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The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt: Women Travellers and Their World
by mary russell | Travel
Registered by ETMadrid of London, Greater London United Kingdom on 3/20/2008
Average 7 star rating by BookCrossing Members 

status (set by briz-cowgirl): travelling

9 journalers for this copy...

Journal Entry 1 by ETMadrid from London, Greater London United Kingdom on Thursday, March 20, 2008

8 out of 10

This book has been languishing forgotten for anything upto 14 years (first published 1986, this copy 1994)on my bookshelf in England, as I myself have been living and travelling abroad. I think my mother gave it to me, but it is only recently that anyone's travels but my own firsthand ones have interested me. And so, in part as a result of my own research into among others the Sahara and Siberia, and in part thanks to bookcrossing (as I scanned the contents of my bookshelves), I suddenly realised that this book was calling to be read. And that has just been done!

The book covers a huge number of women travellers, the earliest and most surprising being Egeria, who wrote of her travels in a book dating cerca AD383! Obviously as Russell's book is written more than 20 years ago now, there have been many outstanding achievements relevant to this topic that do not get a mention here. She acknowledges this, and the fact that the reader may well find that the traveller they themselves are most interested in does not feature. Such is life! Nonetheless, many of the travellers that I've been discovering recently (Freya Stark, Ella Maillart, Isabelle Eberhardt, etc) do, and whatsmore it helps put into context these and others. Her focus is on women whose travels are "the result of a compulsion" and she investigates their many different motivations.

Perhaps my own biggest discovery on reading this book is Alexandra David-Neel, whose book - topical in view of current events - "Voyage d'une parisienne à Lhassa" I've just ordered from a secondhand bookseller in France.

The book covers travels in Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia, Australia, the oceans, skies and the poles... There were chapters that helped me understand better the climate in which Helen Peel travelled to the Yenisei River in Siberia by sea (her book I recently read) and made me think too of my grandmother's mother who travelled to and lived in Calcutta, where my great grandfather had been posted. There my grandmother was born, but three years later, on the death of her mother, her father sent her and her elder sister back to England - two little girls travelling to their future guardians in Oxford - a journey of three weeks.

I'd like a friend of mine, now in Australia, to read this book, as he has long been proud of his grandmother, an early female pilot. But I've realised that I need not send it directly to him - it could take an indirect route in the form of a bookring (I think I would like it to come back to me eventually as it is in some ways a reference book) should anyone else like to read it.

I should add that the dousing of coffee that the book received the other morning has given it a 'coup de vieux' - a sudden tinge of age. But still only had one reader at time of writing! 

Journal Entry 2 by ETMadrid from London, Greater London United Kingdom on Monday, March 24, 2008

This book has not been rated.

This is definitely going to be a Bookring (my first!). Will leave end Apr at latest, and will be going to:

Jinglefish (UK)
Tregossip (UK)
lucy-lemon (UK)
seethroughfaith (Finland)
verolyon (France)
Icila (Fr)
starrdust (Canada)
briz-cowgirl (Australia)<------book is here!
Friend of ETMadrid (Australia)
and back to ETMadrid (Spain/UK)

I'd like to keep the book moving so that it does indeed reach my friend in Australia sooner rather than later. If you can see you are going to need to keep the book for longer than a month-6weeks, it need not be a problem but do please let me know.

Don't forget: at any stage whilst you have the book please write a journal about some of your own travels (or what motivates you or a woman you know to travel), or those of a woman you are close to, and/or a woman that you don't necessarily know but who deserves a mention! 

Journal Entry 3 by ETMadrid from London, Greater London United Kingdom on Monday, April 21, 2008

This book has not been rated.

The book is ready to travel with me back to England in the next few days, from where it'll be posted to Jinglefish, and so begin its own journey.

The author has a website:, where it is evident that further to writing this book she has gone on to travel extensively herself.

For me, the book has served as a prelude to a large number of books written by women travellers. I'm currently in the midst of the first of these: "Forbidden Journey" by the Swiss Ella Maillart (actually in the French translation, 'Oasis interdites'), that relates her trip from Peking westward to Kashgar and then on to India, in the volatile year of 1935, and in the company of the Old Etonian Peter Fleming (brother of Ian). As well as the detail of the journey and the people they meet, what I think I love most about this book is how she expresses her love of and yearning for travelling alone. (Both herself and her fellow traveller, together for security and to increase their chances of reaching their destination, are frustrated by the constraints that go with the fact they are not entirely independent.)

