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Women Travel Writers

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Women Travel Writers

After my own presentation, I wanted to dig a little deeper and see how women travel writers were representing nature in the 18th century. I wondered if the women's descriptions differed far from the men that I studied in my presentation. I want to focus on Dorothy Wordsworth (William's sister), Ann Radcliffe and Helen Maria Williams. I'm curious to know if they were guilty of over-representing women in landscape and nature scenes. At the very end, I'll put in my two cents about the gendering of Nature.

First of all, Dorothy Wordsworth traveled with her brother a lot in the early 1800's; during this time she kept a journal and wrote, in rich details, about the landscape. Although she wrote predominately with a picturesque tone, she made an effort to pay attention to the sharp, jarring contrasts in nature, like crags, rough edges, and precipices. William Snyder's essay "Mother Nature's Other Natures: Landscape in Women's Writing, 1770-1830" suggests that it was Dorothy's intention to use the paradoxes in nature to focus on Nature's contrast. Snyder's source for his theory comes from his close readings of Dorothy's journals; he explains that her language and vocabulary are picturesque, but that she "presents Nature in need of care" (146). Snyder infers that for Dorothy, "maternal care flows out from the human heart, not to it from above or beyond" (146). Snyder comments that Dorothy made a point of highlighting the irregularities in nature and draws her inspiration on the irony of ordered chaos. Snyder concludes that Dorothy likens Nature to a dress-maker, the "female as pattern-maker" (148). He suggests that she places emphasis on what "the hands, not the breasts, do" (148). Snyder also points out that Dorothy usually referred to Nature with "the impersonal pronoun 'it,' and not with 'she' or 'her'" (147); Snyder believes that Dorothy deliberately "overlooks possibilities for maternal symbolism or personification" (147). Dorothy does not view maternality with fertility and bounty, but with "protection and intimacy" (148). However, she does use the feminine pronoun in some of her works, but Snyder explains that "she," the metaphoric woman, is a "craftsperson, not a mother" (147).

Unfortunately Snyder's argument does not convince me; how can Nature be a "pattern-maker" while being in need of care? I think the image of "pattern-maker" indicates originality and creativity, Nature as innovative and refreshing, not Nature in need of help, as Snyder indicates early in his argument.
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