Two Victorian Ladies on the Continent
In 1844, Miss W., a well-educated lady in her forties, with her teenage charge, Minnie, set out on a tour of France, Switzerland and Italy. It is part educational (Minnie has language and piano lessons throughout), part finishing school: fashion (Minnie’s stays remain a problem), letters of introduction, and sight-seeing. Miss W. emerges as intelligent and practical, Minnie as lively. Both are game for most things: they endure a five-hour trip by sea to see the temples at Paestum; climb Vesuvius, which spits out ‘red hot volleys of lava’; Minnie (shades of Sherlock Holmes) nearly falls down the Reichenbach Falls; and they are bitten by bedbugs in France. For members who are also novelists, Miss W’s journal is a goldmine, illuminating how two single ladies coped with travelling, putting up at inns, hiring guides etc. whilst touring Europe in a pre-railway age.
Michael Heafford, a linguist and travel historian, has done a splendid job of editing the anonymous manuscript. His introduction looks at the itinerary, the social contacts Miss W. made and the manuscript itself. The fascinating postscript unravels the mystery of who Miss W. and Minnie were and why they were travelling. Highly recommended.