I really like travel writer Sara Wheeler’s books, she has written a lot about Antarctica and the early explorers who sojourned there, her writing is always clear and interesting, and she revels in the tiny quirky details that make people and places come alive. I loved Oh My America, in which Wheeler celebrates, investigates and follows in the footsteps of six Victorian Englishwomen who travelled to, and in, the United States, loving it, lecturing to it, enduring it, being changed by it.
Wheeler herself, fed up with her everyday, middle-ageing, everyday life, is a fantastic companion, both to the ladies and to the reader, personal and direct and willing to speculate about quite why America had this hold on these six, so very different, women, as well as reveal her own yearnings to escape domestic travails and take up her travels again.
Our other heroines are Fanny Trollope, mother of Anthony and author of the biting Domestic Manners of the Americans, writing to keep the wolf from the door and the family from debtor’s prison; the actress Fanny Kemble, who shocked the nation with her passionate first-hand indictment of slavery and divorced her brutal plantation-owning husband; the prolifically pamphleteering economist Harriet Martineau, one of those women you can’t believe you’ve never heard of; the homesteader Rebecca Burlend, who had never been more than twelve miles from her Yorkshire village before she sailed to the New World, and whose descendants still people the prairies; the traveller Isabella Bird, whose many ailments remained in check as long as she was scaling the Rockies, but who takes to her bed, Camille-like, when family and housework require her attention; and the novelist Catherine Hubback, niece of Jane Austen, who deposited her husband in a madhouse and rode the brand-new rails to San Francisco.
A great read, invigorating and inspiring – imagine a dinner party with this lot!