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Travels in West Africa

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  811 ratings  ·  79 reviews
In 1893, defying every convention of Victorian womanhood, Mary Kingsley set off alone for West Africa to collect botanical specimens. Unaccompanied except for native guides, she plunged boldly into forbidding jungles, often the first European--and almost always the first white woman--ever to arrive. Undaunted by tales of ferocious cannibals, she made friends with the tribe ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published July 15th 2002 by National Geographic (first published 1897)
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That was an excruciating read! I can't imagine why other reviewers are so enamoured of this book! Admittedly, Kingsley was a remarkable woman for her time, but she is also a remarkable idiot when it comes to her so-called theories about "the African". By the end of the book, I had completely lost any admiration for this woman who did so many incredible things, but couldn't think an original thought to save her life.

So here are a few gems:

I own I regard not only the African, but all coloured race
Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Just came across a lovely bit, as Kingsley laments people's over-reliance on water filters to protect them from the many diseases rampant in Africa:

"A good filter is a very fine thing for clearing drinking water of hippopotami, crocodiles, water snakes, catfish, etc., and I dare say it will stop back sixty per cent. of the live or dead African natives that may be in it; but if you think it is going to stop back the microbe of marsh fever--my good sir, you are mistaken."

Roughly contemporary with
I wanted to like this book and at a different point in my life I would probably have enjoyed it. I actually did enjoy what I read - about 60 pages, but I simply did not want to read anymore. Mary Kingsley is a fascinating person but her comments are very late 19th century colonial comments for the most part. I think I would prefer a biography of Kingsley. And one gift to myself in retirement is not reading what I don't want to (most of the time) ...more
" sooner did I see him than I ducked under the rocks, and remembered thankfully that leopards are said to have no power of smell. But I heard his observation on the weather, and the flip-flap of his tail on the ground. Every now and then I cautiously took a look at him with one eye round a rock-edge, and he remained in the same position. My feelings tell me he remained there twelve months*, but my calmer judgment puts the time down at twenty minutes; and at last, on taking another cautious ...more
Jul 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Armchair adventurers
(From my review):

A most remarkable woman

If you enjoyed Katherine Hepburn's spunky performance in "The African Queen" or delight when Elizabeth Peters' fictional Amelia Peabody prods a villain with her trusty umbrella, you will undoubtedly enjoy the real adventures of Mary Kingsley in Africa. At thirty years of age, her parents having both died, the sheltered Miss Kingsley set off for the continent that had for so long ruled her imagination. Setting herself up as a trader in West Afric
Jazzy Lemon
Kingsley loved Africa, this is the tale of her first excursion on a scientific expedition as a young, single woman. She rallied against popular English belief and Christian missionaries and fell in love with the people.
Bruce Hesselbach
Oct 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A remarkably fearless explorer and scientist, Mary Kingsley traveled to areas where the mortality rate among Europeans was extremely high, to cannibal villages, and to rivers full of crocodiles. One of her amazing feats was to climb Mount Cameroon (13,255') by a new route through constant rain. When her native guides gave out, she made the final ascent by herself in heavy, cumbersome Victorian dress.
Her writing style is a bit uneven. At her best she can be enormously witty and entertaining, as
Laura McDonald
Sep 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
What a long book, but Kingsley's excellent sense of humor makes the dry parts bearable. She's at her best when writing in travel journal style. Can you believe this woman went alone, in 1893, to remote areas in West Africa crawling with cannibal tribes? Some areas had never been visited by a white man, much less a white woman. Her views on African problems and issues at the time are very sensible and logical to the modern reader; she never falls into the trap of basing her opinions on prejudice. ...more
Interesting in places, but largely rather dry and a bit of a struggle to get through. Also, considering what she did, I thought she might be a bit more progressive in her views, which were jarring to reading.
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
What Mary Kingsley did was pretty incredible.... in 1893, she decided -- skirts and all-- to travel to West Africa to explore, collect fish and learn more about the religion of native people. Her account "Travels in West Africa" follows her adventures as she traipses through the jungle, paddles down rivers in canoes, and hikes up a mountain in the Cameroons in a storm. Her spirit of adventure and pluck is incredibly admirable and pulls together a wide ranging story, as she travels across the cou ...more
May 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Kingsley is possibly unique in her perspective as a single white woman traveling alone in Africa in the late 19th century. While her views on race and culture are more narrow than ours, I think she conveys considerably more respect for the Africans she works with and considerably less Victorian judgmentalism than most of her contemporaries. Her style is witty and often self-deprecating.
Kathryn Raphael
Jun 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all time favorite books.

It was written in the 1890s, so it takes a few pages to get into the period English, but I was fascinated right away.

This is a hilarious, well written, thought provoking autobiography filled with adventure and touching accounts of humanity at it's finest.
I can honestly and truly say that there are only two things I am proud of -one is that Doctor Günter has approved of my fishes, and the other is that I can paddle an Ogowé canoe. Pace, style, steering and all, 'All same for one' as if I were an Ogowé African. A strange, incongrous pair of things: but I often wonder what are the things other people are really most proud of; it would be a quaint and repaying subject for investigation.
I didn’t read all of this, but I’m taking it as a read to account for all of the other reading I do for uni that can’t be counted towards my Goodreads goal!

