Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843, is the rather prosaically titled last published work of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. The years following the death of her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, were very hard on Mary, having to raise their son, also called Percy, and suffering a severe bout of smallpox. Nevertheless, she got through it and in 1840, Percy invited her to accompany himself and two friends on two journeys to Germany and Italy.
Although at the time of publication the book was considered controversial for dealing with political matters – not thought appropriate for a woman – really the book is very personal as she deals with her worn-out body, and her mental state, the time in Italy reminding her of her youth and her losses. For me, there is also her astonishing prose, she was truly a master of the English language, and no page is ever dull. Our copy is a splendid, fresh example, in a very attractive English provincial binding.
Far from the impoverished circumstances of Mary Shelley, Lady Anna ‘Annie’ Brassey, travelled in some style. Married to an MP and later Lord of the Admiralty, Annie made four major cruises in their yacht with its crew of thirty. Each one begat a book. Sunshine and Storm in the East is possibly her best-known account. It was her second book published in 1880, but tells of two earlier journeys to the Mediterranean, the first to Constantinople and the Ionian Islands from September 1874 to January 1875, the second to Cyprus and Constantinople in 1878.
When she went ashore it was to hobnob with the Viceroy of Egypt and suchlike as she proceeded East in her superyacht. For modern readers, I think the interest in her accounts is to gain an insight into the rather lavish, grand lifestyle enjoyed by some at the height of the Empire. The copy we offer is in the super pictorial binding designed by Gustave Doré and is additionally distinguished for being inscribed by Annie.
The most famous of all Victorian women traveller narratives is probably Mary Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa, 1897. It’s a winner on so many levels. On the serious side, it describes the first ascent of the north-east face of Mount Cameroon, a 4000-metre active volcano. On the narrative level, it has that insouciant, its no-big-deal, tone of the truly indefatigable.
When reading it, one does get the impression that Mary wanted to write a bestseller, and some of the scenes described might be a little exaggerated, or what else are we to make of her tale of being escorted by cannibals and falling into an animal trap, only to be saved from being impaled by her thick, trust petticoats?
Again, our copy of this classic is made that little bit special by being inscribed by the author.
Amurath to Amurath, published in 1911, tells of Gertrude Bell’s first visit to what is now Iraq. Bell must have been one of the most accomplished British travellers. Born into a wealthy north of England family, she became the first-ever woman to take a first-class degree in Modern History at Oxford, spoke Farsi and Arabic, was an accomplished mountaineer, and archaeologist, was recruited by British Intelligence, and was instrumental in the founding of modern Iraq. Amurath to Amurath recounts Bell’s five-month journey along the Euphrates from Aleppo to Baghdad, and back.
The book is remarkable for not only recording the momentous political upheaval caused by the rise of the Young Turks, but also for Bell’s sympathetic recording of the lives of ordinary people – ‘the attempt to record the daily life, the speech of those who had inherited the empty ground where empires had risen and expired.'
The first edition is now quite scarce. Ours is a very attractive copy in the original cloth binding.