What I cannot claim is to have travelled in anything like the wonderful (and enviable!)way that Ella Maillart did. But I do indeed relate to her passion for travel (and in my case living abroad) and the buzz of solo-travel. I never quite know why, but I've found that once I set off to unknown (and occasionally unstable) lands, bag in hand, I leave all my inhibitions and qualms, lack of confidence, (immaterial 'baggage' one could call it) behind, and I'm afraid of nothing, feel capable of anything, enjoy it all the more if there's a slight (but not too great) element of danger, and LOVE the experience of new people, language and places and learn from the few hiccups encountered here and there. (But I'm a homey person too and it's not easy to strike a balance!)

But it's also from travelling that one realises the immense privilege it is to be able, just by the luck of the nationality and economy one is born into, to travel freely to almost any place on the planet. I've met refugees and illegal immigrants who cannot grant themselves that luxury, or have to wait many years until they can, and who are therefore in a very different situation.

But the nature of travel is changing rapidly. These last Christmas holidays I took three flights to see family and friends - enjoyable but exhausting, and now that such affordable flights are available, almost unavoidable too. I flit about Europe as some catch buses around town, these days. And when I listened to my grandmother, housebound for many years (she's never seen a motorway or a diesel train!), tell me of the three flights she's taken in her life (she flew Bristol-Bournemouth on a 'passenger flight' in very different conditions to those of today: the pilot got lost, handed her the road map and asked her to look out for any significant roads or rivers - they landed in a field and had to complete the journey by taxi...), it certainly made me think... As did reading of Ella Maillart arriving with a caravan of camels and mules in Tchertchen, after an arduous journey across desolate country, and finding this oasis town to be without telegraph or postal service. I must admit that I was almost disappointed to find that my mobile phone had network in Djanet, SE Algeria, where I spent 5 weeks this time just over a year ago (that was my most exciting trip yet!). But I could go on and on...

Perhaps just one more word: I've realised that one does not need always to go far afield to find the most wild and deserted countryside. One of the best trips I've ever done is to hike across Corsica, where the landscape varied dramatically from day to day, and where for 5 whole days we did not even see a single road.

And here's wishing the book a successful trip! (Posted 28/04/2008)


Journal Entry 4 by Jinglefish from Woking, Surrey United Kingdom on Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This book has not been rated.

Arrived safely today and will be up next. The first thing at caught my eye about this book were the photos in the middle section - whoohooo - I love old pictures/photos that reflect the personalities of the women being written about - how the earlier travellers managed in some of those outfits goodness only knows - I'd like to see some of the men try! 

Journal Entry 5 by Jinglefish from Woking, Surrey United Kingdom on Friday, May 02, 2008

9 out of 10

So absorbed was I within the pages of this that I finished in one sitting. What an inspiring read. If only travel like this were still possible?

Some of my earliest memories in a way revolve around this concept of women travellers. As a child I was wholly fascinated by early cine films - you know the ones - black tribesmen junping around with spears and some Europeans standing nearby being welcomed (all in silence which made it all the more interesting - enough to whet the appetite!).

I don't think I've travelled nearly enough to be an expert but I have a few stories to tell and a way of doing things. For instance, no matter where I am going, I will do some research. Be it the internet or a guidebook, I will travel before even setting off physically. That way when I get somewhere I know the history, culture, places of interest etc so I don't waste precious time once there. I drag my suffering family to places no other everyday tourist would consider interesting and what places I've discovered! I like to immerse myself in local culture, attempt to speak the language, taste the local food, mix with just about anyone who looks safe enough to trust. Over the years I've met some wonderful people.

I've travelled pretty much since I can remember. My father used to cycle and compete every week in a road race somewhere or other within the UK and we went to lots of places. Races always started early so finished about midday so our return journey always consisted of a visit or stop over somewhere else of interest. We spent summer holidays in Europe somewhere and eventually I broke off and went my own way. When I was 16 I travelled to stay with my sister's pen-pals family in Germany. I flew out to Munich and spent a week there before catching the train to Regensburg where I stayed 3 days with their Grandmother before she drove me to a small village on the Austrian border where we were all going to camp for the summer. I learnt a great deal about hospitality and not to pre-judge a nation. They were welcoming and treated me like a daughter. But my fondest recollection of that first breakaway was a guy called Tommy. No, this is not a love story - this is a story about inspiration and tenacity. Tommy taught me to sail, canoe, climb (a little), and to not be afraid of new experiences - to push the boundaries. Tommy was the best in our group at all physical challenges - yet he didn't speak much and would often drift off into his own world. Tommy was also loving and shy and sometimes needed to be fed! He was 18 and had cerebral palsy. {He went on to represent Germany in the paraolympics in several events!)

The point of this story is to indicate that yes, nowadays, we all have wonderful, funny, dangerous stories to tell, but to me it the life experience and the people that make travelling so addictive.

When I was living in India, I used to have an elderly man come visit me quite regularly. He walked miles in very hilly terrain to bring me a couple of eggs his chickens had laid and for me to give to my kids (toddlers at the time). He thought nothing of it and said he was humbled that I (a white lady) was willingly living in a backward tribal area far from all home comforts and the support of my family. Yet all along it was me that was humbled. He's passed away now but I will never forget him.

