From August 4 through August 10, get the fantastic travelogues in our Restless Women Travelers series for just $2.99! Including Edith Wharton's A Motor-Flight Through France, Mary Wollstonecraft's Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, Kira Salak's Four Corners: A Journey Into the Heart of Papua New Guinea, and Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans.
A Motor-Flight Through France
Over the past few weeks, we've been excited to introduce you to some of the most compelling travel writing by women. This is the summer of Restless Women Travelers, and we hope that we have inspired you to go forth and adventure, or to at least to soak up the journeys of these fearless voyagers.
But just in case you haven't yet been hooked on the series, we got Lavinia Spalding, acclaimed travel writer and introducer of our new edition of Edith Wharton's A Motor-Flight Through France, to share with us her fascination with the book, her advice for visiting France, and her biggest inspirations as a writer and traveler.
RB: What will readers be surprised and delighted by in Edith Wharton's A Motor-Flight Through France?
I think what’s most surprising is how encyclopedic Wharton's knowledge was about French history and architecture. It would be tricky to compare A Motor-Flight Through France to any of today's travel memoirs—it isn't filled with the usual odes to meals or poignant interactions with locals; she doesn’t infuse the narrative with a lot of personal anecdotes. It’s really a long love letter to the country’s cathedrals and culture, small towns and byways. What’s most delightful are the gorgeous, evocative descriptions of place—both close-up and panoramic—and the rare view of this part of the world during a bygone era when cars were brand-new and travel wasn’t something anyone took for granted.
What should a first-time visitor to France be sure to do—and be sure not to do?
My standard advice for a first-time visitor to any place is to get lost on your very first day, when your sense of wonder is still peaking. In Paris (or any city in France for that matter), just wander. Make a sport out of seeing and smelling and touching and tasting absolutely everything. If you’re driving through the countryside, stop in every small town to sample the local olive oil and wine and cheese and bread. There’s really no limit to what you should do in France, and I think the only thing I’d tell you not to do is be afraid of speaking the language. There’s a misconception about the French, that they’re intolerant of hearing their language butchered, but I massacre that lovely language every time I open my mouth to speak it, and I’ve never experienced anything but warmth and graciousness as a result.
Who is your greatest travel-writing hero? If you could take a journey together, where would it be?
I have too many to name just one—and Edith Wharton is certainly in my pantheon of heroes—but I’d definitely want to visit France with MFK Fisher. And yes, I’d be in it mainly for the eating and drinking. But also for the stories—I’ve always admired how Fisher could tease out the kookiest stories from every character she encountered. I’ve also always loved Beryl Markham—her 1940s memoir West with the Night was one of the first travelogues I ever read, and it made a deep impression on me. Markham was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, and she was also one of the first bush pilots. Flying around Africa with her, admiring the animals below, would have been an extraordinary adventure. Finally, if I get to pick a contemporary, it would be Alexandra Fuller, because I know I’d never stop laughing. In addition to being a truly brilliant writer with a breathtaking talent for capturing both place and people, she’s one of the most hilarious human beings alive.
Launch event at Edith Wharton's The Mount:
On Sunday, June 22, we'll be hosting a very special book launch for the first title in our series, Edith Wharton's A Motor-Flight Through France. The event will take place at The Mount—Edith Wharton's gorgeous home in the Berkshires. Beginning at 5:30, we'll have a short reading by Lavinia Spalding, conversation, and cocktails on the patio overlooking Wharton's gardens, with fellow readers, writers, and travelers. We hope to see you there!
**Book club mavens and travel aficionados: Be sure to join the international conversation about Kira Salak's Four Corners with the Go Girl Travel Network, which has selected the book for their first #GoGirlReads travel book club!
As we gear up for the summer months, travel seems to be on everyone’s mind. The Los Angeles Times recently posted a list of exciting road novels by female writers, and we were happy to see that A Motor-Flight Through France by Edith Wharton was prominently featured—just in time for our new edition of the book, introduced by Lavinia Spalding.
In our Restless Women Travelers series, we will celebrate and (re)introduce you to some of the most important travelogues written by women, from Frances Trollope’s colonial voyage to America, to the modern-day jungle treks of Kira Salak. Check out our list of upcoming titles to find the travel tale that will inspire you to be restless this summer!
Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring some fascinating works from around the world that we’ve read, re-read, or unearthed during the editorial process. Follow our journey right here on the Restless Blog, and join the conversation in the comments.
by Edith Wharton
Introduction by Lavinia Spalding
A trailblazer among American women at the turn of the century, Edith Wharton set out in the newly invented "motor-car" to explore the cities and countryside of France. As the Whartons embark on three separate journeys through the country in 1906 and 1907, accompanied first by Edith’s brother, Harry Jones, and then by Henry James, Edith is enamored by the freedom that this new form of transport has given her. With a keen eye for architecture and art, and the engrossing style that would later earn her a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, Wharton writes about places that she previously “yearned for from the windows of the train."
by Kira Salak
Four Corners is Kira Salak's riveting account of her epic, solo jungle trek across the remote Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea—often called the last frontier of adventure travel. Traveling by dugout canoe and on foot, confronting the dangers and wonders of a largely untouched world, she became the first woman to traverse this remote country and write about it. A New York Times Notable Travel Book, Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea is a must-read for world travelers and adventurous spirits.
by Frances Trollope
Introduction by Sara Wheeler
In 1832, three years before Alexander de Tocqueville published Democracy in America, the English novelist Frances Trollope released Domestic Manners of the Americans, an eye-opening record of her travels in the young republic. Expecting a Utopia of “justice and liberty for all,” she is shocked to discover the contradictions at the heart of the American character. Funny and fearless, Trollope’s biting critique became an international sensation. Yet, as Mark Twain remarked, "She was merely telling the truth and this indignant nation knew it.”
by Mary Wollstonecraft
Introduction by Joanna Kavenna
The impetus behind Mary Wollstonecraft’s journey through Scandinavia couldn’t be more dramatic: Her relationship with her lover on rocky ground, Wollstonecraft sets out for Scandinavia in order to retrieve a stolen treasure ship for him. As she travels across the dramatic landscape, she writes vividly of the people she encounters, events she witnesses, and the sublime natural landscape. Yet the letters also reflect her anguish as she comes to realize that her love affair is fated to end. Letters Written from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark is an arresting travel book, a deeply personal memoir, and a provocative, philosophical exploration of identity and politics.