ISBN: 1 85331 148 0
- Women Travellers in Europe
- Perceptive Tourists: Hawthorne, Stowe and Alcott
i. Sophia Hawthorneii. Harriet Beecher Stoweiii. Louisa May Alcott
- Disciples of the Foreign: Fuller and Wharton
i. Margaret Fullerii. Edith Wharton
- Guide to Further Reading
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In 1878, Fanny Kemble (Butler), by now a well-seasoned Transatlantic traveller, remarked:
‘A trip’, as it is now called, to Europe or America, is one of the commonest of experiences … But when I first went to America [in 1832], steam had not shortened the passage of that formidable barrier between world and world … Few men, and hardly any women, undertook it as a mere matter of pleasure or curiosity.
As she indicates, passage between the New and Old Worlds increased dramatically through the nineteenth century—it has been estimated that annual numbers of visitors grew from a few thousand from either side of the Atlantic at the beginning of the century to nearly a hundred thousand at the end. But it was still relatively unusual for women to make the journey, especially in the early part of the period. It was even more unusual for them to travel alone. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sophia Hawthorne, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Julia Ward Howe were all accompanied by their husbands; Emma Willard took her children with her; Edith Wharton, having been initially introduced to Europe under the parental wing, subsequently travelled there with Teddy Wharton or close friends. Unmarried women like Louisa May Alcott and Margaret Fuller could go only when invited to join friends as ‘companions’.
The restrictions of propriety here were compounded by the nature of the venture itself. Practical problems—a matter of concern to all Transatlantic voyagers at this time—were notably acute for women. First, there were the perils and tribulations of the crossing. Although the introduction of steam on the Transatlantic route in 1838 revolutionized travel between Britain and the United States by reducing the length of the passage from about five weeks to about ten days, the trip could still be fairly gruelling, especially for women of delicate constitutions. Not all were as tough as Harriet Martineau who, sailing to the States in 1834, had herself lashed to a binnacle on deck during a violent storm in order to enjoy the dramatic scene. Alcott, who sailed on the first screw mail packet of the Cunard line in July 1865, a nine-day journey, remarks that she was “not very sick, but uncomfortable all the way … I was heartily glad to set my feet on the solid earth, and thought I’d never go to sea again”.
Stowe admits wryly that visions of a sea voyage “as the fulfilment of all our dreams of poetry and romance, the realization of our highest conceptions of free, joyous existence” soon get sharply punctured by actuality. Women also felt particularly keenly the lack of privacy on board: even the Ladles’ Cabin or a shared berth with another of the same sex did not preclude the annoyance of uncongenial company. Danger was always incipient, too, especially in winter; Fuller’s fears and premonitions of disaster, even though she had the shortest ever passage of just under eleven days on the S.S.Cambria in 1846, proved tragically justified on her return journey four years later, when she, her husband, and their baby son were drowned off Long Island, New York.
On arrival at her destination the female traveller’s troubles were by no means over. Most American tourists went to England first, and though they encountered few problems here, things could get harder when they moved on to the Continent. Thomas Cook’s European tours did not start until the 1870s, so before this guides and couriers had to be individually arranged for dealing with transportation, accommodation, routing, finances, and translation of unknown foreign tongues. All this was much more difficult for a woman on her own, particularly in the remoter regions of Europe. Bandits were a dying species in midcentury Italy (much to the disappointment of some romanticallyminded female tourists), but other Continental hazards included crossing the Alps, particularly via the treacherous Simplon and Mont Cenis passes, and problems with customs officials, quite apart from the possibility of being caught up in political unrest. Unaccompanied females in Europe, too, were still exposed to the threat of molestation—unwelcome attentions from fellow passengers, for example—in contrast to the proven situation in the States where a woman travelling on her own was perfectly safe.
Despite all these difficulties and trials, the eagerness of nineteenth-century American women travellers to undertake the ‘trip’ across the Atlantic—a project that had often been dreamed about for years before—embodies a common national response. For Americans, the Old World was the goal of longings and anticipations, a place of pre-existent familiarity, known through literature and art, and constructed in advance through the romantic imagination which came prepared to discover what it had already formulated and often idealised. It was both the site of forgotten origins and a land of magic and mystery, representing something which the States could never replicate. As Fuller expresses it, “our position toward Europe, as to literature and the arts, is still that of a colony, and one feels the same joy here that is experienced by the colonist in returning to the parent home”.
For the American visitor, ‘Europe’ was not a monolithic sphere, and Britain and the Continent had distinctive meanings. The former elicited feelings both of belonging and estrangement; to most Americans, Britain was “our old home” (significantly, a large proportion of nineteenth-century tourists were from the Eastern seaboard, descendants of the original colonists), embodying all the tensions and ambiguities inherent in the mother-child relationship. It, too, could be preconceptualised through the aesthetic imagination—in this case, the literary rather than the visual—but it also signified institutions and values which the New World had ostensibly eschewed and which to confront directly could be disturbing: class hierarchies, a powerful established church, an economically divisive social system. National as well as personal self-definition was challenged here, even while the pull was irresistible. Cecilia Beaux, an American painter who studied in Paris, defines this almost unwilled attraction, in describing her first visit to England at the turn of the century:
Upon the dual origin [French and English] which was the birthright Nature had awarded me, France had absorbed and fixed a pursuing lover, but one who remembered the keen onset of an unexpected emotion felt on her approach during a night of fog on her other parent shore. Hidden by night, and a heavy veil besides, the name if not the sight of England had sounded—one of those oracular messages straight from the sources of destiny that pierce and settle in the heart and are never withdrawn from it …
[Later] I knew myself to be a plant whose roots were expanding in a deep warm soil, its own, but never felt before.
Continental Europe, attracting the New World traveller mainly from an aesthetic viewpoint, could be apprehended more easily: its seductive beauties, though awakening the senses and enlarging horizons, offered gratification without commitment, and did not necessarily call up questions of personal heritage and identity. This is not to say that all its facets could be easily accommodated. Culturally, exposure to art which often expressed a more sensual and passionate civilization than that of the homeland, could be difficult for the Protestant mind to deal with. Socially, a more rigid class system with its accompanying gap between rich and poor was both fascinating and disturbing to those brought up on avowedly democratic principles. Politically, for those Americans who were enough concerned (and many, as Fuller complains, seem not to have been), the revolutionary movements of mid and later nineteenth-century Europe invited a new look at the meaning and operation of republicanism. All these potentially disturbing encounters, though, could also provide a psychological re-charging, an experience of new selfhood and new parameters of identity.
An important question for this study is the extent to which the European experience was of particular relevance to women travellers. Did Europe ‘speak’ in any specific manner to the female American consciousness? All release from the normality of the home environment and exposure to a different world which travel enables has a special significance for women, and this was especially true in the nineteenth century when the public/private, active/passive dualities of their lives were so all-encompassing. It is notable, for example, that several of these travellers, already irked by the restrictions of domestic and family duties, express the wish that they had been born men and thus able to enjoy the freedom which maleness confers. More specifically, American women travellers responded to Europe in certain gender-characteristic ways. If, culturally and socially, exposure to an older and more sensually-oriented civilisation was liberating, it was also deeply disturbing for those accustomed to think of themselves as guardians of morality and embodiments of self-sacrifice and restraint. Their reactions to the richness of European art, including the portrayals of their own sex, are especially revealing in their often uneasy juxtaposition of emotional engagement and moralising judgment. At the same time, they often display an admirable independence of spirit, refusing to accept (male) authorized opinion or to validate an aesthetic which traditionally had excluded female expression.
Gender is also a factor in the particular objects of observation. As might be expected, the women pay close attention to domestic concerns and aspects of social or institutional life relevant to their sex. Sometimes this is related to the prime purpose of the visit. Dorothea Dix, who went to Europe between 1854 and 1857 to investigate asylums, for instance, took special note of how women were treated in them. Emma Willard, founder of the Troy Female Seminary and a pioneer in women’s education, visited Europe in 1830 partly to investigate English girls’ schools and to talk to leading English educational reformers so as to see what was being done for her own sex on the other side of the Atlantic. Lucretia Mott and Harriet Beecher Stowe, both deeply involved in the abolition movement, lectured widely throughout Britain to promote their campaign, and in so doing ascertained attitudes not only towards the slaves but also towards themselves as women acting prominently in the public sphere normally prioritised by men. In a number of cases, too, there was a strong and sympathetic interest in the plight of prostitutes and their treatment by a male-centred value system.
Other American women whose visit to Europe was less directly gender or ideologically related, were aroused by current events which drew them into new roles. The revolutionary activity occurring throughout the Continent in the mid-1840s and then again in Italy at the end of the next decade, with its emphasis on freedom from patriarchal tyranny, may have reminded them of their own subordinate and depressed status and encouraged their active engagement in the protests: many foreign women, including Americans, in Florence and other Italian cities in the late 1850s, for instance, worked in various ways to help Garibaldi and his supporters. The most well-known activist on behalf of Italian independence is of course Margaret Fuller, who became deeply involved in the Roman uprisings of 1848-9. Nearly sixty years later, Edith Wharton’s similarly ardent championship of French resistance to German hostilities parallels her own efforts to free herself from the sexual and social restraints of her homeland, so inimical to her personal and creative expansion.
Physically and psychologically, American women travellers also discovered in Europe new possibilities for self-expansion. Often subjected to hardships and difficult conditions with which they were unacquainted at home, they showed unexpected resilience and fortitude, prepared to overlook discomforts in their enthusiasm for the foreign. They also frequently experienced a heightened sense of individuality, as psychically—and sexually, in the case of Fuller—European travel awakened in them an awareness of a new sphere promising greater self-fulfilment. But exposure to the foreign could be disorienting as well: for women, whose sense of nationality is perhaps always more equivocal and precarious than men’s, leaving the homeland could be both liberating and threatening. This ambiguity is articulated clearly by Julia Ward Howe’s niece, Margaret Chanter, brought up in Rome where her mother’s first husband, Thomas Crawford, had been one of the well-known ex-patriot sculptors living in the city. She expresses the feelings of alienation as well as of enrichment which result from becoming a semi-permanent Old World resident:
A childhood and youth passed happily in Rome had quite unfitted me for appreciating the merits of America; I saw the United States with foreign and unfriendly eyes. This is common to all or nearly all children of American parents brought up in Europe … their own country will never be quite their home, they will be guests and strangers, if eventually they come to live in it.
