Black Books and Southern Tours: Tone and Perspective in the Travel Writing of Mrs Anne Royall

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ABSTRACT

Between 1826 and 1831 Anne Royall published nine volumes of travel writing, together with a volume of letters written while she was living and touring in Alabama. Frequently repetitious, often limited in their scope, and highly opinionated, these books provide an insight into American society during the 1820s from a very particular viewpoint. This paper explores this particularity. It argues that although some scholars have suggested there is an identifiable feminine perspective in female travel writing, Royall's writings do not readily match these criteria. As a consequence Royall's writings raise questions about the existing paradigms of female travel writing.

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'The works of Madam Royall are we grant an exception, for her style is so highly seasoned, her love of country so predominant, she gives so much of local topics & applies the lash so unsparingly to her enemies, that her books like her manners are resistless.' So commented the reviewer in the Boston Commercial Gazette on the publication of Mrs Anne Royall's second travel book. (1) Frequently repetitious, often limited in their scope, and highly opinionated, Mrs Royall's travel books provide an insight into American society during the 1820s from a very particular viewpoint. It is this particularity that this paper seeks to explore. A number of scholars have examined the works of female travel writers and have begun to analyse the ways in which gender affects their writing. They argue that there is an identifiable feminine perspective in the writing of many women who utilize this genre, and that their gender affects the subjects they choose and the tone in which they write. As the 1828 reviewer suggested, however, Anne Royall's works fit uneasily into such a pattern. Though, as this paper argues, there are aspects of Mrs Royall's books that have a recognizably feminine perspective and tone, her writings do not readily match the criteria suggested by these scholars and consequently raise questions about the existing paradigms concerning female travel writing.

Mrs Royall (her own preferred designation) set out 'with a view [...] to note every thing during my journey, worthy of remark, and commit it to writing, and to draw amusement and instruction from every source. In doing this, I shall not imitate most journalists, in such remarks as "cloudy, or fair morning," and where we stop, dates, &c. This is all the preface I deem necessary' (Sketches, p. 2). These opening sentences, written during the mid-1820s, highlight some of the features of travel writing at this time, as well as Mrs Royall's own reaction to contemporary literature. Mrs Anne Royall was one of a growing number of her sex who journeyed in the United States in the early nineteenth century and who wrote about, and even published, their observations and experiences during their trips. (2) Many professed to be writing only for their private journals, although Anne Royall, as this passage suggests, always aimed to publish hers. They also wrote to amuse and to pass on what they had learned, as male travel writers had been doing for a long time. None the less, it was sufficiently rare for a woman either to write for publication or to write travel books in the early nineteenth century, that Mrs Royall's friends advised her to adopt the pseudonym of 'a traveller' in order to disguise her identity. (3) She did so for the first volume, but published under her own name thereafter.

Though becoming increasingly acceptable by the 1820s, writing for publication was still an unusual career for women. It did, however, allow a single or widowed woman to support herself financially at home, without entering the public sphere of work. Many scholars have assumed that the strictures of domesticity meant that women writers of this period concentrated on writing novels, and that most aimed at a female audience. (4) Recently it has been suggested that early-nineteenth-century female authors were much less restricted in the form they chose to write in than has been recognized. …