A Book Report On A Voyager Out

This essay has a total of 3546 words and 13 pages.

A book report on A Voyager Out



Frank, Katherine. A Voyager Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1986



Katherine Frank’s novel A Voyager Out tells the life story of Mary Kingsley. She talks of her childhood, her young adult life, and her traveling life. She wanted to tell the world what this woman explorer did for Africa. Mary Kingsley had a famous family, many of whom were writers. Mary herself wrote two books. In her books however, she leaves out a lot about her life. A lot of what Katherine Frank had discovered came from Mary’s letters to friends while traveling. Some people who were the recipients of her letters found it odd that she put so much into her correspondences. In one case, she wrote a ten-page letter to a friend. His response to her was that she was wasting many of her good stories that could be published on a letter. Her response was to write him a six-page letter. She loved writing. She also loved her voyages to Africa.
Part of Mary Kingsley’s reason for loving her travel abroad came from her childhood life. Mary was born the daughter of a high-class man and his cook. George Kingsley was a writer and came from a family of writers. He did not produce much however. He left a lot of his works unfinished, and many others unstarted. Because he did not do much in his lifetime, it has been said that his greatest gift to the world was his daughter. Her mother, Mary Bailey, was the innkeeper’s daughter. Four days after her father and mother were married, Mary Kingsley was born. If her father had not married her mother, Mary would have been bastard child of a destitute domestic. Mary would have only been able to lead a life of servitude herself. Oddly enough though, most of her young life was lead in servitude.
Mary lived a long life of isolation. During her adolescent years, her mother was her only female role model of what a woman is supposed to be. Her mother was sick most of the time and therefore Mary had to take care of her and the household chores. While her father was off on one of his many voyages, Mary Bailey had the front windows of the house bricked closed. The house was kept dark and stuffy. Growing up like this made a normal childhood almost impossible for Mary Kingsley. Part of her mother’s illnesses came from constant worry about George. He went on many trips overseas and partook in many heroic adventures. He would write home to his family about his adventures and this caused his mother great grief. Because of the grief this caused Mary Bailey, George stopped writing of his heroics to her, and instead wrote of them to his daughter.
Mary Kingsley had to become a self-sufficient person. With her mother being bedridden and her father being overseas, Mary grew up on her own. Being a girl, Mary was not given many opportunities at an education. The only education she had paid for her was a class in German. Most of her education came from reading her father’s books. She taught herself Latin, Physics, and Chemistry, which was an “unusual curriculum for even the most erudite governess” (24). Mary and her father had similar reading interests and were therefore constantly fighting over books to read. They were both interested in reading the same book at the same time. George had a “volcanic temper” (27) so he was usually the victor of the fights.
There was one instance when Mary decided to leave home for a small vacation. Mary had never been away from her home so this was a new experience for her. Only a short time into her trip, her mother became ill and Mary had to return to take care of her mother. After staying at her mother’s bedside for quite some time, Mary Bailey’s health improved so Mary decided to finish her vacation. While gone this second time, Mary Bailey had a stroke and Mary stayed home with her mother from then on. Mary was never able to leave the home for a long period of time without her mother’s condition worsening. Her father became ill and was bedridden for a while as well so Mary was taking care of both of them. George did eventually recover and so Mary was back to only having to take care of her mother. One night that George was feeling particularly well, he went to bed never to awaken. A month and a half later, Mary Bailey died as well. Mary felt her mother died because she no longer had anything to hold on to. The death of her parents was somewhat a relief to Mary. She was finally free to be on her own.
For the rest of Mary’s life, she dressed in black from head to toe. Part of this was out of mourning. After a while, however, the black clothes became accustomed to her. The hardest part of her parent’s death was having to sort through their personal things. She had to go through their old letters and personal papers and decide which things to keep and which things to throw away. While sorting through her parent’s belongings, she found her parents marriage license and her birth certificate. This is when Mary realized just how close to being a bastard child she was. She already felt like an outsider in her family, and this only added to that feeling in her heart.
Mary knew she had to get away. She wanted to travel to some of the places that she read about. A family friend suggested that she travel to the Canary Islands. The idea thrilled her. Unfortunately, Mary still had to look after her brother Charley. She felt that it was her womanly duty to look after her brother. She did not mind it actually. The only thing that bothered her was that her travel plans centered around his travel plans. Every time Mary was ready to leave and thought that Charley was too, his plans would somehow change or get put off. This gave Mary plenty of time to get ready for her voyage to Africa. She was told many times by many people of all the diseases that were awaiting her. This did not deter Mary though. She felt that she was ready for anything. She did, however, realize the risk that was involved, and therefore wrote a will before she left for her travels.
On her journey, Mary brought with her two diaries, one for scientific information, and the other for her own personal thoughts and psychological findings. She did not have a lot of money so she traveled light. Most white people who traveled to Africa brought with them an entire entourage and hired African porters to carry their luggage. Mary did not want to set herself that far apart from the Africans. She traveled by trading goods and this helped her immensely while traveling. She felt that the Africans related better to her as a trader than they would have if she had come in empty handed. When the Africans saw that she had something they wanted, they would welcome her into their home. She lived off of food that the villages provided for her.
Mary’s mode of transportation for this first voyage was the ship The Lagos. While aboard The Lagos the issue of death came up many times. Many of the people aboard had stories of many white people who died making similar trips. The diseases that caused many of the deaths affected the white people so greatly because of the fact that the white’s immune systems just were not able to handle the new climate and bacteria that the Africans had grown accustomed to. While aboard the ship some of the passengers died. At each new place that The Lagos stopped more and more deaths occurred. Still, Mary was not discouraged.
While on this first voyage Mary discovered the sickening prejudice of miscegenation. Mary was a strong defender of polygamy as well. Another unusual thing that Mary did was noting in her two books the physical beauty of the African. Because the African wore little or no clothing, it was probably the first time Mary had seen a naked body other than her own. She was probably the first white person many of these Africans had seen so it was a trade off of firsts. Mary had to deal with a lot of new issues in Africa that she had not even dreamt of while she was back in England, but she used this to learn and grow.
When Mary did finally return to England, she found it dull and lifeless. She was bored in England and missed Africa. To help ease her “homesickness” Mary redecorated her flat. She hung many African paintings and other artwork that she brought home with her. To add to the pseudo-Africa, she kept the temperature in her flat turned up so that the heat was like that of Africa. While in England helping her brother, she decided to write. It was through her writing that her imagination was able to return to Africa. She wrote of the people she met while in Africa and the various tribes she came across. Most of her writings were about the scientific aspect of the tribe. There was also a personal touch that she put in her writings.
Mary did not like being back in England and was excited to be able to return again two years later. She spent the remainder of her time in England preparing for her next voyage. For this next voyage, she had more money available to her because her publisher really wanted her to write about these people. Even though she had the extra money, she decided not to travel any more luxuriously than she had the first time. She felt that traveling as a trader really helped her to connect with the people. She did not want to set herself above the people she was there to get to know. Even though she could afford it, she did not bring tinned food and other travel aids. She thusly decided to travel light. When others heard that she was traveling light they asked her to bring things to their loved ones for them. Mary,

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