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