighteenth and twentieth centuries are well represented. Her selections include better known travel writers —Karen Blixen, Dervla Murphy, Isabella Bird, Mary Morris and Frances Trollope— and many more who might be called obscure.
Funny! Lively descriptions and droll stories abound.
As to the state of the roads, no language can do justice to their execrableness…
~ Isabella Romer in The Rhone, the Darro, and the Guadalquivir, 1843
Our next suffering was supper, and here again we excited our hostess’s ire by ordering eggs in the shell, as the only incorruptible kind of food, instead of sharing the greasy liquid and nameless ragouts…
~ Mrs. Dalkeith Holmes, A Ride on Horseback to Florence, 1842
It is difficult for some people to connect tragedy and fleas together, but I am not one of those fortunate people. Experientia docet. At first, only two or three began to roam stealthily over my defenceless limbs, these were evidently the vanguard sent on to reconnoiter. Being very sleepy, I gave several vicious rubs and pinches at haphazard and pretended that so few did not signify. There was a pause in their evolutions and I —silly mortal!— drowsily rejoiced in the idea that they did not consider my blood ‘sacred’ enough for their depraved tastes, and had therefore retired in search of ‘pastures new’. This illusion was a short lived one, however. They had merely gone to fetch ‘their sisters, their cousins, whom they reckoned up by dozens and their aunts’ to join the feast and take part in the races. Up and down, round and round, they careered, taking nips now and again in a playful sort of way.
~ Ellen Browning, A Girl’s Wanderings in Hungary, 1896 [this story takes three pages and had me gasping for air]
My hotel was called The Lotus Hotel, but with the usual disregard in the placing of vowels, the key ring was stamped ‘Louts Hotel’.
~ Julie Emerson, Reflections in the Nile, 1986
Really there is everything in this volume: pleasant breezes, honor among Albanians, “short” skirts that clear the ankles, how to eat locusts, the horror of a sati, moonlight baths, siege survival techniques, leech removal techniques, an avalanche, irksome monotony, nose-pressing salutations, privations, coffee, malaria, rain, kindness, grief.
A thorough source acknowledgment and index make this work a perfect springboard for other travel books. Armchair travelers will want to read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.