In her recognition of the dangers as well as the blessings of a selfhood created and maintained from living in “the richer intellectual soil of Europe”, Chanter reminds us of that other “wretched exotic”, Edith Wharton, who was to become her close friend. Both women were in some ways bi-national beings, belonging nowhere and with no real patriotic allegiances—“the characteristic of what we used to call ‘the denatured American’”. If their sense of alienation was acuter than most visitors’, it nevertheless represents similar feelings of unease underlying almost all American response to Europe.
In discussing these women travellers, claims of gender distinctiveness in response and representation can only be tentative. In some cases, the significance of gender is subsumed by that of genre. Commentaries such as Hawthorne’s (letters subsequently organised into publishable form), Fuller’s (pieces commissioned for newspaper reproduction) or Wharton’s (carefully written travel texts designed to inform as well as entertain) are consciously entering an essentially male literary arena and are therefore to some extent assuming a voice of masculine authenticity. Conversely, when the foreign experiences are re-presented in the peculiarly female modes of diaries and journals (and when these have escaped destructive editing) we can justifiably look for a more feminine voice, expressing itself in the sphere of private communication rather than of public statement. The evidence of ‘difference’ in women’s travel writing is in itself problematic, as recent critics in this area have shown. Moreover, the authors are often speaking as much as travellers as women, and they may have difficulty in negotiating between the two modes. Nevertheless, their works not only make an important contribution to the body of nineteenth-century Anglo-American travel literature, but they do give another, female, dimension to our knowledge of Transatlantic attitudes in this period, a dimension which until recently has largely been ignored.
In treating the topic of American female travellers, this study focuses primarily on the subjects and methods of textual representation. While the women themselves are historically important, the main purpose is to examine what and how they wrote about their European experiences. For this reason, background and biographical material has been kept to a minimum; additional information can be found in the works cited in the guide to further reading. They have been grouped according to the general nature of their response to Europe. The first three, Hawthorne, Stowe, and Alcott, are in many respects representative mid-century American tourists, who regarded Europe essentially as a cultural and environmental treasure-house with whose riches they had long hoped to become acquainted. Sharing similar backgrounds (all were New Englanders), they reacted to the Old World largely along lines laid down by American travellers before them, although at the same time they articulate their own individuality in their works. The other pair, Fuller and Wharton, although historically half a century apart, are representative of those American visitors who not only wanted to enjoy the riches of Europe but who also sought immersion in its social and political life. For them, encountering the Old World became an ideological and spiritual commitment, involving active engagement. It also involved a process of re-identification, challenging their sense of nationality and selfhood and leading them to present this new personality in their texts.
Sophia Hawthorne in many ways represents the typical mid-nineteenth century American tourist, following well-trodden paths and predictable in her responses. One difference, of course, is that she was for some time a temporary European resident rather than simply a traveller or vacationer. She and her children accompanied Nathaniel across the Atlantic when he was appointed by Franklin Pierce to the consulship at Liverpool in 1853, and for four years the family lived in England, in Liverpool and then in Leamington. Mrs Hawthorne and her two daughters spent the winter of 1855-6 in Lisbon; in January 1858, they all left for an extended Continental tour covering France, Switzerland and Italy and including a year’s residence in Rome and Florence. They returned to England for one more year, before going back to the States in 1860. Her observations on her foreign experiences, Notes in England and Italy (1869), deal with a trip made to northern England and Scotland in the summer of 1857, and the long Continental visit begun the following year. Narrating an itinerary laid down by generations of American travellers before her, she makes her own contribution to a body of literature to which her husband, among many others, had already added. But whereas his Our Old Home (1863) and his English, French, and Italian Notebooks are relatively well-known, her work, modestly disclaimed in her Preface as never intended for publication “but [written] solely for my own reference, and for a means of recalling to my friends what had especially interested me abroad”, has fallen into almost total obscurity. And yet she is often a more enthusiastic and engaged observer than Hawthorne himself; her eye for social oddities and absurdity—the “Oriental languor” of English cricketers, for instance—and her highly personal response to European art contrast with his laconic, frequently uneasy, reaction to foreign ‘difference’.
Sophia Hawthorne was admirably equipped to apprehend and comment on Europe. She grew up in a cultivated and intellectually stimulating environment, one of the Peabody family whose talents were especially notable on the female side: her mother was a schoolteacher and translator, and her two sisters both became well-known educators and philanthropists in the Boston area. Despite little formal education, she learnt Latin, Greek and Hebrew, was competent in French, German and Italian, and read widely in history. She was also an accomplished painter and sculptress, and, had it not been for ill-health, might have gone earlier to Europe to study art. With such a background, she was ready to respond eagerly to an opportunity which she regarded as the fulfilment of a life-time’s dream—as she records in her first Journal entry in Rome, she feels sheer delight in writing down “the illustrious names of what I have all my life so much desired to see!” (198)
As for so many other American visitors to Europe, anticipation and foreknowledge predisposed her to a romanticised view. For her
Every atom [of Britain] is a jewel. History and poetry transmute into precious stones every particle of its dust … noble deeds and creations of genius make it fairy-land. (189)
Even more, like almost all ‘passionate pilgrims’ to Europe, she turned to Italy as the apotheosis of her dreams, with Rome the culmination of her voyaging. After four months in the Eternal City, on the point of departure for Florence, she expresses “an extraordinary and unexpected regret at leaving Rome” (295), declaring that she would have been “almost inconsolable” had she not known that they were to return, “so potent and profound is the hold this ‘city of the soul’ has upon the mind” (296). Its immense power and classical associations, which purge it of its history of criminality and corruption, irresistibly capture her imagination, the sight of its distant towers and pinnacles on their way back from Florence representing for her a homecoming.
Hawthorne’s romanticising response reconstructs a pre-conceptualised environment in which scenery is mediated through the lens of an aesthetic idealism. Central here is the notion of the picturesque. The archetypal English village, which she found so attractive, encapsulates this visionary landscape: “clusters of ancient cottages, gathered lovingly about a pretty church, which was often a gem of beauty” (86). The intrusion of intransigent reality upon such perfection—such as some “very ugly, small, manufacturing towns” (7) near Leeds—is an affront to her visual sense. Her search for the picturesque finds its fullest satisfaction in Scotland where, once she has got used to the notion that the countryside here is not so “delicately nurtured and polished” (170) as in England, nor bears “marks of the untiring hand of man, polishing and garnishing at every point” (147), the grandeur of the romantic Highland scenery elicits some of her most rhapsodic prose:
I was content with the sublime forms without any drapery … Naked and awful they stood—Michelangelic forms, even as gods, conversing with the skies. (170)
Hawthorne’s appreciation is also dependent on literary and artistic association. The gardens round Peterborough Cathedral are like “some wonderful Arcadia” (79); Newstead Abbey is hallowed by its connections with Byron; and throughout Scotland echoes of Scott continually enrich her enjoyment of this “peculiarly enchanted” realm (181). Her apprehension of Italy’s natural glories is even more dependent on such framing. Scenery is familiarised by reference to Turner’s paintings or Byron’s poetry; at the same time, it has a fairy-tale quality, like the “dreamland” (318) of the snow-crested Apennines, or the “magical beauty” (342) of the view of Florence seen from the surrounding hills. Elsewhere, her employment of metaphors of Edenic paradise, magic, and mystery reinforce her imaginative formulation of the Old World’s otherness.
Hawthorne’s interpretation of European art and artefacts in terms of a cultural tradition lacking in the New World is common to many Americans of the time. Clinging to a past which she wishes to see preserved (she deplores the modern addition of a hunting lodge at Bolton Abbey, for instance), she seeks immersion in an earlier age of dedicated craftsmanship in which creation was an act of devotion, as evidenced by the old pews of York Minster or the frescoes in Santa Maria Novella in Florence:
[The] inspiration of the old masters was from within, a sacred, revered flame; and with it they painted love and prayer and praise and sorrow with inevitable power, however strange and hard their lines and shapes. (438)
Here, of course, Hawthorne is judging according to spiritual, as much as to aesthetic, criteria. The influence of her Puritan background and of her own deep piety can be seen in much of her art criticism. She fails to be moved by Vasari’s or Bronzino’s works because the artists were clearly not devout men, and she attacks the same evident lack of spirituality in English Pre-Raphaelite painting. Her New England nurtured sensibilities are offended by Titian’s Venuses (in contrast to the “maidenly modesty”  of the Venus de Medici) which she finds “positively disagreeable … nay, really indecent” (353) and proof that Titian had no acquaintance with innocence and purity. Similarly, she “thoroughly detest[s]” his portrayal of Mary Magdalen, “a very large woman, quite nude”, because of her uncompromising sensuality:
Such a woman would be incapable of repentance. She is coarse and earthly in every fibre of her frame, and in every recess of her mind. It is a pity that such a woman should be painted so well. I have no doubt it is a portrait, and I am sorry that Titian knew such a person and contemplated her so minutely. It seems to show a depraved taste and nature. (392)
Such disapproval is related to her (predictably) equally distrustful reaction to the excesses of Roman Catholicism in Italy, a familiar attitude of Protestant visitors to the Continent.
It would, however, be wrong to suggest that Hawthorne’s responses are simply those of the well-instructed, orthodoxly receptive tourist. If on the whole she found what she expected to find, her reactions are often not only refreshingly personal but also distinctively gender-oriented. Somewhat surprisingly, she does not devote much attention to social conditions in Europe, especially the signs of domestic suffering or deprivation noted by many nineteenth-century American women visitors. Some of her observations in this respect seem curiously disingenuous, as for instance her amazement that anyone could consent to live in the industrial squalor of northern England; and in Italy, she, unlike Margaret Fuller, makes no attempt to link the sufferings of the Italians under Austrian rule with those of the slaves (or women) oppressed by patriarchal tyranny at home. But in substance and quality, some of her representations do suggest a more obviously female style.
Hawthorne’s description of the pillars and vaulting of Lincoln Cathedral as “numberless fountains, each reaching a different height, full of flowers, saints, and all kind of cunning devices, crystallized in mid-air by the wand of a magician, dripping solid splendour on every side” (41) may be considered an example of this kind of discourse. So may her expression of preference for Gothic over classical architecture:
a crystallized poet, as it were, of endless variety, of scintillating fancy—soaring in “immortal curves,” baffling geometric conclusions, setting known, established rules at defiance, wild beyond reach of recognised art, flaming like fire, glowing like flowers and rainbows, soaring like birds, struggling for freedom, like the soul, never satisfied. (83)
Emotional and unrestrained, this contrasts with the more objective and controlled language of the male-dominated travel literature of the period. In its disordered and irrational coherence, it is also suggestive of a ‘female voice’ or ecriture feminine as described by Helene Cixous—“Write! and your self-seeking text will know itself better than flesh and blood, rising, insurrectionary dough kneading itself, with sonorous, perfumed ingredients, a lively combination of flying colors and rivers plunging into the sea we feed”.
