Today, with the aid of modern technology, travel is a commonplace luxury for many people regardless of gender. For women, especially, this was not always the case as travel was almost the exclusive domain of the adventurer or entrepreneur. Despite this, a great many women went against the norm and distinguished themselves as both travellers and authors. Their fervent desire to satisfy a personal need to explore the world or to pursue specific interests in such fields as science, or geography, led them to defy the constraints of their time to achieve their ends. In bygone eras, the art of travel itself was no easy task and women had to endure many hardships to reach their desired goals. In addition to this, they were often frowned upon by family and friends as they went against the social conventions of their time. No Place for a Lady examines a goodly number of these remarkable women who journeyed between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Frequently their writings funded and justified their wanderings, and were of such a quality that they still influence the genre of travel literature.
Firstly, it should be noted that Barbara Hodgson approaches the subject matter in more an encyclopaedic style than a narrative one. The scope of coverage that she has undertaken to include in her book is quite phenomenal with the extensive bibliography of books, periodicals, and reviews that she has researched. However, tackling so many individuals in such a limited number of pages unfortunately at times only allows the briefest of an introduction to these women and their works. For example when addressing "the alps" in Europe Hodgson brings to light the works of Henriette d'Angeville, Ellen and Anna Pigeon, Elizabeth Le Bond, Lucy Walker, Dora d'Istrait and Amelia Edwards in a mere two pages of snippets and references. This is balanced by the commentaries on such luminaries as Katherine Petherick, Florence Baker, and the Tinne sisters where the author dedicates eleven pages allowing readers a much better opportunity to grasp the flavour of these women's African journeys. Similarly, Hodgson's quite lengthy and frequent references to the many travels of Isabella Bird, Ida Pfeiffer, and Marianne North provide great intrigues for the reader.
The experiences of the writers are diverse and readers are transported from the Turkish harems through letters written by Lady Mary Wortley Montague to the struggles of visiting Egypt's pyramids as told by Sophia Poole and Olympe d'Audouard. One will be mesmerized by the riveting tale of Isabella Godin des Odonais, the sole survivor of a disastrous expedition in the Amazon, as she struggled to meet up with her husband.
Hodgson not only introduces readers to these prominent female travel writers but also gives insight into the zeitgeist of the different eras in which they lived. She brings to light a time when women were frowned upon for pursuing their academic interests. Some countries restricted or forbade women to travel solo.Women would have to resort to donning men's garments to travel incognito and to escape danger. Transportation also had its challenges and could require camel or elephant, sedan chair or ton jon (carrying basket), ship or raft.
Hodgson conveniently divides the book into eleven geographical sections providing a distinct focus on each particular area through varying perspectives and opinions. She heavily supports her works with maps, excerpts, and period illustrations and photographs.
No Place for A Lady can be enjoyed as an informative read. More importantly it has considerable value as an extensive introduction and reference source for further reading on early women travellers and their writings. ò