Digging into the past

When I was on book tour, a LOT of people asked about Veronica’s origins as a character. I explained about my love for Victorian explorers and how I’ve been researching the subject for decades. The next question was invariably a follow-up about which books I’d recommend or which explorers I like best. (NO way am I picking a single explorer. They are far too entertaining of a group to limit myself to a lone choice.) But I’m happy to provide a launching pad for your own reading if you’d like to dig a little deeper into the world of petticoats and parasols. So here is the first post of suggested titles:

To begin at the bottom, two volumes of Margaret Fountaine’s journals. Margaret was the globe-trotting lepidopterist who provided the inspiration for Veronica, and these books are her chronicles of her travels and infatuations. Out of print and written in a fairly gushing style, they are deliciously over-the-top. I adore them.

NO PLACE FOR A LADY and DREAMING OF EAST are both by Barbara Hodgson, both highly recommended for general overviews of the travelers. They are highly illustrated and a delight to dip into on a lazy afternoon. The former is a particularly good start for someone just beginning to explore this topic.

LADIES OF THE FIELD is Amanda Adams’ account of the early female archaeologists. While it’s a precise and exacting science now, in its early days, field archaeology was a frontier. (Some of the pioneers of the subject actually used dynamite to blow their way into tombs. Now they use brushes and dental picks…) If you’re more interested in scientific inquiry than general travel, this may be a great place to start.

Dea Birkett’s SPINSTERS ABROAD is a splendid overview of several of the most prominent of the Victorian travelers. It’s an excellent jumping-off point to direct you to the personalities you might like to investigate further.

Joan Haslip’s biography of LADY HESTER STANHOPE. Not strictly a Victorian, Lady Hester nonetheless demands her share of attention. English socialite and adventuress, she conducted archaeological digs and traveled extensively in the Middle East before settling down with a retinue of servants and animals to live out her days as something of a legend in her own time.

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