Hawthorne also speaks as woman when she projects her own feelings on to the scenes or objects before her. When she looks at a quilt embroidered by Mary, Queen of Scots, she imagines the latter’s sad thoughts as she worked it. In portrayals of the Madonna she sees maternal emotions of grief or anxiety: in one of Perugino’s Pietas, Mary’s sorrow is the “grief of all the bereaved mothers since Eve … Her grief is deeper than tears now, and she asks for no sympathy and wishes to hear no word” (380). Similarly, suspending moralistic judgment, she empathises with Guido’s Beatrice Cenci as an image of hopeless desolation:
Never from any human countenance looked out such ruin of hope, joy, and life … a wild, endless despair hovers over [her] … She is a spotless lily of Eden, trailed over by a serpent and unable to understand the desecration, yet struck with a fatal blight. (213)
Not only is there suggested identification with a fallen woman here, but also covert recognition of the devastating effect on women of double sexual standards.
Hawthorne never wholly rejects the voice of national and cultural conditioning and it would be foolish to seek a highly original view of Europe in her work. But she is a sensitive as well as enthusiastic commentator, enough attuned to the spirit of place to recognise wistfully that ultimately the American visitor will always remain a stranger in the Old World:
I wish I could seize something elusive and unsatisfactory in the divine loveliness of this Italy, so as to express what I always feel when I look upon it. There is a dream-like quality in my enjoyment … It is like the ghost of a very precious reality. It is something that has been, even while it is now that I have a sense of it. (467)
For her, as for so many other Americans, this enchanting other is tantalisingly resistant to possession.
When Harriet Beecher Stowe went to Europe for the first time in 1853 she was already famous as the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a vigorous abolitionist campaigner. The trip was in fact initiated by British emancipationists who invited her and her husband to their country, during which visit the couple attended and addressed anti-slavery meetings in Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Leeds, and London. Travelling as a public figure in her own right, unlike Sophia Hawthorne, Stowe was feted wherever she went—often to the point of exhaustion—and was introduced to many of the equally famous figures of the day, including Lord Shaftesbury, Dickens, Thackeray, Mrs Gaskell, and Gladstone. Much of her time, naturally enough, was devoted to stirring up sympathy for her cause and she was anxious to record the progress of anti-slavery activity in Britain. But she was also an eager tourist, determined to see all the requiredsights; and it is as a lively and entertaining example of nostalgicromantic American travel writing that her account of this visit, Sunny Memories in Foreign Lands (1854) is most notable. As she explains, this was a truly ‘sunny’ visit, and she is determined to show it as such, in contrast to the frequent “illiberal criticisms” made on each other’s countries by travellers from both sides of the Atlantic.
Stowe, like Sophia Hawthorne (whom she met in Europe, returning at the end of her third and last trip in June 1860on the same ship as the Hawthornes), was in many ways a typical mid-century tourist. She came from a cultivated and religious New England family which believed in female education (her sister Catherine kept a school in Hartford, Connecticut, at which Stowe was both pupil and teacher), and which promoted active Christianity (her father and brothers were ministers, and she herself married a Professor of Biblical Literature). Her upbringing encouraged her to look on the Old World as the Promised Land, a part of her heritage to which she was irresistibly drawn with “a kind of thrill and pulsation of kindred” (I,18).Her appetite for European travel was probably partly stimulated by her study of French and Italian, begun when she was seventeen; certainly it had grown into a deep longing by 1836 when, only a few months after her marriage, her husband, Calvin, went to Europe on business:
Only think of all you expect to see: the great libraries and beautiful paintings, fine churches … My dear, I wish I were a man in your place; if I wouldn’t have a grand time!
When she herself was finally enabled to go, seventeen years and seven children later, her anticipation still centred on a preconstructed ideal:
If I live till spring I shall hope to see Shakespeare’s grave and Milton’s mulberry tree, and the good land of my fathers,—old, old England! May that day come! (L&L, 178)
When this ideal became reality, Stowe responded to it according to the literary and artistic preconceptions which her early acquaintance with the works of writers such as Byron, Scott and Mme de Stael had created. Scotland, which she visited soon after her arrival in the British Isles, is, as for so many Americans, already “dear” to her from her acquaintance with Scottish ballads, “the songs of Burns” and “the enchantments of Scott” (I, 41).
Stratford, of course, is seen through the ghost of Shakespeare, while later, on the Continent, Byron brings Chillon to life and Naples “recalled to my mind so vividly Milton’s description of the infernal regions that I could not but believe that he had drawn the imagery from this source” (L&L, 231).Even while fully aware how the literary imagination reconstructs an accommodating environment—at Glamis, for example, she comments slyly that “the materials which the past gives to the novelist or poet in these old countries” turns ancient castles into “standing romances, made to the author’s hands” (I, 94)—it is a strategy of familiarisation in which she herself takes great delight.
Stowe’s enthusiasm for the picturesque and romantic aspects of landscape, natural and man-made, also echoes contemporary responses. She relishes “the wild, poetic beauty” (I, 61)of the ruins of Bothwell Castle and the way in which “the pointed arches, the clinging wreaths of ivy, the shadowy pines, and yew trees” of ruined Dryburgh, Scott’s burial place, make “the whole air … wild, and dreamlike, and picturesque” (I, 140-1).Typical, too, is her emphasis on the visionary, elusive quality of such beauty. At Heidelberg Castle, the flower-covered fragments seem “inexpressibly beautiful” and haunt her like a “strange dream of joy” (II, 314).Venice, a city which she visited on her second European trip in 1856, belies all the normal experiences of travellers, for whom the unknown rapidly becomes familiar, by remaining “all romance from beginning to end, and never ceas[ing] to seem strange and picturesque” (L&L, 231).
Stowe’s apprehension of the artistic treasures of Europe is in many ways equally predictable. She enters the “dreamland … the lotus-eater’s paradise” (II, 158) which the Paris art world opens up for her (she was too busy to go to galleries in Britain), conscious, like so many of her compatriots, of the paucity of tradition and culture in her homeland. She grasps at the riches with the voracious appetite of “one who has starved all a life, in vain imaginings of what art might be” (II, 159).Her responses are, however, like Hawthorne’s, coloured by her moral and spiritual assumptions. For her, art must draw on Nature, but only in its beautiful and elevating aspects; mere sensuousness is distasteful to her, as evidenced in her attack on Titian’s nude Venuses (“[he] did not seem able to paint innocence and purity, and apparently had no acquaintance with those states of being” [II, 389]). Similarly, she is moved by religious painting only where there is evidence of a truly pious and devoted spirit: Murillo’s work fails to affect her because despite the seriousness of his subject “there is no earnestness of religious feeling expressed” (II, 164), and Corregio’s Nativity is “profanity” because it “make[s] the most solemn mystery of religion a mere tributary to the exhibition of a trick of art” (II, 344). And of course her Protestant principles are particularly offended by what she considers the idolatry of Romanist art.
Stowe is, however, no mere copybook tourist, following guidelines already laid down and echoing received opinion. Her lively and iconoclastic side—perhaps inherited from her strong-minded aunt by whom she was partly brought up—is physically manifested by her behaviour in the Swiss Alps. Here, though earlier on her trip she had been so exhausted by social and professional engagements that she often had to retire to bed, she suddenly sprang to life in an almost “celestial” (II, 288) environment. Silencing their guide’s objections and astonishing her husband (in his interpolated journal entry at this point he comments that “one would almost think her incapable of fatigue” [II, 299]), she walked the nine miles from the Jungfrau snowfield to Grindelwald, scrambled down to see blocks of glacier ice at first-hand, and alone climbed a peak in order to drink in the beauty of “those strange old cloudy mountains, the Eiger, the Wetterhorn, the Schrecken” (II, 295). She also climbed Vesuvius on a subsequent European visit. Such activities are instances of that common nineteenth-century phenomenon—the remarkable emergence of female energies in new, often demanding, surroundings, largely free from the the restrictions of convention and propriety. Stowe exhibits this independence in some of her artistic evaluations. Like Sophia Hawthorne, she often judges from a gendered rather than an aesthetic viewpoint. Raphael’s Madonna di San Sisto, in the Dresden gallery, for example, fascinates her because it speaks to her own maternity:
There was a conflict of emotion in that mother’s face, and shadowed mysteriously in the child’s, of which I queried, Was it fear? was it sorrow? was it adoration and faith? was it a presage of the hour when a sword should pierce through her own soul? (II, 343-4)
Stowe also resists cultural authoritarianism, refusing to accept unquestioningly all canonical evaluations. She rejects the idolatry surrounding the old masters (“Why, I wish to know, should none but old masters be thought any thing of? … I must confess, I have some partialities towards young masters” [II, 278-9]), and stoutly defends her liking for the Princess Charlotte monument in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, despite being told that it is in questionable taste. While eager to experience all the treasures of the Old World, she is ready to challenge what she finds personally unappealing.
