Non-Fiction

Maps of Difference

Maps Of Difference: Canada, Women, And Travel
Wendy Roy

McGill-Queen's University Press
$44.95
cloth
287pp
0-7735-2866-0

When asked to review Maps of Difference: Canada, Women, and Travel, I agreed with alacrity. As an inveterate traveller who reads and writes travel memoirs, I found the title intriguing. I found the front cover intriguing, too. It presents a nineteenth-century drawing of a woman travelling by canoe with several men; an early twentieth-century photo of a woman striding through a wilderness region with a rifle and camera; and a mid-twentieth-century photo of a woman on a camel in the desert.

Then I realized my mistake: Maps of Difference is not an anthology of women’s travel literature, but a scholarly analysis of such literature.

Although initially disappointed, I became increasingly absorbed as I learned more about the three books on which author Wendy Roy bases her investigation: Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada by Anna Jameson; A Woman’s Way through Unknown Labrador by Mina Hubbard, and The Prophet’s Camel Bell by Margaret Laurence.

Jameson left Toronto and her estranged husband, an attorney general, to journey into the Canadian hinterland in 1837 and witness, among other things, “the condition of women in savage life.” She is the parasol-protected canoeist portrayed on the book’s jacket. Hubbard led a successful expedition to Labrador in 1905, fulfilling the dream of her husband, who had died of starvation while trying to accomplish the same feat two years earlier. She is the gun-toting photographer. Laurence lived in Somaliland in the early 1950s, when her husband worked as an engineer there. She does not, surprisingly, appear on the cover; the camel rider is another travel writer to whom she is compared in Maps of Difference.

As Roy points out, traditional critiques of travel literature have often overlooked women’s contributions. “In … The Norton Book of Travel (1987), Paul Fussell effectively excludes women such as Jameson, Hubbard, and Laurence who accompany or are motivated by their husbands by arguing, ‘To constitute real travel, movement from one place to another should manifest some impulse of non-utilitarian pleasure.'”

While helping to secure a place for women in the pantheon of travel literature, Roy makes clear that female travellers, like their male counterparts, “are shaped by their societies” and cannot create unbiased records of places, people, and events. She sheds light on the preconceptions and prejudices that all of her subjects brought to their travels, as well as the revelations and transformations that they experienced away from home.

Jameson, for instance, first echoed nineteenth-century stereotypes in characterizing indigenous women as “busy, care-worn, and eager,” and indigenous men as “indolent.” After face-to-face encounters, however, she revised her view of the position of the female in native society, noting: “I doubt that … [she] is that absolute slave, drudge, and non-entity.”

Roy scrutinizes the differences between the writers’ candid diaries and their more self-conscious articles and books; in some cases, she includes contradictory versions of events from fellow travellers. She also examines the way in which each writer “mapped” her journey figuratively, providing insight into “relations of gender, class, culture, and imperialism.” In addition, she describes how Hubbard mapped her trip literally, expanding the geographical knowledge of Labrador and naming (or renaming, from the perspective of resident Innu) many landforms. Equally important, Roy discusses the visual documentation the writers in question produced-sketches and water-colours by Jameson, well-composed photos by Hubbard, and snapshots by Laurence.

With helpful endnotes and an excellent bibliography, Maps of Difference is a rigorously researched, thought-provoking book for anyone interested in Canadian women’s studies, in Canadian history and literature, or in travel writing itself.

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Louise Abbott is the director of the award-winning documentary Nunaaluk: A Forgotten Story and the author of Eeyou Istchee: Land of the Cree.

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