Out Of Compass: English Women’s Writing And The Cultures Of Travel, 1604-1680
This dissertation argues that seventeenth-century women’s writing provides vital perspectives on early modern cultures of travel. Though recent scholarship has begun attending to both the historical cases of women who traveled abroad in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and representations of traveling women in canonical literature, these studies have thus far, with a few notable exceptions, neglected women’s writing as a source of critical thought on the subject. As a result, our currently scholarly frameworks tend to categorize women’s travel as either exceptional or transgressive. “Out of Compass: English Women’s Writing and the Cultures of Travel, 1604-1680” challenges these frameworks in two ways. First, it provides an expanded historical survey of the various capacities in which women traveled, demonstrating that while travel was certainly uncommon for some classes of women, it was not rare for women in general. Second, different chapters of this dissertation engage with the literary and autobiographical writings of Elizabeth Cary, Mary Wroth, Margaret Cavendish, and a traveling Quaker minister, Alice Curwen, to demonstrate that while women were certainly aware of the social stigma that could be attached to their travels, they also understood that women’s travel was necessary to social, political, and economic projects, both within England and its colonies. Thus, they do not necessarily consider women’s travel to be transgressive. Each of these women critically engages with contemporary social debates concerning a different form of early modern travel – educational travel, professional travel, commercial travel, and religious travel – to both critique the form and to explore its affordances and consequences for the lives of women. Thus, women’s writing provides scholars an as-yet unexplored set of perspectives on the cultures of travel in early modern England.