Indeed, Stowe does not always take tourism too seriously. Her ironic self-awareness recognises when she is most being ‘the American abroad’, mocking both her own romantic enthusiasms and the circumstances which have evoked them. Her account of an expedition to see the supposed bones of the eleven thousand virgins, slaughtered for refusing to yield up their chastity, in St Ursula’s church in Cologne becomes, in her telling, a miniature farce. She often deliberately punctures the atmosphere she has built up. Her poetic description of a moonlight visit to Melrose Abbey, for instance, is brought to an abrupt halt when she laughingly confesses that they were forced to depart hurriedly by wind and rain. Even in the midst of rhapsodising over the beauties of Alpine scenery, she reminds herself—and us—that “two or three hours’ ride in the hot sun, on a mule’s back, indisposes one to make much of the grandest scenes” (II, 252), while with admirable honesty she deflates the seeming triumph of their ascent to the Mont St Bernard hospice:
As we drove up nearer I saw the little porch in front of it crowded with gentlemen smoking cigars, and gazing on our approach just as any set of loafers do from the porch of a fashionable hotel. This was quite a new idea of the matter to me. We had been flattering ourselves on performing an incredible adventure; and lo, and behold, all the world were there waiting for us. (II, 262)
Partly because of her dedication to the cause of the oppressed in her homeland, and partly because, like all these women tourists, she could never completely separate the physical environment from the people who lived in it, Stowe placed observation of social conditions high on her European agenda. In the parts of Sunny Memories dealing with Britain, she notes the state of health of the rural poor, the morale of servants, and excellent welfare schemes such as the Aberdeen industrial schools and Lord Shaftesbury’s lodging houses for the homeless. She is also appalled by the ubiquitous gin-shops, “flaming and flaring from the most conspicuous positions, with plate-glass windows and dazzling lights, thronged with men, and women, and children, drinking destruction”. (I, 271)
Stowe’s social awareness is not, however, instanced merely by personal attention to suffering or deprivation; in fact she focuses less on such matters than Fuller, for instance, perhaps because in her semi-official tour of Britain she was not shown the worst conditions. For another reason, too, she tended to take a more theoretic or even optimistic view of social circumstances. She was well aware that much of the cultural richness which she so much admired in the Old World was founded on a hierarchical system of inequality quite at odds with American democratic principles. Thus at Warwick Castle, she is both captivated by the romantic “scene of magnificent beauty” (I, 225) which the ivy-covered “perfect specimen of the feudal ages” (I, 238) presents, and uneasy about the exclusive wealth and privilege which it symbolises. Not wholly convinced by the claim that there is no lower class resentment towards such establishments, she tries to validate her own aesthetic pleasure with philanthropic justification:
The influence of these estates on the community cannot but be in many respects beneficial, and should go some way to qualify the prejudice with which republicans are apt to contemplate anything aristocratic … With such reflections the lover of the picturesque may comfort himself, hoping that he is not sinning against the useful in his admiration of the beautiful. (I, 239)
More significantly, Stowe was also aware that much of the antislavery support in Britain came from the wealthy and advantaged echelons of society who might be considered as much oppressors of the working classes as, in the United States, white Southerners were of the black slaves. Hence she was anxious to undermine accusations of abolitionist hypocrisy and to show that privilege and beneficence can go hand-in-hand. Her wellintentioned strategy got herself into particular trouble in Scotland. Some of the strongest support for her cause—as well as much hospitality—came from the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, powerful Scottish landowners, and Stowe spends a whole chapter of Sunny Memories in refuting “those ridiculous stories” (I, 301) about the Duchess “turning her tenants out into the snow, and ordering the cottages to be set on fire over their heads because they would not go out” (I, 302). The reference is of course to the Highland clearances which occurred earlier that century, and, as George Shepperson points out,’ Stowe’s championing of the Sutherlands’ humanitarian schemes as “an almost sublime instance of the benevolent employment of superior wealth and power in shortening the struggles of advancing civilization” (I, 313) caused deep offence to many Scots for whom memories of the clearances were still very bitter. The insult was considered even greater since, at the time of writing this, Stowe had not actually visited the Sutherlands’ Scottish estates. On her second European visit, Stowe was entertained by the Sutherlands at Dunrobin Castle, and what she saw here gave her no reason to change her mind, as she writes to her husband:
I see evidently happiness and prosperity all through the line of this estate. I see the duke giving his thought and time, and spending the whole income of this estate in improvement upon it … I observe well-clothed people, thriving lands, healthy children, fine school-houses, and all that. (L&L, 218-9)
It is easy to accuse Stowe of wilful myopia here, but her comments do show an attempt to come to terms with a social system which, as she well knew, was hardly compatible with an abolitionist stance—indeed, plantation paternalism was one of the specious arguments used by the pro-slavery faction. This particular confrontation is, moreover, symptomatic of the more general dilemma facing nineteenth-century American visitors to the Old World. Caught between democratic impulses and a romantic love of tradition, Stowe both cherished Europe and experienced it as the site of conditions and beliefs with which her republican spirit was not wholly at ease. As with Twain after her, reverence and mockery are very close bedfellows in her responses. Ultimately, though, her love for a Europe of history and aesthetic beauty predominate; the note of nostalgia in a letter written at the end of her last visit to Europe perhaps articulates her deepest feeling:
It must be true, we can’t have it otherwise … Our Southern Italy trip was a glory; it was a rose—a nightingale—all, in short, that one ever dreams, but alas! it is over. (L&L, 237)
Independent and high spirited from childhood, as well as physically extremely active (in an age of long skirts, she was a keen runner) Louisa May Alcott was torn between the conflicting impulses faced by so many women of her generation: on the one hand, she longed for freedom and the chance for self-expansion which she could have enjoyed as a man; on the other hand, a strongly developed sense of self-denial and duty towards others made her distrustful of anything that could be construed as self-indulgence. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was a leading spirit in the newly-formed Transcendentalist movement of the 1840s, and his influence, together with that of the equally high-minded friends who visited the Alcott household in Concord (including Emerson and Margaret Fuller) not only provided her with intellectual stimulation but may also have inspired her desire to broaden her geographical and social horizons. Certainly her father must have talked about his trip to England in 1842, and she undoubtedly heard about the Hawthornes’ European experiences, after they returned to America in 1860 and resettled in Concord as the Alcotts’ neighbours.
After a spell as a hospital nurse in Washington, DC in December 1862 was abruptly curtailed by an attack of typhoid, Alcott returned home to continue her resolute struggle to help ameliorate the family’s ever-worsening financial situation caused by Bronson’s utopian schemes. But though she was occupied with teaching, sewing and writing, travel to Europe remained the focus of her ambitions. Disappointed in the non-fruition of her first opportunity (a friend of her sister’s asked her to go abroad as a companion, “but as I spoke neither French nor German she didn’t think I’d do” ), she eagerly acceded to a proposal which came soon afterwards to go as the nurse-companion to Anna Weld, the invalid daughter of a wealthy ship-owner, who wanted to try the German bath cures. The party sailed on 19th July 1865, landing in Liverpool on the 29th, and then followed a fairly conventional route through England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and France, finally arriving in Nice where they temporarily settled. The meeting in Vevey with Ladislaw Wisniewski, a young Pole on whom the character of Laurie in Little Women is partly based, added to the interest of the tour, but once in Nice Alcott found attendance on the sick girl increasingly wearisome and frustrating. In May 1866, therefore, she decided to leave the Welds and travel on her own to Paris and then London; her sense of release made her, as she says, “as happy as a freed bird” (149). An independent traveller at last, she had an especially “free and jolly time” (150) in London, meeting many well-known people such as Frances Cobbe, Barbara Bodichon, and Mazzini.
In April 1870, she made her second European trip with her sister, May, and May’s friend, Alice Bartlett. This time, she spent longer in northern France, as well as revisiting Vevey. Then, despite the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, she went on to Italy, calling at Lake Como, Lugano, Milan, Parma, Pisa, Bologna, Florence and Rome, where like Fuller she experienced almost non-stop rain for two months. She returned to the United States in May 1871, travelling via Germany and Belgium to London where she saw old friends and places. This was to be her last visit abroad: though later she often expressed the wish to return to Europe, she always felt herself constrained by family duties and her own ill-health.
As a visitor to Europe, Alcott was unequivocally the American tourist, motivated purely by a long-standing and self-pleasing desire—as she writes in her journal on her first trans-Atlantic crossing, “I could not realize that my long-desired dream was coming true” (142). At the same time, Europe for her was less obviously than for most of the other travellers in this study the focal point of a romantic or ideological idealism. This is perhaps best indicated by the fact that she never apparently wished to authenticate her foreign experiences in specific travel texts, in contrast to the other women, all of whom initially or subsequently planned on publication. Alcott used some of her European material in semi-fictional articles for the Independent, later gathered together as Shawl Straps, the second volume of Aunt Jo’s Scrap-Bag (1872), but her direct personal impressions are contained only in journal entries and letters, collected and published after her death by her first biographer, Ednah Cheney. Alcott’s observations are thus informal and piecemeal, with no organizing theoretic or structural principle behind them, though at the same time they have an immediacy lacking in more formal modes of representation.
It is also worth noting that Alcott’s commentary was subject to the same kind of protective editing as was Fuller’s. As comparison with the recently published new edition of her journals makes clear, Cheney not only ‘tidied up’ her grammar, spelling and punctuation, but reverted to anonymisation or omission wherever she felt Alcott’s material was too personal for public gaze. In particular, she leaves out all direct reference to Alcott’s troubles with Anna Weld. Cancelled remarks such as the following are indicators of Alcott’s increasing frustration at having to look after a querulous invalid instead of being able to make the most of her hard-earned visit to Europe:
I tried my best to suit & serve her but dont think I did so very well, yet many would have done still worse I fancy, for hers is a very hard case to manage & needs the patience & wisdom of an angel …
Dull days here, often homesick & very tired of doing nothing pleasant or interesting …
I decided to go home in May… I’m tired of it & as she is not going to travel my time is too valuable to be spent fussing over cushions & carrying shawls.
All this of course gives a portrait of a much more hard-headed Alcott than Cheney offers.
Like all her compatriots, Alcott ‘discovered’ Europe through cultural pre-familiarity and aesthetic preconceptions. Knowledge of the foreign has already been established through art and literature. In London in 1865, walking through the parks and the well-known streets and seeing Westminster Abbey, she feels “as if I’d got into a novel while going about in the places I’d read so much of “ (143). Scenes in Cologne and Heidelberg are like something out of a cherished picture book, while in Rome, “[I] felt as if I hadbeen there before and knew all about it” (211). Alcott also seizes on the romantic aspects of the Old World: Heidelberg is “a charming old place” and the sight of “the quaint stone images of knights, saints, monsters, and angels” at the Castle, by the light of the rising moon, “completed the enchantment of the scene” (144); Freiburg is “the most romantic place we have been in” (145); and Dinan, with its narrow streets, overhanging gables, and carved porches, set in a valley full of blooming fruit trees, windmills, and a ruined castle, is “the quaintest, prettiest, most romantic town I ever saw” (179). The visual attractions of scenery increase for her the more it conforms to notions of the picturesque: the required elements include castles, towers and walls standing out against a marine background (Nice); a ruined church beside an old ivy-clad mill (Lahou); and a ruined chateau with ivy-covered towers and a resident ghost (Dinan). The glories of Gothic architecture are part of this aestheticized environment, encapsulated by the cathedral at Le Mans which is “like a dream in stone” and which Alcott describes in natural imagery reminiscent of Sophia Hawthorne’s representation of Lincoln Cathedral:
Anything more lovely and divine I never saw, for the arches, so light and graceful, seemed to soar up one above the other like the natural curves of trees or the spray of a great fountain. (190)
Alcott’s romantic enthusiasms became so intense that at one point during her travels she had a dream in which the family house at Concord was transformed into “ great, gray stone castle, with towers and arches and lawns and bridges, very fine and antique” (203) and she herself had become a ghost, haunting its precincts.
