Travels in Tandem:
The Writing of Women and Men Who Travelled Together

Susanna Hoe

HOLO Books 2012
A book review by Danny Yee © 2012
Taking a different approach to travel writing, Travels in Tandem looks at ten couples who wrote separate accounts of their travels together. It touches on broad ideas about travel, women, narrative, and travelling women who write, but lets none of that get in the way of a good story.

The chapters on each couple are largely independent and could be read individually. Here the detail dominates, the idiosyncrasies and unique experiences of people encountering different challenges. A few grainy but evocative halftones help to give an idea for the appearance of some of the people and places. Hoe goes into some detail with a few of the more dramatic and revealing incidents, making extensive use of quotes and often giving both accounts of the one event. As well as being entertaining, this gives a perspective on the moulding of travel narratives to fit norms and expectations. (In a few places Hoe also steps back and comments on her own endeavour in Travels in Tandem, most notably describing her interactions with those of her subjects who were still alive when she was writing.)

The couples covered span a broad range, with the criteria for inclusion being that they were mixed sex and wrote in English. Some were of humble origins, others quite elevated. All are at least half-British except for one American couple (Eleanor and Owen Lattimore in Central Asia). There are seven husband and wife couples, one sister and brother (Ella and Percy Sykes in Persia), one pair of cousins (Barbara and Graham Greene in Liberia), and one otherwise non-affiliated couple (Ella Maillart and Peter Fleming in Central Asia). Some of the accounts were written up or published later, but the travels described took place between 1850 and 1950, ranging from exploration of a kind (Lucy and Thomas Atkinson in Siberia) through to more modern expatriate experiences (Diana and Eric Shipton in Central Asia). Some trips were carried out for personal reasons, others for purposes political (Florence and Samuel Baker on the Nile, Doreen and Harold Ingrams in the Yemen), religious (missionaries Maggie and John Paton in the New Hebrides) or scientific (Anna and Henry Fordes in the Dutch East Indies).

One downside to Travels in Tandem is that these individual chapters, ranging from fifteen to twenty pages in length, are sometimes frustratingly short: one is just getting into them when they finish. It could be used as a kind of sampler, a guide for further reading, and Hoe gives some tips on which of the accounts she draws on are worth reading and which are accessible. (Some of the travellers are famous and their travelogues are still in print; others are much harder to come by.)

Hoe's approach is feminist and emphasizes distinctive women's issues, but attempts to generalise about these are largely left, along with a smidgen of academic theory, to the conclusion. This looks at possibly distinctive features of women's writing — differences in note-taking, in concreteness versus abstraction, in the contexts of publication and reception, and so forth — and at the extent of women's demotion to a private sphere, perhaps especially when travelling with a male companion. The conclusion also draws on the writings of other male-female travelling companions, as well as contrasts with single women travellers such as Freya Stark and Mildred Cable and with women who travelled with other women.

Travels in Tandem is broad rather than deep, but it brings together different ideas in thought-provoking ways. And it's a lot of fun, often amusing and always engaging.

May 2012

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%T Travels in Tandem
%S The Writing of Women and Men Who Travelled Together
%A Hoe, Susanna
%I HOLO Books
%D 2012
%O paperback, bibliography, index
%G ISBN-13 9780954405694
%P 226pp