American Slavery Through the Eyes of British Women Travelers in the First Half of the 19th Century
My paper investigates 19th-century travel writing by British women visiting America: texts by such authors as Frances Trollope, Isabella Bird, or Frances Kemble. I analyze to what extent these travelers’ gender influences their view of race. On the one hand, as Tim Youngs stresses, there seems to be very little difference between male and female travel writing in the 19th century, as women, in order to be accepted by their audience, needed to mimic men’s style (135). On the other hand, women writers occasionally mention their gender, as for example Trollope, who explains that she is not competent enough to speak on political matters, which is why she wishes to limit herself only to domestic issues. This provision, however, may be seen as a mere performance of a conventional obligation, since it does not prevent Trollope from expressing her opinions on American democracy. Moreover, Jenny Sharpe shows how Victorian Englishwomen are trapped between a social role of superiority and inferiority, possessing “a dominant position of race and a subordinate one of gender” (11). This makes the female authors believe that as women they owe to the oppressed people more sympathy than their male compatriots. My paper discusses female writing about the United States in order to see how these writers navigate their position of superiority/inferiority.
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