There was another time when we had been travelling all day through the dusty mountain tracks and were parched. We stopped at the roadside as my son (about 2 at the time) needed a wee. We were seen and suddenly the sound of "white lady" could be heard as the locals rushed out to see me. They had very little and lived in very basic conditions but they went into their fields and picked a couple of cucumbers and sliced them up. They were the best cucumbers I have ever eaten - the refreshment they gave was astounding and just what was needed. They had water but I'm always wary of unknown water for obvious reasons so their hospitatility was a real education!

No matter how different people's backgrounds or cultures we all have the same basic human needs and desires - we just have different ways of doing things and this is what makes mankind so interesting. The places we live influence who we are. The more you travel the more you learn.

As for the possibility of someone important being left out of the book - oh yes, plenty as Russell acknowledges. But I have to mention Harriet Chalmers-Adams.

This article sums her up and finishes with a nice quote about women adverturers.

Ohh, as to my initial comment about women coping in the clothing of the time - many interesting ways of dealing with this are in the book - but I did laugh when Miss Kingsley {finding herself at the bottom of an animal trap atop nine ebony spikes} rather amusing when she declared the words which have become the books title!

Thanks ETMadrid for passing this book my way. I have read similar but I like Russell's analysis as to the motivations behind - a good social commentary of times.

I've PMd Tregossip for her address and will pass along shortly. 

Journal Entry 6 by Jinglefish from Woking, Surrey United Kingdom on Wednesday, May 07, 2008

This book has not been rated.

Posted 1st class to Tregossip today to enjoy. I'm looking forward to the following installments:-) 

Journal Entry 7 by Tregossip from St. Austell, Cornwall United Kingdom on Thursday, May 08, 2008

8 out of 10

Arrived this morning and looking forward to this read,

I can't add more to this than has already been JE'ed, a great book and loved the autor's style of writing 

Journal Entry 8 by lucy-lemon from Llandudno, Wales United Kingdom on Monday, May 26, 2008

This book has not been rated.

This arrived a while ago, but because I've had so much uni work I've kept all the book shaped parcels in a pile in my room! Work (and uni) is all over now, so I can just read and read and read. Looking forward to this a lot.


I was thinking of this book a lot over the summer, mainly because I was in Morocco with my parents and wanted to break off by myself and go to Casablance and Marrakesh. They wouldn't let me so I tried telling them about this book. That didn't persuade them either. So despite not travelling by myself, I did get to see Marrakesh, and I loved it. On the way there we travelled through the Atlas Mountains, which was an experience in itself. I saw a truck loaded up with carpets and covered in colourful slogans which made me think of India, and saw a herd of camels being driven to market. I also liked the fact that I could get by in French, simply cuz it made life so much easier! 

Journal Entry 9 by seethroughfaith from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Friday, July 18, 2008

This book has not been rated.

This arrived while I was erm travelling lol

I came home last night having been on a solo tour of ostra-bothnia (northern Finland) - having stayed in Kokkola (the old town is marvellous) and then on my way south stopping off at Larsmo (north of Pietarsaari), Vaasa, Lappfjärd (near Kristinestad) and back to Turku on highway 8 (the coastal route which goes from Turku where I live to the north!). I started the trip by attending a 5 day Christian conference in Himos near Jämsä and the route from there to Kokkola was amazingly beautiful through the lake land. 

Journal Entry 10 by seethroughfaith from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Monday, July 21, 2008

This book has not been rated.

Starting this tonight. 

Journal Entry 11 by seethroughfaith from Turku, Varsinais-Suomi / Egentliga Finland Finland on Thursday, July 24, 2008

This book has not been rated.

Nope. this wasn't for me. Thanks for letting me have a peek though. Off to France with it! 

Journal Entry 12 by seethroughfaith at Lyon, Rhône-Alpes France on Thursday, July 24, 2008

This book has not been rated.

Released 9 yrs ago (7/25/2008 UTC) at Lyon, Rhône-Alpes France



Posting this out - should be with you shortly. 

Journal Entry 13 by verolyon from Poissy, Ile-de-France France on Saturday, August 02, 2008

6 out of 10

I found it waiting for me along with two other BC books when I arrived at my parents'. Thanks ETMadrid and Seethroughfaith !

Sorry I didn't make a JE after reading the book. I'm making up for it now...

I learnt a lot about women travellers while reading this book (before that, I only knew of Ella Maillart), but wished more contemporary travellers were dealt with too.
I didn't like the way their stories were described, though. I would have prefered not to have them distilled in several chapters, as I sometimes lost the thread of it... The chapter I liked the most was at the end of the book, the one where the author described the reasons that prompted those women to travel. Maybe that's because it is the one I could most relate to.

