Why is it that road trips, when undertaken by men in literature, seem to be about expanding one’s life and its context, about seeing the bigger world and how the man fits into it, and yet when undertaken by women, are most often in flight from dangerous situations, and seldom, if ever, for pure adventure?
Great article by Bernadette Murphy in Literary Hub examining female role models in road trip literature.
Murphy recognises that books can provide role models to help us understand our own choices and motivations but, when planning her own road trip, wondered at the relative lack of female literary road trip role models.
Riding a motorcycle for hours on end, days at a time will disorient you in a way that opens up new vistas. That’s what I was counting on.
In the course of the article, Murphy provides a good list of adventurous female authors who took to the road and wrote about their experiences. The comments section at the end of the article provides a few more suggestions.
Murphy has added to the list of female adventurer/writers with an account of her own 5,000 mile bike trip, Harley and Me.
That trip dilated my perception of myself, of this country, of my place in the world. In a very real and sometimes brutal way, the experience of being out in the elements day after day, enduring long and arduous miles along the nation’s roads took me apart, piece by piece—and then rebuilt me.
In addition to the titles by female authors that Murphy recommends there are, of course, others by female authors that celebrate travel and adventure.
As well as famous examples like Gertrude Bell, Dervla Murphy and Freya Stark, there are also Emily Hahn, who wrote about driving across the US and some of her many other travels in the memoir No Hurry to Get Home, Edith Wharton’s A Motor-Flight Through France and In Morocco, the aptly named Aloha Wanderwell Baker who drove around the world in the 1920s and also Ella Maillart who, as well as keeping pace with Peter Fleming in Forbidden Journey, wrote about her road trip from Geneva to Kabul with Annemarie Schwarzenbach in The Cruel Way. More recent examples include Robyn Davidson and Kira Salak.
Murphy has a good point about women being underrepresented in travel literature in proportion to the journeys they have made when compared to their male counterparts.
Even when they make the same journeys, the female perspective can be overshadowed by the male. The Maillart/Fleming journey provides one example and Barbara Greene’s account of her African journey with her more famous cousin, Graham, another. Many have heard of Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps, but Barbara Greene’s excellent Too Late to Turn Back is less well known.
However, that ought not to detract from the many fine travel narratives written by adventurous females who have undertaken journeys many others would not dare and continue to inspire those with sufficiently adventurous spirits to follow in their tracks.
What other female travel writers would you recommend?