Alcott’s supreme delight in visiting “the long-desired Italy” which she found “as lovely as we hoped” (208) is also familiar. Again, the emphasis is on the country’s pictorial qualities as well as on the sense of rebirth it awakens (at Isola Bella, “we felt like butterflies after a frost” ). Her detailed description of the journey to Lago di Como, for instance, not only indicates her eye for detail but effectively traces her physical progress in relation to her mounting feelings of expectation and exhilaration:
… the slow winding up, up, up out of the valley toward the sun, which came slowly over the great hills, rising as we never saw it rising before … Little by little we wound through a great gorge, and then the sun came dazzling between these grand hills, showing us a new world … a never-to-be forgotten place, and a fit gateway to Italy … when we came to Lago Maggiore lying in the moonlight we could only sigh for happiness, and love and look and look. (208-9)
Like Stowe, however, Alcott frequently breaks out of the conventional tourist mould. Though Europe is for her the site of realised expectation, it is also a place which is both unsettlingly and delightfully strange. One of her most frequently (over-) used terms of evaluation is “queer”, articulating her feeling of enjoyable disorientation: at Freiburg she sees many “queer costumes” (145); Nice is a “queer old city” full of a “queer set” of people (148); and “the queer sights and sounds” at Morlaix include “funny children … in little wooden shoes like boats” and “funny hats” (177). This ‘othering’ of the foreign as odd or absurd is of course to some extent a defensive strategy, a common feature of much travel discourse in which the observer seeks a means of coming to terms with an alien culture or value-system. So Alcott turns the extraordinary coach-ride from Lamballe to Dinan into a kind of comic set-piece, caricaturing the “queer ramshackle thing like an insane carryall” (178) with the passengers’ trunks perilously roped on top, driven by a reckless hunchback, and containing, as well as themselves, a tipsy Frenchman who quotes poetry and tries to flirt with Alice. The French family staying at their lodgings in Dinan are also reproduced as comic types—the bossy mother, the innocent daughter about to be married point during her travels she had a dream in which the family to a man whom she has seen only twice and who turns out house at Concord was transformed into “a great, gray stone to be a pompous, self-important little soldier, and the vain castle, with towers and arches and lawns and bridges, very fine son of twenty-two, who, under the misconception that he can speak English, fancies himself as May’s lover. Reporting on the wedding itself, which took place while they were there, Alcott further indulges in mockery, highlighting the groom’s discomfiture when the carriage breaks down, referring to the mother as “ma”, and describing everyone at the dinner “gabbing and gabbling as only French folk can” (184). Alcott’s amusement at these and other ridiculous occurrences in France (“their ways amuse us mightily” , “a church wedding is a very funny thing” ) is founded on a desire to assert superiority through ethnic stereotyping, though it is all ostensibly very good-humoured.
Alcott can, nevertheless, be the actor in her own comedy. Like Stowe, she sees the often absurd gap between the guide-book tourist and the situation of the real traveller. She turns her satirical eye on herself and her companions, motionless in silly little bath-chairs harnessed to obstinate donkeys; and she caricatures the incident in which the romance of a visit to a ruined castle is turned into ignominious retreat from a fierce sow and her twelve piglets. Even a trip into the hills above Vevey which is spoilt by bad weather becomes an opportunity for self-mockery: she depicts the party trudging round under umbrellas, “getting mushrooms, flowers, and colds … [and] sitting on rustic seats to enjoy the belle vue, which consisted of fog” (206).
Perhaps because of the more intimate nature of the diary and letter forms, Alcott’s apprehension of Europe is never aggrandised by hyperbole or conventional rhetoric. In fact, as she herself admits, her eye for the absurd always interposes to prevent too serious and reverential an approach to the foreign. So at a splendid Fete Dieu procession in Tours, she notes how a “very fat and fine priest, who walked with his eyes upon his book and sung like a pious bumblebee, suddenly destroyed the effect by rapping a boy over the head with his gold prayer-book” (192-3). In the case of art and historical artefacts, like Stowe she refuses to accept canonical judgments unquestioningly. So at the chateau at Chenonceaux, though she admires many of the paintings, she has no time for “a picture of Diane, a tall simpering woman in a tunic, with hounds, stag, cupids, and other rubbish round her” (194), and she refuses to be impressed by the generally-admired masterpieces:
The Guidos, etc, I don’t care for so much as they were all grimy and convulsive, and I prefer pictures of people who really lived, to these impossible Venuses and repulsive saints, —bad taste, but I can’t help it. (194)
While in Rome, she goes often to the Capitol “to spend the AM with the Roman emperors and other great men” (212), but her assessment of their appearances is deliberately iconoclastic:
M. Aurelius as a boy was fine; Cicero looked very like W Phillips; Agrippina in her chair was charming; but the other ladies, with hair a la sponge, were ugly; Nero & Co a set of brutes and bad men. (212-3)
A crowd of poor people receiving a royal gift of bread and money, with the splendid snow-covered hills in the distance, is to her, she adds, a far finer sight.
Insofar as it is possible to judge from her brief and somewhat fragmentary commentary, Alcott was not a profound observer of Europe and its ethos. Yet she was clearly deeply affected by her travel there, as her continuing wistful yearning towards it in her later letters and journal entries reveals. As her biographer suggests, her experiences also probably gave her a more objective perspective on her own background, put to good use in Little Women begun a year or so after her first trip abroad and published in October 1868. Her enthusiasm for what she encountered, plus her determination to take it as far as possible on her own terms, too, further exemplifies the position of the nineteenth-century female tourist, eager for foreign experience yet keenly aware how, for a woman burdened with family responsibilities, the chance to travel and really ‘be herself’ was a rare privilege. With more opportunity, indeed, Alcott might have proved herself one of the most vivid and entertaining travel writers of the period.
Margaret Fuller’s response to Europe, perhaps more than was the case with any other of the women discussed here, was determined by temperament and upbringing. Like the other New Englanders, she was the product of a high-minded, cultured, and morally earnest ethos which both encouraged its women and created in them deep self-unease; like Alcott in particular, she suffered from a sense of divided selfhood. Given a masculine education (that is, classical and literary) by her father, Timothy, who purportedly was disappointed that his first-born was not a son, she was encouraged to develop intellectual independence. As she herself says, the patriarchal model of excellence was always before her—“the all-accomplished man, him of the many talents, wide resources, clear sight, and omnipotent will”. At the same time, she lacked an outlet for her imaginative, passionate side, which she calls the “natural” one (1, 13); only in secret, in the garden or in the little upstairs bookroom where the view of distant hills imbued her with fanciful longings, “glorious … hopes that swelled my heart” (1, 23), could she indulge her fantasies. Conflictual though they were, both these aspects of her development contributed to her deep-rooted desire to visit Europe: her study of Latin, French, and Italian, her concentration on classical history, especially Roman, and her enthusiasm for Goethe (whose biography she wanted to write) aroused her interest in civilizations richer than America’s and made her feel increasingly that “my not going abroad is an insuperable defect in the technical part of my education” (I1, 11); her romantic idealism created discontent with an often uncongenial home environment, carrying “my almost hopeless gaze to the distance” (1, 105). Her adolescent friendship with a visiting Englishwoman, Ellen Kilshaw, provided further impetus, taking her “into that atmosphere of European life to which I had before been tending” (1, 47).
Fuller’s ideological views, as well as her mental and literary training, influenced her subsequent reaction to Europe. Teacher and leading intellectual figure in Boston, she, together with Emerson, Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, was one of the pioneers of the Transcendental movement, championing its rejection of a constraining past and its belief in the spiritual worth of the individual. From 1839 to 1842 she was editor of its journal, The Dial. An ardent feminist as well, she protested about the disadvantages suffered by her sex in her Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845)—enlarged from an earlier Dial article, “The Great Lawsuit”—arguing for greater opportunities and freedoms for women, some of which she herself had enjoyed. She asserts that “we would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man … What Woman needs is … as a soul to live freely and unimpeded”. This challenge to orthodoxy and promotion of female self-expansion was to lead her to take important personal and political steps in Europe; it also predisposed her towards the cause of all who suffered from injustice or tyranny. In Woman in the Nineteenth Century, she links women and slaves as victims of the same unlawful bondage; and while she was working as a journalist in New York, writing for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, she turned her attention to prisons, city charities, and prostitutes. She went abroad, therefore, ready to sympathise—even identify—with all oppressed peoples, perhaps seeing in their struggles an image of her own efforts to achieve genuine self-identity.
The disappointment expressed in her journal for 1833—“All hopes of travelling I have dismissed”—may refer to a halfpromised European trip based on her father’s hopes of an ambassadorship from John Quincy Adams which failed to materialise. A second projected visit m 1835, when Fuller’s new friend, Harriet Martineau, invited her to return to England with her, was also doomed to failure: the sudden death of Timothy Fuller and the ensuing family responsibilities prevented her taking up the offer. But her ambitions were finally realized when she was invited to accompany her friends Mr and Mrs Marcus Spring and their young son to Europe in August 1846. She had also been commissioned by her employer, Horace Greeley, to write articles on her experiences for his paper, the letters for which subsequently made up a large part of her posthumously published travel memoirs, At Home and Abroad (1856). The partly professional motive for her visit, combined with her already radical outlook, meant that Fuller took a more than merely self-pleasing interest in the foreign. As Blanchard points out, there had been a shift from her earlier idealistic notion of Europe as a site of personal enrichment—now she was travelling as a journalist, as well as a tourist and a literary pilgrim. Moreover, she was visiting Europe at a time of considerable political unrest and growing nationalistic revolt against repressive regimes. The Old World was thus not only a place for cultural self-expansion but also an arena for engagement of a more political and social nature.
Some of Fuller’s responses, especially in Britain, to which the party went first, replicate the literary-romantic sentiments of other nineteenth-century American visitors, using Romantic artistic ideals as a measure of evaluation. Chester, with its arched gateways, ramparts mantled in ivy, old houses, and ruined cathedral seems to her “a tout-ensemble highly romantic in itself, and charming … to Transatlantic eyes”; Edinburgh Castle, especially impressive in misty moonlight, recalls the atmosphere of one of John Martin’s illustrations to Paradise Lost; echoes of Scott increase the pleasure of visiting Perth, Loch Katrine, and Melrose. Her response to natural landscape, too, is predicated on notions of sublimity and the picturesque: she finds the Lake District scenery, filtered through the poetry of Wordsworth, “wild and noble” (HA, 134), and the pass of Glencoe is “sublime with purple shadows with bright lights between” (HA, 158). Her description of Ben Lomond, on which, having lost her companions, she had to spend the night alone, is particularly selfconsciously ‘aesthetic’: despite cold and some apprehensiveness, she extols the “beauty and grandeur such as imagination never painted” (III, 87), and denotes the view from the top “a noble vision, that satisfied the eye and stirred the imagination in all its secret pulses” (HA, 153).
