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Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers

3.17 of 5 stars 3.17  ·  rating details  ·  36 ratings  ·  12 reviews
Birkett draws upon the diaries and writings of more than 50 women to vividly reconstruct the aspirations and experiences of the Victorian pioneers who ventured through the remote peaks and perilous rivers of horizons abroad--spurning the security and comfort of their middle-class lives.
Hardcover, 300 pages
Published May 1st 1989 by Blackwell Publishers
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I had such high hopes for this book! Because, what's not to like? Victorian spinsters chucking their restricted lives of drudgery to their pompous menfolk, hitching up their skirts (or swapping them for scandalous divided skirts and stout boots!) and going off to visit Egypt...or Persia...or Samarkand! It sounded marvelous, and had the added fillip of being TRUE. These were real women, fascinating women, and some of them left a pretty solid mark on the world - we're still feeling the effects (in ...more
I loved the idea of reading a book about female explorers in the Victorian era, but the title put me on guard from the start. Using a charged word like "spinsters" seemed judgmental and a little unkind (and in some cases, inaccurate). I figured that it was just meant to be eye-catching and cute, but I should have gone with my instincts.

It's clear that the author did a lot of detailed research about her subjects, but she doesn't share it in a way that's effective or memorable. The book begins wit
May 27, 2008 Gwynneth rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: thoughtful armchair travelers
Spinsters Abroad (was this a deliberate pun?) highlights the interesting phenomena of single women travelers born in the time of circumscribed Victorianism.

More specifically, these women were not those traveling to Europe or America with suitable companions. These women were spinsters, maiden aunts who were expected by society to self-sacrifice either for the aging parents or for a married sibling, all in the name of propriety. Marching off to the depths of Africa or Central Asia by one's self
Sara W
I liked the idea of this subject matter, but the book didn't end up being what I expected (or ultimately what I wanted). I wanted to get a feel for the women explorers as individuals (and a feel for the locations where they travelled), but that was almost impossible based on how this book was set up. I felt like I was reading a dissertation or thesis. The book was arranged into chapters according to the stages of life of the women explorers in general. For example, the first chapter was about ho ...more
Jane Walker
Let's state at the outset that not all the women featured in the book were spinsters. Some were widowed or still married. Birkett brings together those women who upped sticks and went exploring in foreign parts, mostly in the late 19th century. Some I knew about; I'd read a biography of Gertrude Bell, for instance. The format is awkward at first. Birkett is concerned with the stages of life of these women, chapter by chapter, and the reader loses a sense of who is being talked about, of who went ...more
Juicy subject matter, but rather dull read unfortunately. Dea Birkett has tried to write about the lives of a range of Victorian women explorers and travellers but they all get too jumbled in her laudable attempt to look at themes. Even the themes are, sadly, unsuccessfully drawn out. The book is somehow not even much about their travels.

However, it was interesting to see the contrasts and contradictions in these women and in particular what seems to have been a majority anti-feminism.
Oct 30, 2009 Sillymuse rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Victorian women travel writers
I've just started reading, but am not out of the first chapter yet, and already a little dismayed at the what I perceived to be the author's dislike of men. Once further into the book, I hope that my initial reaction to the first few pages can be revised with a more positive comment.

The bibliography is an excellent source to locate first hand source material, and no matter the rest of the book, it will be a treasured volume if for that alone.
I loved this collection of stories about lady adventurers. I've always had a fascination with them, stemming from childhood. It's a little difficult to keep everyone's names straight, and the author tends to jump from explorer to exploer in order to make her point. These explorers were wandering the earth in a good 75 year time frame so sometimes it's hard to keep track of who was where, when.
Sarah Harkness
This book frustrated me. It seems to have been poorly proof-read, in the edition I had, and some of the author's prose is very hard to disentangle, and some of it is just badly written. Also, I got all the women hopelessly muddled up, because of the way it has been structured...but hidden among the text there are some nuggets of fascinating information and research...
This is one of my favorite travel books, ever! I read this several years ago and plan to re-read it soon. I loved the stories of these bold, strong-minded women and their journeys to exotic places at a time when the world seemed so very large, and even dangerous.
Rebecca Kilby
Jul 23, 2013 Rebecca Kilby added it
Shelves: history
More about the social and political context of these women's travels than a overview of their journeys and explorations.

"Of course they thought her mad, and respected her accordingly" -Marianne North, 1893
Intersting topic, just not very well written.
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