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Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900) was an British explorer and writer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and its people. Kingsley was an outspoken critic of European colonialism, a champion for indigenous customs, and a dedicated campaigner for a revised British policy which supported traders and merchants over the needs of settlers and Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900) was an British explorer and writer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and its people. Kingsley was an outspoken critic of European colonialism, a champion for indigenous customs, and a dedicated campaigner for a revised British policy which supported traders and merchants over the needs of settlers and missionaries. Her adventures were extraordinary and fascinating. Among other things she fought with crocodiles, fell into native spear traps and was caught in a tornado on the slopes of Mount Cameroon. She traveled in West Africa wearing the same clothes she always wore in England: long, black, trailing skirts, tight waists, high collars and a small fur cap. These same clothes saved her life when she fell into a game pit, the many petticoats protecting her from being impaled on the stakes below. This is her story in her own words of her adventures and the people and culture of West Africa. (Summary by Kehinde)


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Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900) was an British explorer and writer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and its people. Kingsley was an outspoken critic of European colonialism, a champion for indigenous customs, and a dedicated campaigner for a revised British policy which supported traders and merchants over the needs of settlers and Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900) was an British explorer and writer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and its people. Kingsley was an outspoken critic of European colonialism, a champion for indigenous customs, and a dedicated campaigner for a revised British policy which supported traders and merchants over the needs of settlers and missionaries. Her adventures were extraordinary and fascinating. Among other things she fought with crocodiles, fell into native spear traps and was caught in a tornado on the slopes of Mount Cameroon. She traveled in West Africa wearing the same clothes she always wore in England: long, black, trailing skirts, tight waists, high collars and a small fur cap. These same clothes saved her life when she fell into a game pit, the many petticoats protecting her from being impaled on the stakes below. This is her story in her own words of her adventures and the people and culture of West Africa. (Summary by Kehinde)

30 review for Travels in West Africa (Librivox Audiobook)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kavita