Even amidst these aesthetic and natural glories, however, Fuller was as much, if not more, concerned with aspects of society. She found the social and cultural opportunities highly stimulating, meeting among others Wordsworth, De Quincey, Carlyle, and Mazzini (the last of whom was a major influence on her later involvement with the cause of Italian freedom). She was also, in contrast, deeply disturbed by the signs of human suffering and deprivation. In Manchester she notes the ginpalaces and the evidence of widespread prostitution; in Sheffield she pities “the sooty servitors” (HA, 165) working the furnaces; in London she is appalled by the gulf between its cultural and financial wealth and its dark underside of “misery, squalid, agonising, ruffianly, which stares one in the face in every street” (HA, 170). Her strongest sense of outrage occurs in Scotland where she is most acutely distressed by her own powerlessness to alleviate the suffering. To her, Glasgow “more resembles an Inferno than any other [city] we have yet visited” (HA, 159), and is “the very saddest place I saw in the United Kingdoms … so frightfully cold and dark, her crowded population so sullenly miserable”. In particular, she is shocked by the plight of the prostitutes and the “unimaginable horrors to which are there subjected this most wretched portion of the victims of civilization”. In Edinburgh, too, she deplores the “lower degrees [of poverty], where generation after generation has been crushed into the mud and where air and light cannot penetrate”. Blanchard detects a certain hollowness or superficiality in some of Fuller’s critical observations, noting her abrupt shifts from social indignation to effusive praise of scenery and suggesting that this may have been imposed upon her by the diary form. But it is hard to see other than genuine shock and outrage in these descriptions of conditions so much worse than anything she had previously encountered.
After leaving Britain, the party moved on to France, where Fuller had the chance to explore further the cultural and institutional aspects of an older civilization. In Paris she went to art galleries, participated in the intellectual and literary coteries—meeting, among others, George Sand and the Polish ex-patriot poet and radical, Adam Mickiewicz—and visited evening schools for working men, a children’s hospital, and a refuge for prostitutes. She found the city rich and stimulating, a “great focus of civilized life” (III, 107) and a place “where ignorance ceases to be a pain, because there we find such means daily to lessen it” (HA, 214). But her thoughts were increasingly turning towards Italy, for her, as for almost all nineteenth-century travellers, the real goal of her visit. She had already acquainted herself with its treasures through the writings of Goethe, Forsyth, and Mme de Stael, and her interest in its art history had stimulated her to read about Raphael and Michaelangelo. Above all, it was the country whose “shores … I had looked forward [to] all my life” (HA,217). Most importantly, she expected Italy to satisfy that side of her nature hitherto suppressed, regarding it as a site for new emotional enrichment and expansion—“Once I was almost all intellect; now I am almost all feeling … I feel all Italy glowing beneath the Saxon crust” (II,247). At last, having left Paris on 25 February 1847, the party proceeded by way of Lyons, Avignon and Marseilles—her overriding anticipation of Italy preventing her from noting much about them—to Genoa, from where they went straight to Naples. Immediately she experienced the fulfilment of her conviction that “in Italy, I shall find myself more at home” (III, 121): this was “my Italy … [I] found all familiar, except the sense of enchantment, of sweet exhilaration, this scene conveys” (HA, 217-8).
As in Britain, Fuller responded to the natural and artistic environment in the terms of a pre-familiarised ‘passionate pilgrim’. Her first impressions of Naples make “the then typical tourist’s distinction between eternal Italy and the degraded contemporary Italian”, so that Baiae is divine, and Sorrento is “beyond picture”, in contrast to the “begging, vermin-haunted, imagekissing Lazzarone” (HA, 218-9). Venice is a kind of fairy land, “a dream of enchantment … [in which] art and life are one” (III, 142), and her intoxication with its art is complemented by a new sense of wholeness as she drifts down its canals in a gondola. The wild flowers in the Abruzzi encapsulate the utter beauty of the Italian spring, inspiring the fancy that the “gods themselves walk on earth here” (HA, 426). The Italian lakes, too, perfectly living up to their depiction by poets, and artists such as Turner, are “visions of beauty that daily entrance the eyes and heart” (HA, 238).
Much more, however, Fuller became engaged with Italy’s people rather than with its artefacts and scenery. Writing to Charming from Rome, she makes clear her changed attitude:
I write not to you about these countries, of the famous people I see, of magnificent shows and places … Art is not important to me now … I take interest in the state of the people, their manners, the state of the race in them. (III, 132)
Bell Chevigny has analysed this change in terms of a move from an early position of idealism, from which Fuller viewed life according to universal and timeless values and took only an incidental and abstract interest in society, to one of radical realism, from which she focussed on specific historical and material conditions and the social revisions they demanded. Only after finally separating herself from her American roots could this radicalism fully express itself So Bologna attracted her because of its proliferation of female professors and artists and its educational institutions in which “the intellect of woman has been cherished” (III, 135). In Milan, the number of interesting radicals to be met was far more important to her than the lack of tourist ‘sights’. Even the Renaissance masterpieces in Florence affected her less than she had anticipated, and the highlight of her visit there was her introduction to the city’s intellectual community by her friend, the Marchioness Constanza Arconati Visconti.
But Rome was the central focus of her attention: it was the city of her soul, “something really transcendent, both spirit and body” (III, 141), which called her so strongly that she decided to leave the Springs in Venice in mid 1847 and go back alone to it. Of course it was also the home of her lover and future husband, the Marchese Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, whom she had met during her first sojourn in the city, and this in itself was a powerful reason for her return. Nevertheless, her commitment to it and its people was political and ideological as much as personal and emotional. Increasingly, she came to regard herself as a’Insider’, as she writes to her brother, Richard—“I am now truly happy here really in Rome, so quiet and familiar; no longer, like the mob, a staring, sight-seeing stranger, riding about finely dressed in a coach to see the Muses and the Sibyls. Caught up in the Romans’ efforts to overthrow Austrian domination, and believing that they valued her sympathy, she saw herself as personally involved in the struggle:
I am deeply interested in this public drama and wish to see it played out. Methinks I have my part therein, either as actor or historian. (III, 174)
The public drama she refers to is of course the series of revolutionary uprisings occurring throughout Italy in 1848, in an attempt to shake off Austrian domination. In Rome, these culminated in the Pope’s flight from the city, and the election of a Constituent Assembly and declaration of the Roman Republic, in February 1849. This republican triumph was, however, shortlived: the new French President, Louis Napoleon, diplomatically bent on reinforcing Catholic supremacy in Europe, in April sent an expeditionary force to Rome, commanded by General Oudinot, ostensibly to restore order but in reality to suppress the revolutionary activity; after a two months’ serge, the French finally gained entry to the city and the Republic fell in June. In this stirring period, Fuller became both actor and historian: at the end of April, she was appointed to take charge of a Roman emergency hospital by her friend the Princess Belgioioso; she also resolved to write a history of the events in Italy and Rome, to be completed on her return to the United States.
Fuller’s identification with the Roman cause inevitably colours her writing. Her Tribune letters detail the progress of events and present a penetrating analysis of the political situation, seen through the eyes of one who was a far from disinterested but still discerning observer. Even her response to natural beauty is directed by her republican idealism: rejoicing in a fine Roman spring at last, after three months of rain, she declares that “Nature seems in sympathy with the great events that are transpiring,—with the emotions which are swelling the hearts of men” (HA, 303). Though, however, this ideological engagement developed from her political and social radicalism, as well as from her involvement with Ossoli, the degree of passionate feeling which characterises her accounts is noteworthy. Her intensity of sympathy for Rome, on the knife edge between triumph and annihilation, produces some of her most heightened expression:
City of the soul! yes, it is that; the very dust magnetizes you, and thousand spells have been chaining you in every careless, every murmuring moment. Yes! Rome, however seen, thou must still be adored … Swelling domes, rooks softly tinted with yellow moss! what deep meaning, what deep repose, in your faintly seen outlines! (HA, 336, 389)
Such an outpouring, both deeply emotional and self-consciously rhetorical, suggests, as Blanchard points out, that ultimately Fuller was concerned less with the fulfilment of republican ideals than with the threatened destruction of such pure beauty. In its exuberance and impulsiveness, the deliberate antithesis of a cooler or more logically-structured style, it may also be considered ‘feminine’, illustrating theories of gendered language (female: instinctual and unrestrained; male: rational and consequential). Chevigny postulates that such gendered writing may have been dictated by Fuller’s need to prove herself a woman even while engaging in male intellectual pursuits. Though there may be some truth in this, passages like the above seem as much an immediate as a literary response to circumstances with which Fuller was so intimately connected. If partly conditioned by reader expectation, as well as by a culturally-imbibed Romanticism, she also articulates here the passionate, emotionally susceptible side of her nature.
It is significant that Fuller’s commitment to Italy and to Rome required spiritual as well as physical separation from the country of her birth. Like Edith Wharton sixty years later, Fuller could apprehend and claim Europe only through a denial of her Americanness. Symbolically casting herself as a returned prodigal—“Italy receives me as a long-lost child, and I feel myself at home here” (III, 147), she tells her old friend, Caroline Sturgis—she takes on a new national identity, relocating her native land as a site of alienation and estrangement. Reminders of it become anathema to her: in 1847, she writes from Rome, “I suffer more than ever from that which is peculiarly American or English. I should like to cease from hearing the language for a time” (III, 150). Nearly two years later, in perhaps her final rejection of a purely Emersonian self-reliance, she describes her sense of loss of individual personality, replaced by an alliance with an older tradition:
The spirits of dead men crowd me in the most apparently solitary places. I have no genius at all, I am all the time too full of sympathy.
This process of negotiating a newly positioned selfhood involves not only self-exile but also a sharply critical attitude towards her own country. In Fuller’s changed vision, Americans become the alien ‘others’, dull and unseeing, who cannot abandon themselves to “the spirit of the place” (HA, 220) and who, even after “many years’ sojourn, betray entire ignorance f Italian literature and Italian life, beyond what is attainable in a month’s passage through the thoroughfares” (III, 157). She also constantly reverts to the contrast between the United States and Italy, between a country spoiled by prosperity, soiled by the crime of slavery and unconcerned with true heroism, and one glorying in a spirit of idealism and deeds of brotherhood. Americans are criticised, too, for betraying their own republican ideals and failing to support the Italians’ fight for freedom.
