"My petticoat encumbrances"; the 'female adventurer' and the north


  • Kathryn Walchester




Arctic travel, Ethel Tweedie, Helen Peel


Focussing on the northern travelogues of two women travellers from the late nineteenth century, Ethel Brilliana Tweedie’s A Winter Jaunt to Norway: with Accounts of Nansen, Ibsen, Bjornson, Brandes, and Many Others and Polar Gleams; an Account of a Voyage on the Yacht ‘Blencathra’ by Helen Peel, this article suggests that rather than presenting a polarized gendered perspective of Arctic travel, in their writing Peel and Tweedie negotiate between masculine and feminine-coded associations in order to legitimate and popularize their travels, whilst remaining within the conventions of Victorian femininity.  Of the strategies for ensuring the apparent propriety of their text, the references to clothing are highly significant on several levels. Not only could Peel and Tweedie show their adherence (or not) to conventional feminine dress through their descriptions of their clothing, they could also illustrate their relationship to other travellers and the Norwegians they encountered. Thus the ‘petticoat encumbrances’ have a double function in the text. Symbolic of Victorian conventions of femininity and their limitations on women, the adherence to sartorial norms at least indicated to readers and critics of the woman traveller’s compliance with gender conventions. This achieved, the woman travel writer had more scope to embark on her remarkable journey and to write about its potential adventures with enthusiasm as a ‘female adventurer’ and still remain within the acceptable boundaries of late-Victorian femininity.

Author Biography

Kathryn Walchester

Liverpool John Moores University. Humanities and Social Science. Email: K.A.Walchester@ljmu.ac.ukDr. Kathryn Walchester´s main research interest is travel writing; in particular nineteenth-century European travel. She has published books about women travellers in Italy and Norway and is currently working on a monograph about travelling servants and a co-edited text about image and travel. Walchester is a co-organiser of the Liverpool Travel Group, which has hosted regular seminars and conferences around the inter-disciplinary area of travel in the city since 2007. Monographs: Gamle Norge; Nineteenth-Century British Women Travellers in Norway (Anthem Press; forthcoming). ‘Our Own Fair Italy’; Women’s Travel Writing and Italy 1800-1844 (Peter Lang; November 2007). Edited collection: Travel Writing: 100 Keywords, co-edited with Charles Forsdick and Zoe Kinsley (Anthem; forthcoming 2015).Book Chapters: ‘‘What Norway Really Is;’ Nineteenth-Century Women’s Travel Writing, the  Supernatural  and Norway’ in Women, Travel Writing and Truth (Routledge,  July, 2014).‘Norway and the Northern Tour’ in Beyond the Grand Tour: Continental Travel Writing and Tourism 1815-1915 (Palgrave, 2015).




How to Cite

Walchester, Kathryn. 2014. “‘My petticoat encumbrances’; the ’female adventurer’ and the north”. Nordlit, no. 32 (August):161-76. https://doi.org/10.7557/13.3127.