Travels in West Africaby Mary Henrietta Kingsley, Elspeth Joscelin Grant Huxley
Upon her sudden freedom from family obligations, a sheltered Victorian spinster traded her stifling middle-class existence for an incredible expedition in the Congo. Mary Kingsley traversed uncharted regions of West Africa alone, on foot, collecting specimens of local fauna and trading with natives--a remarkable feat in any era, but particularly for a woman of the… See more details below
Upon her sudden freedom from family obligations, a sheltered Victorian spinster traded her stifling middle-class existence for an incredible expedition in the Congo. Mary Kingsley traversed uncharted regions of West Africa alone, on foot, collecting specimens of local fauna and trading with natives--a remarkable feat in any era, but particularly for a woman of the 1890s. After hacking her way through jungles, being fired upon by hostile tribesmen and attacked by wild animals, Kingsley emerged with no complaint more serious than a pair of tired feet. She undertook her exploits in the traditional garb of her era but lived as a native, and she found herself drawn into the life and problems of the region: its diversity of customs and beliefs; its geography and natural history; its trade network; the impact of missionaries; and many other issues of the day. Her account of her experiences, suffused with an infectious good humor, was published to immediate success in 1897 and remains a compelling tale of adventure.
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Life's early difficulties often lay the groundwork for later genius. Mary Kingsley was kept in almost complete isolation from Victorian society by her family, and, as a young woman, single-handedly managed the physical upkeep of her family's house. Her education was primarily from her absent adventurer-gentleman father's eclectic library, and all this produced a clear-thinking, capable adventurer in her own right. Written in a highly entertaining style, VERY similar to Mark Twain's, with NO pomposity and a clear respect for the indigenous West African (in present-day Nigeria, Gabon and Sierra Leone) people she met on her travels - this is a landmark book for anyone who enjoys autobiographies, humor, history and adventure. NOT TO BE MISSED!
Mary Kingsley has so far been an unrecognized genius - raised within the confines of a Victorian home, she set out after her parents' death to fill the African philosophy void that existed among her adventurer-doctor father's works. "But Africa was kind to me and interested me and didn't want to kill me just yet" - self-educated Mary Kingsley developed her own writer's voice with much the same descriptive wry observations as Mark Twain. She returned to England with a new perspective on re-vamping Colonial government of British Africa and gave lectures, as well as advised and mentored many in the Free Congo movement. This book features epiphanies of insight and top-notch humor on almost every page. Just. Brilliant.