Secret Journeys: The Trope of Women's Travel in American Literature

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Secret Journeys: The Trope of Women's Travel in American Literature. Marilyn C. Wesley. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

Feminist scholarship has frequently examined how literature reflects and reinforces dominant gender roles. Marilyn Wesley's new book breaks from this pattern, exploring a literary trope authors employed to envision challenges to traditional gender roles.

Secret Journeys examines the female traveler in American literature. Wesley argues that by subverting the cultural expectation of feminine stability and masculine mobility the trope of women's travel enabled authors to articulate the possibility of changing gender ideology. For example, she argues that in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Harriet Jacobs signified her twin oppression as a slave and a woman through the forced immobility of her time in hiding and described her flight to Boston as a chance to create a new, less restrictive, identity. The mobility of the female traveler signifies the opportunity to challenge conventional gender roles.

Wesley argues that women's travel narratives can even articulate challenges to gendered norms that exceed what is "socially or literarily available to consciousness or intention" (135). This point is clearest in her discussion of A Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682). A Puritan matron captured by Native Americans and separated from the home and family that defined her, Rowlandson encountered events and people outside her cultural experience. Her description of her confusing journey with her captors served as a "metaphoric commentary on the confusing psychological reorientation necessary to her survival in a new social space" (27). …