As for my own experience as a woman traveller... I have as yet rarely been a solo traveller - only for a couple of days in European countries, so that's not much of an adventure (besides, solo women travellers are now far more common than at the times of the women in this book). But I still admire women that travel solo today, and if I have the opportunity, I'd like to experience it too. I never feel in danger as a solo woman when I'm alone on the streets at night, even in some (relatively) "sensitive" areas (but of course, that's not the same as being a traveler). I think that in some cases, to be a woman can even protect you (but that's my personal feeling...)

As for my experiences and feelings towards traveling, I traveled sometimes, with my parents and more recently with my sisters and friends. I lived abroad in several countries too. Of course, this gave me the taste of traveling, and I want to see the world. But on the other hand, I'm concerned about the environment, and climate change in particular, and plane trips are no good for the climate (big contibution to the greenhouse effect). So I try to avoid it as much as I can, chosing to go by train when I can (this summer, we traveled from Paris to Portugal by train - and it was a great experience !).
Another point is that sometimes, when you travl, there's such a lifeway gap, based on both money and culture... I don't want to go to a country and just be a consummer - ie consume the beautiful landscapes, the "so charming" cultural traits, etc... I sometimes feel a kind of guilt... I like to learn about history, about religion, about art, the language etc before going to a country - I feel I'm more able to understand the people when I do that. And it's not only that I feel I should do it, I really enjoy this way of traveling way before leaving! It makes the real trip a lot more exciting ! Also, I'd like to spend more time knowing local people next time I go abroad, to learn from them, exchange. Another thing I want to pay attention to, is make sure the money I spend in the travel goes to the local people in the end (and not to an international travels agent for example).
Well, I suppose I can sum it up like "greener and fairer traveling".
Also, I agree with ETMadrid on this point, you sometimes don't need to go very far away to have great travel expreriences. One of my personal examples is Corsica, too, where I spent 5 days kayaking from beach to beach 2 years ago, sleeping on beaches... it was a great time, with great sceneries, both smooth and rough sea...


Journal Entry 14 by wingIcilawing from Nantes, Pays de la Loire France on Monday, October 06, 2008

This book has not been rated.

Arrived this morning. Thanks verolyon (mais attention l'enveloppe s'était ouverte, un peu de scotch la prochaine fois ?) ;) 

Journal Entry 15 by wingIcilawing from Nantes, Pays de la Loire France on Monday, October 27, 2008

This book has not been rated.

I was expecting more contemporary experiences but anyway, thanks for sharing.

PMing starrdust 

Journal Entry 16 by wingIcilawing from Nantes, Pays de la Loire France on Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This book has not been rated.

On it's way to Canada. I just forgot the JE. terribly sorry ET. 

Journal Entry 17 by wingstarrdustwing from Cookstown, Ontario Canada on Thursday, November 13, 2008

This book has not been rated.

This book arrived safely in Canada today, and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Thank you so much for including me in this BookRing. 

Journal Entry 18 by wingstarrdustwing from Cookstown, Ontario Canada on Monday, December 29, 2008

8 out of 10

I finished reading this today - - what a fascinating book to read! It was initially the unique title of this book that caught my attention when I signed up for the bookring, and now I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to read it. I now have much more of an appreciation for women travellers around the world, from early times to present day. The author moves the reader along from one traveller to another, coming back to previous women based on the topic being discussed. Definitely gives insight into the motivation for women to start travelling in the early days...either on their own in solo expeditions or with husbands or partners, or as part of a team. Amazing to think of what many travellers have endured over time.

I have sent a pm to briz-cowgirl for her mailing address and hope to have this in the post by the end of this week.

Thank you, ETMadrid, for sharing this book with all of us! 

Journal Entry 19 by wingstarrdustwing from Cookstown, Ontario Canada on Wednesday, December 31, 2008

This book has not been rated.

Mailed this book today, so it is now on its way to Australia. 

Journal Entry 20 by briz-cowgirl from Perth, Western Australia Australia on Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This book has not been rated.

Received today from starrdust, many thanks! Looking forward to starting this shortly once I finish another bookring. 

Journal Entry 21 by briz-cowgirl from Perth, Western Australia Australia on Tuesday, January 20, 2009

8 out of 10

Thanks ETMadrid for sharing this book. Fascinating reading, I cannot imagine making any of the land journeys some of these women took, especially in the clothes of their era!
I haven't travelled a great deal myself, although I would dearly love to. Damn Australia for being so isolated from the entire world! I am heading off to Italy on my own in April however, that is going to be very special.
Awaiting details of the next person's address...

ADDIT 26.01.09 - Heading off in the mail to ETMadrid's friend in my hometown tomorrow morning! 

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