Fuller’s eventual decision to return to America in July 1850 was made partly for the sake of her young son, who had suffered considerably in strife-torn Italy, and partly to see her family again. The tragedy of her death, when her ship went down off the coast of Massachusetts and she, her son, and Ossoli were drowned makes it impossible to know how long she would have retained her devotion to Italy from four thousand miles away. But it is doubtful if she would have ever re-negotiated an entry back into her own country and society. In rejecting her representative Americanness and transforming her ‘alien’ positron into subject status, she became a traveller who really could not go home again.
In June 1903, having just returned from Europe, Edith Wharton wrote to her friend Sara Norton, “we are none of us Americans, we don’t think or feel as the Americans do, we are the wretched exotics produced in an European glass-house, the most deplacé & useless class on earth”. A generation younger than the other women discussed here, Wharton was one of that restless band of Americans, early introduced to the Old World and for ever after torn between two cultures. With her girlish taste “formed by the spectacle of Rome and Paris”, both of which, travelling with her parents, she had seen by the age of six, she was henceforth destined never to feel fully at ease either in her homeland or in the land of her adoption. If her two extended pre-marital sojourns in Europe awoke in her at least one passion she could subsequently share with her husband, Teddy, they also established her chronic sense of rootlessness and ambiguous identity, which she mock-humorously describes as “the curse of having been brought up there [Europe], & having it ineradically [sic] in one’s blood!” That she in fact longed to be a full member of a civilisation which she judged wholly superior to her own is clear n a later wistful comment to Sara Norton that “France continues to be magnificent, & one envies the people who have a real patrie”.
Like Fuller’s before her, Wharton’s relationship with Europe was more profound than that of the other women discussed in this study. Convinced that she, unlike most of her fellow Americans, could truly appreciate the beauties and values of the Old World, she sought to make it her own by gaining admission to its historical and cultural ethos. Like Fuller, too, Wharton was torn between conflicting impulses which had a significant effect upon her response to Europe, but hers were of a rather different kind. Whereas Fuller had to move away from her rigorously intellectual background in order to expand her more passionate side in an environment of harmonised thought and feeling, soul and body, Wharton felt stultified by the philistinism and anti-intellectualism of her native New York and turned to Europe to provide her with mental as well as spiritual stimulation. As her travel writings show, there is some anxiety in her attitude to the Old World, and identification with the foreign other involves attention to that other’s reception of her. Paradoxically, while she felt comfortable in Europe, she also felt challenged by it; her new self-positioning took a more aggressive stance than did Fuller’s. In this respect, it is important to note that her travel texts are a direct representation of her experiences and have not fallen victims to protective editing. Indeed, as R. W. B. Lewis’s excellent biography reveals, apart from her liaison in Paris with Morton Fullerton, unpublicised until after her death and the discovery, in 1980, of a substantial collection of her letters, there is no obvious discrepancy between her public and private responses to Europe. Both her commitment to the Old World and her need to find a means of establishing her place within it are evident in her representations.
Wharton loved England, but for her it was more the source of social and cultural pleasure than of spiritual enrichment. In any case, due to her extended motoring trips on the Continent which for many years occurred almost annually after her marriage in 1885, she was more familiar with Italy and France. She was unable fully to enjoy her stays in London, either, at least while she was still with Teddy, since her chief pleasure was in the city’s literary life while he, wanting only to mix with the British sporting set, insisted on their leaving as soon as possible. These facts alone must certainly account for the relative sparsity of her writing on England, in contrast to her extended accounts of her European travels.
Wharton also looks on England with a more critical eye, perhaps seeing it in some respects as too much like her homeland. She notes dryly the national self-centredness and lack of interest in “any topic whatever outside of the political and social preoccupations of the England of the day”, mockingly describing two dinner-party encounters, one with a noted polo-player, one with a young army officer, both of whom are completely nonplussed by her attempted literary conversation. Of course she had many cultured friends here, including Max Beerbohm, Mrs Humphry Ward, Edmund Gosse, and Henry James, and her dearest experiences in England were those connected with the last of these. Her accounts of her annual visit to James at Lamb House, Rye, celebrate her sense of ‘joyous liberation” as she sees the house at the top of the grass-grown street, and her delight in “its ancient mulberry tree, its unkempt flower-borders”. Wharton found the same sense of magical beauty, emanating from a past era, at “the ancient house of Brede”, home of the Morton Frewens, which, with its vast hall and magnificent fireplaces seemed “strange, ghostly … extraordinarily picturesque”, or at Bodiam Castle in Sussex:
One perfect afternoon we [she and James] spent at Bodiam—my first visit there. It was still the old spell-bound ruin, unrestored, guarded by great trees, and by a network of lanes which baffled the invading charabancs. Tranquil white clouds hung above it in a cloudless sky, and the silence and solitude were complete as we sat looking across at the crumbling towers, and at their reflection in a moat starred with waterlilies, and danced over by great blue dragon-flies.
In England, too, she was alerted—albeit less acutely than on the Continent—to the lack in her native land. On a visit to Cambridge in May 1904, for instance, her rapture at “the gardens glowing with spring flowers, the old mellow walls bathed in pale sunshine” gives way to a gloomy awareness of difference:
How much we miss in not having such accumulated beauties to feed on now & then at home! I enjoy them so keenly that the contrast makes me miserable, & I think it almost a pity for an American who loves the country ever to come to England.
On the whole, England soothed rather than excited Wharton, and she did not feel the same desire to grasp its essence as she did in Italy and France. Italy was her first European love, the site of her earliest foreign recollections and the source of some of her purest enjoyment of environmental beauty. It was the country to which she and Teddy went most frequently in the early years of their marriage, and inspired her collection of travel articles, Italian Backgrounds (1905),and her first substantial work of fiction, The Valley of Decision (1902).Wharton’s response to Italy, like that of the other women, emanates from the notion of an ideal land, a place of irresistible attractiveness in which the visitor, released from the restraints and conventions of the home environment, can discover a new self. This ideal land is so alluring partly because it is known in advance, created from images already formed through literature and artefact. In this aestheticised setting, the ‘real’ is validated by the ‘imaged’ which it recalls, as near Orvieto, where the natural landscape “touches a spring of memory and transports us from the actual scene to its pictured presentment—Turner’s ‘Road to Orvieto’”. At such a moment, “the traveller … loses sense of the boundaries between art and life, and lives for a moment in that mystical region where the two are one” (IB, 154).
Wharton’s realisation of the Italian landscape through painting echoes earlier commentators, and she, like them, uses as touchstones the work of Claude, Poussin, Rubens and Giorgione, as well as Turner. Literary analogies are equally important here: the Bergamasque Alps captivate her through their association with the commedia dell’arte, while the Borromean gardens at Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore “are Armida’s gardens anchored in a lake of dreams, and should be compared, not with this or that actual piece of planted ground, but with a page of Ariosto or Boiardo”. Her emphasis on the dream-quality of Italy, which ‘enchants’ in both meanings of the word, is also a familiar response, but with a particular personal relevance for her. Her travels in Italy were an escape from the creative wastelands she felt Newport and New York to be, and thus represented spiritual renewal. So her descriptions of the magic of Italy in terms of “hallucinations”, “vision”, and “madness” (IB, 40, 41, 42), or of intoxication and mystery, indicate how the country spoke to her instinctual, as opposed to her rational (American), self.
Even at this stage of her life, then, though she had not yet fully separated herself from her homeland, Europe had begun to take on a symbolic significance for Wharton. Italy’s beauty is apprehended through rejection of America’s ugliness, its “modern improvement” (IB, 60),its “depressing uniformity of modern fashion” (IB, 62), and its “crass food, crass manners, crass landscape!” America thus becomes the negative, the alien other, whose great cities lack even the modest architectural dignity of “many a dull little town like Tirano” (IB, 32),and where there is no tradition of “the stratified art of centuries” (IB, 125)or any sense of harmony between man and nature. Only by separating herself from such philistinism can Wharton achieve identification with the Italian spirit and become the true “lover of Italy—the perennial wooer whom every spring recalls across the Alps” (I B, 116).
As she grew older, Wharton increasingly turned her attention to France, making it her European place of residence, and paying only brief visits to Italy. According to Lewis, the disruption of her plans to go on from the Mediterranean into Italy on her first motor trip in Europe in March 1904marks the end of the Italian phase of her life and the beginning of her permanent French affiliation. This affiliation was on the one hand cultural and social. Paris in particular represented to her the apotheosis of civilization, in its belle epoque period before the First World War. Lewis details the Parisian artistic and intellectual milieu to which Wharton’s friend, Paul Bourget, introduced her and which increasingly came to signify the environment in which she could best flourish. France’s superior attractions were also symbolised by its rich literary heritage, and her pilgrimage to Nohant, the home of George Sand, in May 1906, was the highlight of her first ‘motor-flight’ through the country.
Through its representative personalities, then, Wharton was enabled to enter into France’s desired foreignness. Her engagement with its physical environment, natural and man-made, was more complex, the result of a sharper sense of contrast between passive receptivity and more active appropriation. In some ways, France represented for her the same kind of magic which she found in Italy, and she enthusiastically expresses her admiration for a place whose “universal … sense of form”, profound reverence for the past, and innate good taste make it for her the most creatively and intelligently civilised country on earth. Luxuriating in the modern “romance of travel” (ME, 1) which motoring makes possible, Wharton gives herself up to an environment which, like Italy’s, is “picturesque”, “romantic”, and mystical. Beauvais cathedral is “like some climax of mystic vision, miraculously caught in visible form” (ME, 16); Vichy, like Tirano, has had its ordinariness transformed by the “spell” of a “magic wand” which has turned it into a “dream-town” (MF, 52); and Nancy, in the darkness of war-time blackout, becomes “an enchanted city”. Even the burnt-out cathedral at Rheims becomes “a structure so strange and beautiful that one must search the Inferno, or some tale of Eastern magic, for words to picture the luminous unearthly vision” (FF, 185). As with Italy, too, Wharton apprehends scenery in terms of the visual arts: the stimulating variety of the Auvergne landscape, for example, seems “a confusion of scenes romantically combined, as in the foreground of a Claude or a Wilson” (MF, 54); there is a PreRaphaelite precision in the Provencal landscape; and the few lights in the darkness of war-time Paris “create effects of Piranesilike mystery” (FF, 30).