Mary Kingsley was a fascinating woman and her travels through colonial Africa as a white, Victorian woman throw up some interesting discussions. Plus, she’s funny.
Kingsley's book covers her travels to West Africa in the 1890s. She describes her adventures canoeing up ravines and rapids, walking through swamps and mangroves, climbing a 13 000 ft mountain and dealing with missionaries, traders and the locals who include cannibals. All this by herself with just a small band of native carriers that she has to manage, coerce and trick into doing what she wants. And all to collect samples of fish.

Initially she did not seem enamoured by the locals but gradually
Nov 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Mary tells an incredible story of a 19th century brit woman freed to explore w. africa by confluence of money and male relative's deaths.
Distaff stiff upper lip-- how did she portage canoes while holding up her long dress?

It is written in Victorian (?) language; first third of the book i hardly could keep reading; then my mind transformed and i clicked in, the language gap disappeared. Curious about your experience of that.
Feb 11, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: memoir
Mary Kingsley is a 30 something late-Victorian woman who inherits money on her parent's death and decides to head off to West Africa. There, never changing out of her petticoats, but without an English escort, she tells a witty tale of her adventures. ...more
Feb 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
Not interesting enough to be an adventure.
Not descriptive enough to be a travel book.
Not funny or witty enough to be a good read.
Peter Ellwood
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
A slightly flawed but still remarkable book. It consists of the account of an astonishing journey she made, by sea and on foot through the jungle, in 1895; some interesting observations of native beliefs (fetishes), and a few notes on travels elsewhere. The initial sequence on her travels in Gabon was the most interesting for me, albeit a bit verbose, but it’s all well worth reading anyway.

I suppose what I really mean is, what a remarkable woman. Imagine a young Victorian spinster whose primary
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, africa
An unlikely adventurer, Mary Kingsley took off for research exploration in West Africa. Her love for good sailing vessels quickly draws the reader into a comfortable cojourner role and, now settled into that role, into the joys of her exquisite descriptions of both the horrid and beautiful views along the rivers and paths travelled.

Her courage and strength of character lead to places most would fear, most notably the chief homes of notorious cannibal Fan tribes and to Mount Cameroon's summit. H
Aaron Eames
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Kingsley’s account has all the adventure of an H. Rider Haggard yarn coupled with the wit of Bernard Shaw, and outdoes them both. The indomitable lady plunges into the jungle in search of scientific specimens, all in her skirts, which incidentally save her life after a fall into a spike-pit, accompanied only by local guides, who she “chaperones” and whose customs she records with a genuine (if often satirical and Victorian) sympathy, and with her calling-cards, leaving one at the peak of a mount ...more
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Travels in West Africa / Mary Kingsley. The term is extremely overused today, but Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) was truly amazing. A British adventurer/trader /author, she had a deep interest in Africa and Africans. This personal account of her 1894-1895 journey is considered a classic: it has never been out of print. Her fine sense of humor, her high tolerance of discomfort and risk, her intense curiosity, and her liberal appreciation of individuals and tribes are on display. She had a particular i ...more
Linda Hartley
Racist, sexist and of its time. I found it an interesting read when I could get past her racist theorising. She has a fairly modern conversational style and a way of writing which makes it easy to accept her world view unthinkingly, only to find oneself suddenly reading the most outrageous racist slurs. I was interested in her story, a lone white woman surviving in Africa at the end of the 19th. by trading and living on her wits. I think I would rather have read a biography really but this was f ...more
Robert R. Annand
A 19th century author who had traveled extensively in the area she describes can give a reality to her descriptions that may not contain all the detail that a modern travel writer might include but her descriptions do include a sense of wonder. Something written in the 19th century does require that the reader can bring a sense of the history of the subject area to help us relate her story to the 21st century. Since i am researching the area Ms. Kingsley visited i found her book entrancing.
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really liked this classic of travel literature. I had put off reading it for some time as I expected it to be interesting but dry, but instead I found it very humorous as well as interesting. My only complaint was there was only 1 map & it only covered part of the travels she writes about in the book. So glad I finally got around to reading this book by a truly amazing woman
Leo W.
Mar 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Remarkable journey up river, overland, and up mountain, done solo apart from native guides, in full Victorian garb (!). While she was engaged in collecting fish, her real interests were ethnographic and the contents reflect that. The prose was engaging, made even more charming by her playful wit.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
so much detail
underrated in history--
Iñaki Tofiño
Kind of funny sometimes, extremely witty... One cannot expect her not to be racist, which she was, but somehow she departs from the common discourse of her time.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not sure how I feel about this book- some of her comments! But does provide an interesting account of English 19th century superiority
Feb 06, 2021 added it
Problematic from a modern perspective. Fascinating from a contemporary one.
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Kingsley was born in Islington, London on 13 October 1862, the daughter and oldest child of doctor, traveler, and writer George Kingsley and Mary Bailey.

Kingsley wrote two books about her experiences: Travels in West Africa (1897), which was an immediate best-seller, and West African Studies (1899), both of which granted her vast respect and prestige within the scholarly community. Some newspapers

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