How do Richard Burton and Anne Blunt address the issue of gender in their accounts of travel in Arabia?

Essay, 2004
12 Pages, Grade: 2


Richard Francis Burton and Anne Blunt both travelled to an Islamic country in the 19th century. They both wrote about their journeys – Anne Blunt left A Pilgrimage to Nejd. The Cradle of the Arab Race behind, Richard Burton published a Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah - and one can learn from their writings that they encountered partly the same problems or experienced similar incidents. But their accounts also differ from each other in several aspects. Those differences have various reasons; some could be explained by their different destinations, the Nejd and Al-Madinah & Meccah, others emanate from their gender and the constraints the time they lived in brought with that. In order to analyse how Blunt and Burton address the issue of gender in their travelogues, it is important to take different aspects into consideration. Thus ‘[t]ravel writing cannot be read as a simple account of a journey, a country and a narrator, but must be seen in the light of discourses circulating at this time.’[1]

Burton and Blunt wrote about ‘[…] their travels within a multiplicity of constraints – gender, class, purpose of their journey, textual conventions, audience […] – which acted upon and formed their writing.’[2] Although both of them travelled to achieve further knowledge about the geography of the countries they went to, Burton’s purpose also was ‘[…] to see with [his] eyes […] Moslem inner life in a really Mohammedan country […]’[3]. Therefore, in contrast to Anne Blunt, Burton travelled in disguise and consequently, one can expect them to focus on different things. As a woman Anne Blunt had easier access to harems, whereas Burton had to take on the role of a doctor to get the chance to get into closer contact with women. On the other hand, ‘[…] it would have been considered improper for a woman writer even to allude to sexual matters.’[4] So, public expectations or rather standards determined the topics women were allowed, but also topics they were expected to write about, such as domestic life; Burton as male person did not see himself confronted with such restrictions

Anyway, as ‘[…] colonial forces are often portrayed as ‘penetrating the interior’ […]’[5], it conveys the fact that travelling and with it travel writing was regarded as a manly domain. Women were not allowed to present themselves as heroic figures. Although Mary ‘[…] Kingsley has ample space for a heroic stance, […] [she] instead uses a self-mocking ironic tone, occasionally resorting to parody […]’[6] for this reason. In order to distract from the danger of the situation she changed the description of an incident where she faced a crocodile.[7]

Throughout their accounts both, Blunt and Burton, tend to generalize or classify the people they meet or watch. They often differentiate between town-Arabs and Bedouins, civilized and uncivilized people, sometimes called barbarians by Burton, or set them off against Europeans.[8] By doing this Blunt confirms Gerwal’s view that women travel writers escaped ‘[…] their gender roles, […] [and] took on their racial ones.’[9] She opposes the interpretation given by Mills that woman writers did not focus on ethnic groups in general in an intensity that was common for male writers.[10] So, both deal with the matter of race in a way that would be regarded as politically incorrect nowadays, although even Christina Lamb as a modern travel writer divides the different Afghan tribes according to their outward appearance.[11]


[1] Sara Mills, Discourses of Difference. An analysis of women’s travel writing and colonialism (London: Routledge, 1991), pp.69-70

[2] Mills, p.21

[3] Richard F. Burton, Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah (New York: Dover Publications, 1964), I p.2

[4] Mills, p.22

[5] Mills, p.61

[6] Mills, p.154

[7] cf. Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London: Virago, 1965), p.90

[8] cf. Burton, II pp.14,15,19,85,87. and cf. Ann Blunt, A Pilgrimage to Nejd. The Cradle of the Arab Race, vol. I and II (Piscataway: Georgia Press, 2002), pp. I 9,143,164 and II 23

[9] Inderpal Grewal, Home and Harem. Nation, Gender, Empire and the Cultures of Travel (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), p.80

[10] cf. Mills, p.3

[11] cf. Christina Lamb, The Sewing Circles of Heart. A Memoir of Afghanistan (London: Flamingo, 2002), p.217f

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How do Richard Burton and Anne Blunt address the issue of gender in their accounts of travel in Arabia?
University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Travel Writing and Empire
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Richard, Burton, Anne, Blunt, Arabia, Travel, Writing, Empire
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Jonas Ole Langner (Author), 2004, How do Richard Burton and Anne Blunt address the issue of gender in their accounts of travel in Arabia?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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