Women Travellers in the Malay Archipelago and the Malay Fiction of Joseph Conrad

in Critical Survey
Author: Robert Hampson1
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The starting point for this essay is Doris Yedamski’s pioneering research paper on ‘Women Travellers in the Malay Archipelago’. Yedamski begins by noting that, at the time of her paper, there had been no systematic study of women’s travel in the region (2). Yet, as she observes: ‘Travelling women in nineteenth-century Europe were far from being rare phenomena. As long as they visited relatives overseas, or sometimes went abroad for educational purposes, women were allowed to travel’ (31). There were, of course, other women travellers who did not fit into either of these categories. Shirley Foster, for example, notes how ‘health’ was also an acceptable motive for women’s travels, and draws attention to the paradoxical linkage (for women travellers) between ‘physical weakness and geographical mobility’. Nevertheless, Yedamski’s paper produces a useful typology of women travellers in the archipelago: ‘accompanying women’, solo travellers, or ‘unprotected females’ (to use the language of the time), and tourists. I will be using this typology (and many of Yedamski’s examples) later in the essay.


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