The Arcadian Library in London holds one of the finest collections of writing by Western women travelling to the East. The books and manuscripts cover almost four centuries of travel and range from Mary Wortley Montagu's incomparable earlyeighteenth-century 'Turkish' letters to the publications of twentieth-century archaeologists, journalists, diplomatic wives and flamboyant adventurers. The best-known - for example Harriet Martineau, Lady Florentia Sale, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Edwards, Gertrude Bell and Lady Anne Blunt - are represented, alongside lesser-known European travellers such as the early Victorian writer Julia Pardoe and the Belgian-born Italian nationalist, Carla Serena. The feminist Mary Astell, on reading Mary Wortley Montagu's manuscript, commented that women could 'travel to better purpose' than men and could provide more accurate accounts of their cultural encounters.
This book examines the question of whether or not women's writings reflect a special 'female gaze' and discusses the style and content of women's writing about the East and the ways in which writers negotiated and adapted their narratives to conform to their readers' expectations while often, at the same time, challenging contemporary gender roles. The subject matter is wide-ranging and eclectic. The writers' interests and opinions reflect their own cultural backgrounds but extend from conformist and unsympathetic to adventurous, subversive and open-minded. Often they were more able than male travellers to observe and appreciate cultural difference and they recorded their impressions with enthusiasm and genuine understanding. Many women travellers were also talented artists and their sketches, watercolours and photographs, reproduced extensively in this richly illustrated book, illuminate much of their writing. numerous illustrations