Serendipity & Coincidence

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” 
Virginia Woolf


Today is International Women’s Day – March 8, 2014.   I had marked the date on my calendar at the beginning of February thinking to celebrate the occasion with something special.  And then becoming involved with the busyness of life, I left the planning until too late.  These are the moments when serendipity comes to the rescue.

A few weeks ago, LaVagabonde, an amazing writer and blogger, recommended the book “Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers (Vintage Departures)” edited by Mary Morris.  I ordered the book through the public library and waited for the e-mail notification.  Today, on International Women’s Day, I signed out the book using the efficient library check-out kiosk and eagerly opened it to the introduction by Mary Morris, editor.   I don’t believe in coincidence. As soon as I read the opening paragraph, I knew I was meant to read this book:

“The late John Gardner once said that there are only two plots in all of literature.  You go on a journey or a stranger comes to town.  Since women, for so many years, were denied the journey, they were left with only one plot in their lives – to await the stranger.  Indeed, there is essentially no picaresque tradition among women novelists.  While the latter part of the twentieth century has seen a change of tendency, women’s literature from Austen to Woolf is by and large a literature about waiting, usually for love.”  Mary Morris

In the next few weeks, I will meet women who did not wait: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Willa Cather, Box-Car Bertha, Rebecca West.  These women defied the status quo, choosing the journey, forging their personal destinies. This will be an extraordinary read.  What better time to begin than on International Women’s Day.

A very special thanks to LaVagabonde.  Her blog, Wish I Were Here, shares the same adventurous spirit of the women who grace the pages of “Maiden Voyages.”



  1. Hey, Rebecca: Maiden Voyages arrived in the mail today. I just came home but couldn’t’ wait to start glancing at the short introduction of each woman traveler featured. Paul Gauguin’s grandmother ( Flora Tristan)’s relationship with her husband ( who shot her in the back) reminded me of Paul Gauguin ‘s turbulent relationship with Vincent Van Gogh. It’s in the blood….
    I know a few women’s names only. Of course i cannot miss Anna Leonowers ( and the Siamese King).
    It is really amazing that women of those days traveled as far as Tibet, Turkey, Peru…almost every corner of the world.
    I also bought Mary Morris’s Wall to Wall but it has not arrived yet. Maiden Voyages will be following me everywhere for a while. Thanks to you and your friend. This is indeed my cup of tea! I will share with my girlfriends.
    Perhaps I can ask my friends to find out some Chinese women travelers’ stories as I am very ignorant. Wow! too many interesting stories to share! Thanks again for introducing the Maiden Voyages. I am glad that I bought the paper book…it is still better than ebook!


  2. Thanks for this post! And I ordered the Maiden Voyages for Kindle.
    In my recent book, “Korea, Are You at Peace,” I quote extensively from Isabella Bird Bishop, who traveled throughout Korea a century before I did. In part her work is used as a foil for exploring the history of 20th century Korea. But I also wanted to bring back into collective consciousness the name of one of the great Victorian adventuresses and travel writers. Women tend to be forgotten or ignored unless we continue to remind others of their presence in history.


    • Here is an excerpt that you would find interesting from page 158

      “I am thirty years old as I write this, and have been a hobo for 15 years, a sister of the road, one of that strange and motley sorority which has increased its membership so greatly during the Depression…” Box-Car Bertha (1900 – ?)

      From page 144

      “In 1923 David-Neel was the first Western woman to pass through the gates of Lhasa. Twelve years earlier, she had met the Dalai Lama in India…..”

      And there are plenty more….


  3. Hi Rebecca, I can’t wait to read this book. I just bought a printed book on, and got a free sample on kindle on both my iPad and iPhone . I will read this one . It has 5 stars Review by five readers! Thanks to your recommendations. The reason why I bought the printed book this time, because I know some of my friends would love this book too. I can lend them the book so that they won’t have to buy. Will talk to you later!


    • I am delighted!!! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. What I especially liked was the way in which the narratives were structured into vignettes. Each one gives me a reference point for further research. How many stories have been lost in the folds of history.

      Those free samples are the very best idea! 🙂 🙂 🙂


      • I agree – they were advanced. We always think that our generation is making big leaps of progress; yet, I have a feeling that we are just adding to the leaps that came before! 🙂


    • You will find this a great introduction to the “best and bravest women’s travel writing” that spans 300 years. It gives a starting point for further investigation. 🙂


  4. Happy International Women Day! My dear friend! I am ashamed to say that I only realized this when I saw the Google doodle! I like your quote by Woolf. Happy reading of Maiden Voyage!


    • This is your kind of book, Denise!! It is a confirmation that we have benefited from the courage and determination of women that have come before us. We take travel as a normal part of our lives, yet these women put themselves at risk – both physically and morally. Women simply did not travel without an escort! I saw the Google doodle too!!! 🙂


    • Thank you again for the recommendation and for giving me a portal to further exploration! This book is a reminder that writing, whether in the form of diaries, letters or blogging, will give meaning to future generations. These women believed their lives were significant enough to write their thoughts down. We have big shoes to fill – hopefully we all have big feet. Thank you for creating a blog that gives voice to our generation. 🙂