Wharton, however, desires not only to be possessed by but to possess this magic. Lewis points out her compelling desire to establish a connection between the outer world of the foreign and her own personal life, to place herself within “‘the long rich heritage of human experience”‘ encapsulated by France’s treasures. So on the one hand she is eager to become the receiver of impressions and involuntary sensation. Many of the metaphors she employs express this willing receptivity: she becomes “a blank page” (MF, 7) for unknown towns to write their names on, and is happy at being “imprisoned” by the memory of Beauvais (MF, 18); she articulates the tremendous power of Rheims cathedral in terms of “a sense of being possessed by it, subdued to it” (MF, 176). On the other hand, she is not content with being merely the passive recipient of what France chooses to yield up to her, and wants a more positive and active relationship with its otherness, asserting supremacy over it. A Motor Flight opens by celebrating “the delight of taking a town unawares, stealing on it by back ways and unchronicled paths, and surprising it in some intimate aspect of past time” (ME 1); knowledge is gained through pursuit and seizure. An equally possessive desire is expressed m her description of an unmapped hill-town which she mews in the distance—“[I vowed], as we lost the last glimpse of its towers, that next year I would go back and make it give up its name” (MF, 38). Here, she is casting herself as the male conqueror, seeking to break down resistance to her own spiritual expansion.
As has already been seen in the case of Italy, Wharton’s desire to insert herself into the foreign necessitated separation—physical and ideological—from both her homeland and its inhabitants, a twentieth-century reversal of the Old/New World pattern of colonisation. Like Fuller, she chose to live an expatriot existence, staying in Paris even in the darkest war years (where, also like Fuller, she took charge of emergency medical arrangements) and purchasing a house at Hyeres, on the Mediterranean, in 1919. She appropriates France through negation of the United States, rendering its reality by reference to American ‘lack’. The “splendid surprise” (MF, 31) of the little-known mediaeval castle unexpectedly encountered in Dourdan is dependent on this positive /negative dualism—“to taste the full flavour of such sensations, it is worth while to be of a country where the last new grain-elevator or office building is the only monument that receives homage from the surrounding architecture” (MF, 32). The “sight of a well-kept, self-respecting French town” (MF, 51) like Vichy reminds her that such elegance is due not to a millionaire’s riches, but to “wise public expenditure” (MF, 52)—the sort of expenditure which in some modern republics, she comments sardonically, “sometimes seems to produce no results whatever” (MF,100).
Wharton’s two war-time works on France (neither of which is strictly a travel book) more coolly and analytically lay out America’s deficiencies. In Fighting France (1915), the “distinctively French” (FF, 3), its beauty and humanity undiminished even by military activity, is set against the ugliness of the American scene. Of the lion sculpture guarding the Citadel at Belfort, for example, she remarks wryly, “probably it is easier for an artist to symbolize an heroic town than the abstract and elusive deity who sheds light on the world from New York harbour” (FF, 203)—a monument she has already dismissed as “a pompous statue of a goddess with a torch, designated as ‘Liberty enlightening the World’” (FF, 177). In French Ways and Their Meaning (1919), Wharton takes more specific stock of America’s shortcomings, and highlights what France has to teach the New World. Once more she stresses that French civilisation is “so profoundly unlike ours—so much older, richer, more elaborate and firmly crystallised” in contrast with the “idol-breaking instinct of the freest minds in the world” (FW, 30) who, themselves barely out of the primitive state, have no time for the past and no artistic sensitivity:
Any American with eyes to see, who compares the architectural use to which Paris has put the Seine with the wasteful degradation of the unrivalled twin river-fronts of New York, may draw his own conclusions as to the sheer material advantage of taste in the creation of a great city. (FW, 44)
In the social sphere, too, Wharton insists, the French offer a superior way of life—in their open attitudes towards sexual relationships, and the freedoms and responsibilities granted to their women, for example.
Wharton’s treatment of Europe, then, is a complex signifier, revealing as much about herself as about the subject of her discourse. In many ways, the continent about which she writes is the one she wanted to find rather than the one she actually discovered. More than merely seeking to know, even to understand the foreign other, she strove for self-definition through her relationship with it, a relationship fraught with conflicting impulses. Just as she was simultaneously the American Edith Newbold Jones and the European Madame Wharton, so she was also at once the eager recipient of foreign influences and the active coloniser of her land of promise. And ultimately, perhaps she never found the place where she truly belonged.
The primary (printed) sources used here—the women travellers’ accounts of their European experiences—are as indicated in the text and the notes. Biographical material is available in Edward T James et al, Notable American Women 160-1950: a Biographical Dictionary (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap, Harvard, 1971) and in the following more specific works, although most of these pay little attention to their subjects as travel commentators. For Sophia Hawthorne, apart from Julian Hawthorne’s biography of his parents, there is Rose Hawthorne Lathrop’s Memories of Hawthorne (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1897) and Louise Hall Tharp’s The Peabody Sisters of Salem (London: Harrap, 1950). Two contemporary biographies of Harriet Beecher Stowe—her son Charles E. Stowe’s Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1889), and Annie Fields’ Life and Letters—can be supplemented by Forrest Wilson’s Crusader in Crinoline (Philadelphia, London: J. Lippincott, 1941). Apart from Ednah Cheney’s biography of Louisa May Alcott, and Joel Myerson’s and Daniel Shealy’s edition of The Selected Letters of Louisa May Alcott (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), Madeleine B. Stern’s Louisa May Alcott (London and New York: Peter Nevill, 1952) provides a full bibliography of Alcott’s writings, including details of her articles for The Independent and her Shawl-Straps (Boston: Roberts Bros, 1872), in which Alcott enlarges on and fictionalises her travel experiences. Additional information on Margaret Fuller can be found in Robert N. Hudspeth’s edition of The Letters of Margaret Fuller (Ithaca: Cornell, 1983), Julia Ward Howe’s Margaret Fuller (Boston: Roberts Bros, 1890), and Madeleine B. Stern’s The Life of Margaret Fuller (New York: Dutton, 1942). More recent biographies include Paula Blanchard’s Margaret Fuller. From Transcendentalism to Revolution (New York: Delacorte Press, 1978) and Margaret Allen’s The Achievement of Margaret Fuller (University Park: Pennsylvania State, 1979). Joseph Jay Deiss’s The Roman Years of Margaret Fuller (New York: Crowell, 1969) concentrates on Fuller’s relationship with Italy, using additional MS material, but is somewhat confusingly annotated. The best recent commentary on Fuller as a feminist is Bell Gale Ghevigny’s excellently edited anthology, The Woman and the Myth: Margaret Fuller’s Life and Writings (New York: The Feminist Press 1976), which provides useful introductions to each section of Fuller’s writings. The standard works on Edith Wharton remain R. W. B. Lewis’s biography, and his and his wife’s edition of the Letters (though a new edition is forthcoming, using additional material); two useful articles are Mary Suzanne Schriber’s “Edith Wharton and Travel Writing as Self-Discovery”, American Literature, 1987, 59, pp. 257-267, and Alan W Bellringer’s “Edith Wharton’s Use of France”, Yearbook of English Studies, 1985, 15, pp. 109-124.
Writings by other American women travellers not discussed here offer supplementary information: for example Catherine Sedgwick’s Letters from Abroad (New York: Harper and Bros, 1841); Constance Fenimore Woolson, extracts edited by Clare Benedict (London: Ellis, n.d.); Julia Ward Howe’s Reminiscences (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1899);and Alice James’s Diary (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1934).
Criticism on the American response to Europe has focussed almost exclusively on male figures such as Hawthorne, Howells, Twain, and James. Christopher Mulvey’s Anglo-American Landscapes (Cambridge: CUP, 1983)and Transatlantic Manners (Ibid, 1990)include treatment of Stowe, Fuller, and Alice James. Other useful studies on Euro-American literary and social relations, despite their scant reference to women, are Marius Bewley, The Complex Fate (London: Ghatto and Windus, 1952);Foster Rhea Dunes, Americans Abroad: Two Centuries of American Travel (Ann Arbor: Michigan, 1964),which includes a useful bibliography; Henry Steele Commager, Britain Through American Eyes (New York: McGraw Hill, 1974);and William L. Vance’s splendidly exhaustive and illustrated America’s Rome (New Haven and London: Yale, 1989).Malcolm Bradbury’s pamphlet 9in this series offers a useful literary survey and also has an excellent bibliography.
Finally, there are many recent studies of nineteenth-century female travel offering suggestive approaches to the topic, though they tend to be British-oriented in their subjects. These include Dorothy Middleton’s pioneering Victorian Lady Travellers (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965);Mary Russell’s The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt (London: Collins, 1986);Dea Birkett’s Spinsters Abroad (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989);and Shirley Fosters Across Nell) Worlds (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990). Sara Milk’s Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women’s Travel Writing and Colonialism (London: Routledge, 1991)tackles the question of a gender-specific linguistic representation of the foreign, building on earlier studies of imperialist discourse.
- These sketches are based on Alcott’s actual experiences in Europe, but changed names in them suggest that she intended them to have an essentially fictional status. According to Cheney, they give a “somewhat travestied” account of her trip (173).For this reason, they have not been used as source material for this study, although some of Alcott’s later biographers uncritically collate fact and fiction in this area.
- ed. Clarke, Emerson and Charming, Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli, 3 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1852), I, 20.All subsequent references to this work are included in the text. The Memoirs are a valuable source of information about Fuller, but the work suffers from the editors’ anxiety to protect their subject and present an “acceptable” image of her. Thus they contain no reference to her early romances; her liason with Ossoli is played down and made respectable by dating their marriage before the birth of their son, and little attention is given to her political beliefs and activities in Europe. Margaret Allen’s The Achievement of Margaret Fuller (University Park: Penn State, 1979) discusses these omissions and distortions (pp. 15-18); and Bell Chevigny’s critical anthology, The Woman and the Myth (Old Westbury: The Feminist Press, 976) helpfully indicates the differences between MS originals and published versions of Fuller’s letters and journals.
- The fullest details of the political turmoils of this period and Fuller’s involvement in them are to be found in Joseph Jay Deiss, The Roman Years of Margaret Fuller (New York: Crowell, 1969).Margaret Allen’s study (see note 1 above) also covers some of this ground, especially the nature of Mazzini’s powerful appeal to Fuller.
- Edith Wharton, French Ways and Their Meaning (New York: Appleton, 1919), p. 16. All subsequent references to this work, indicated as FW, are included in the text.