Thesis and Arguments


There is contention between words and actions in Mary Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa based around gender expectations. Kingsley’s words and writing style reflects a desire to follow the proper expectations of a Victorian woman, but this assertion is contested by her actions in travel and exploration that reflect a more masculine ideal.


Kingsley’s femininity can be seen in her view that she is merely a woman without authority, the importance of keeping up proper womanly behavior, her interest in fashion, and her use of aesthetics in her writing.


Travels in West Africa is filled with the stories of Kingsley exploring deep forests, scaling mountains, interacting with dangerous animals, and making scientific inquiry all the way, all of which was considered masculine in Victorian England.

Important Secondary Works

Brantlinger, Patrick. Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988.

Patrick Brantlinger is a professor of English at Indiana University.

Mills, Sara. Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Women’s Travel Writing and Colonialism. London: Routledge, 1991.

Sara Mills is an author and professor at Sheffield Hallam University studying gender and feminism, and linguistics.

Stevenson, Catherine. Victorian Women Travel Writers in Africa. Boston: Twayne, 1982.



“Travels in West Africa” Excerpt and Source Analysis

“They are, moreover, by no means strict teetotalers, and some individuals from Accra, whom I once met, shocked me deeply by saying Mohammedans were divided into two classes, Marabuts who do not drink, and Sonniki who do. I do not know where they can have picked up this idea; but I observed my acquaintances were “hard-shelled” Sonniki. Again, the Sierra Leone and Lagos Mohammedans regard working in leather and iron as quite respectable occupations, which is not in accordance with views held in high Mohammedan circles. Very good leather work they certainly turn out—bags, sheaths for daggers, and such like, to say nothing of the quaint hats, made of the most brilliant yellow, blue, and red leather strips plaited together: very heavy, and very ugly, but useful. Quite “rational dress” hats in fact, for their broad brims hang down and shade the neck, and they also shelter the eyes to such an extent that the wearer can’t see without bending up the front brim pretty frequently;— but then I notice there always is something wrong with a rational article of dress. Then the bulbous dome top keeps off the sun from the head, rain runs off the whole affair easily, and bush does not catch on it. If I had sufficient strength of mind I would wear one myself, but even if I decorated it with cat-tails, or antelope hair, as is usually done, I do not feel I could face Piccadilly in one; and you have no right to go about Africa in things you would be ashamed to be seen in at home.” (18-19)

Kingsley, Mary. Travels in West Africa, Congo Francais, Corisco and Cameroons.                      London: Macmillian and Co., Limited, 1897.

Travels in West Africa, Congo Francais, Corisco and Cameroons is a travelogue written by Mary Kingsley and published in 1897. It was a very popular book, and one originally published copy in The University of Mary Washington’s Simpson Library. This is the copy that I am using for my project. I was unable to find anything about the publisher from that time, but in her preface, Kingsley thanks Henry Guillemard for editing the book. She briefly describes how he helped her in editing mainly for grammar and literary corrections. As far as I can find in my research and reading of the preface and introduction, there doesn’t seem to have been much intervention besides the editing by Guillemard, but women were not seen to be good writers at this time, so it is very possible there could have been further intervention by the publishers.