    That was an excruciating read! I can't imagine why other reviewers are so enamoured of this book! Admittedly, Kingsley was a remarkable woman for her time, but she is also a remarkable idiot when it comes to her so-called theories about "the African". By the end of the book, I had completely lost any admiration for this woman who did so many incredible things, but couldn't think an original thought to save her life. So here are a few gems: I own I regard not only the African, but all coloured race That was an excruciating read! I can't imagine why other reviewers are so enamoured of this book! Admittedly, Kingsley was a remarkable woman for her time, but she is also a remarkable idiot when it comes to her so-called theories about "the African". By the end of the book, I had completely lost any admiration for this woman who did so many incredible things, but couldn't think an original thought to save her life. So here are a few gems: I own I regard not only the African, but all coloured races, as inferior - inferior in kind not in degree - to the white races ... Both polygamy and slavery are, for divers reasons, essential to the well-being of Africa - at any rate for those vast regions of it which are agricultural ... It is not necessary to treat them brutally, in fact it does not pay to do so, but it is necessary to treat them severely, to keep a steady hand over them.  Never let them become familiar, never let them see you have made a mistake.  When you make a mistake in giving them an order let it be understood that that way of doing a thing is a peculiarly artful dodge of your own, and if it fails, that it is their fault. And as if the racism were not enough, she also brings forth this gem for our edification. I feel certain that a black man is no more an undeveloped white man than a rabbit is an undeveloped hare; and the mental difference between the two races is very similar to that between men and women among ourselves.  A great woman, either mentally or physically, will excel an indifferent man, but no woman ever equals a really great man. What a moron! Going in, I was quite prepared to deal with a lot of racism, and even quite a bit of sexism in the course of the narrative. I was prepared to overlook this. But I was not prepared to get hit over the head with blanket statements on the inferiority of non-white people and females. Nor was I prepared to sit and read for pages and pages of theorising about how exactly the different tribes are inferior to white people and who is better than whom. I wonder who died and made Kingsley god? The problem with this book, unlike with many other authors of this period, is that Kingsley set herself out as an expert and dedicated almost half of the book to racist theorising, interjected with some choice bits of sexism and nationalism. Kingsley proses on about how best to exploit the area in white people's interests, more specifically British interests. She specifically advocates landgrabbing from the locals because really, what's the harm in it? English Government officials have very little and very poor encouragement given them if they push inland and attempt to enlarge the sphere of influence, which their knowledge of local conditions teaches them requires enlarging, because the authorities at home are afraid other nations will say we are rapacious landgrabbers. Well, we always have been, and they will say it anyhow; and where after all is the harm in it? What a fucking joke of a human being! By the end of the book, I thoroughly disliked this woman and wouldn't have hesitated to push her in a river full of crocodiles if I ever met her. But all this apart, the book itself is dry and hard to read. One main problem is that there is no clarification of terms and concepts that are unclear to us in modern times. For example, the use of the word "Negro" is not clear at all. She uses it in a pretty non-racist sense (I know, shocking!) as a tribe name but it is unclear which tribe it actually refers to. Similarly, she talks about conflicts between European governments that are now merely a footnote in history. An annotated edition would make this book far more comprehensible. Another problem is that the woman lies to make her stories appear more fun. One example is how she found cannibal remains among the Fan tribe. The Fans were never cannibals but the white people had spread these rumours in order to make it easier to enslave them. This made me question her every story and I couldn't really believe most of her "black people are so funny!" tales anymore after that. The author's so-called humour began to grate after a while as it was incessant and necessarily included more stereotyping. The narrative also got pretty repetitive as she described the scenery endlessly as well as her adventures of falling and getting up. There is only so much interest in reading about someone falling into a swamp for the nth time. It didn't help that Kingsley believed in verbosity. I don't believe I am saying this but she should have been condemned to tell her stories on Twitter. That would work exceedingly well with her racism anyway! I am very underwhelmed with this shit. But what do I know? I am neither white nor male nor English. I am just a coloured female dumbo.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Just came across a lovely bit, as Kingsley laments people's over-reliance on water filters to protect them from the many diseases rampant in Africa: "A good filter is a very fine thing for clearing drinking water of hippopotami, crocodiles, water snakes, catfish, etc., and I dare say it will stop back sixty per cent. of the live or dead African natives that may be in it; but if you think it is going to stop back the microbe of marsh fever--my good sir, you are mistaken." Roughly contemporary with Just came across a lovely bit, as Kingsley laments people's over-reliance on water filters to protect them from the many diseases rampant in Africa: "A good filter is a very fine thing for clearing drinking water of hippopotami, crocodiles, water snakes, catfish, etc., and I dare say it will stop back sixty per cent. of the live or dead African natives that may be in it; but if you think it is going to stop back the microbe of marsh fever--my good sir, you are mistaken." Roughly contemporary with that other great woman explorer, Isabella Bird, Mary Kingsley is a very different kind of explorer. She was not a missionary or humanitarian; her travels in Africa were scientific in nature and purpose. But she displays the same can-do attitude about the many trials and struggles she faces. Her prejudices and outlook are very much the product of her time, but she exhibits a genuine appreciation for the black Africans she spent time with. She trusted herself with a group of cannibals to escort her for some of her journeys, and she liked them better than several other tribes. Most enjoyable was her droll sense of dry humor; I didn't notice it much until about a third of the way into the book, and then it was a delight (see example above). She feels impelled (as Bird often did) to relate facts and figures regarding commerce and trade or geographical facts--boring. She's at her best when describing her own adventures or giving information about the various religious practices of the peoples she encountered.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    I wanted to like this book and at a different point in my life I would probably have enjoyed it. I actually did enjoy what I read - about 60 pages, but I simply did not want to read anymore. Mary Kingsley is a fascinating person but her comments are very late 19th century colonial comments for the most part. I think I would prefer a biography of Kingsley. And one gift to myself in retirement is not reading what I don't want to (most of the time) I wanted to like this book and at a different point in my life I would probably have enjoyed it. I actually did enjoy what I read - about 60 pages, but I simply did not want to read anymore. Mary Kingsley is a fascinating person but her comments are very late 19th century colonial comments for the most part. I think I would prefer a biography of Kingsley. And one gift to myself in retirement is not reading what I don't want to (most of the time)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    "...no sooner did I see him than I ducked under the rocks, and remembered thankfully that leopards are said to have no power of smell. But I heard his observation on the weather, and the flip-flap of his tail on the ground. Every now and then I cautiously took a look at him with one eye round a rock-edge, and he remained in the same position. My feelings tell me he remained there twelve months*, but my calmer judgment puts the time down at twenty minutes; and at last, on taking another cautious "...no sooner did I see him than I ducked under the rocks, and remembered thankfully that leopards are said to have no power of smell. But I heard his observation on the weather, and the flip-flap of his tail on the ground. Every now and then I cautiously took a look at him with one eye round a rock-edge, and he remained in the same position. My feelings tell me he remained there twelve months*, but my calmer judgment puts the time down at twenty minutes; and at last, on taking another cautious peep, I saw he was gone…. It was an immense pleasure to have seen the great creature like that. He was so evidently enraged and baffled by the uproar and dazzled by the floods of lightning that swept down into the deepest recesses of the forest," This was Mary Kingsley's account in meeting a leopard in the forest during a typhoon. Extraordinary! My adventures with bugs in the garden pales in comparison. Who knew this prim Victorian lady was, of her own making, destined to be one of the greatest explorer of her time. Looking after her sickly mother and helping her traveling father, Dr. Kinsley, translate scientific texts. She occupied her time reading books in her fathers library, given the choice in reads, it is no wonder that her interest in far and exotic places grew, as did her dream of travel. In 1892, her time as a nurse and dutiful daughter came to an end with the death of her mother, three months later followed by her father, from rheumatic fever during his travels. Mary Kinsley did seek the counsel of friends, who advised her against it and experts, requesting that she collect specimens on during travels; dressed in deep mourning silk she forged ahead with her plans. I admired the fact that she did not allow being lady and traveling alone deter her, despite the male protestations. Mary Kingsley was not only taught by Africans how to survive the jungles, she learned customs and the language during the two years she lived with them. I did state adventures: stalked by a cannibal, whacks a crocodile snout trying to climb into her canoe, tickles a hippo behind the ear to send it away, the first woman to climb Mount Cameroon, trekked on a broken ankle, escape a hippo trap. “Save for a good many bruises, here I was with the fullness of my skirt tucked under me, sitting on nine ebony spikes some twelve inches long, in comparative comfort.” (a new found respect for the corset). Travels to West Africa is a book made of two travels: Travels to West Africa is of her expeditions; West African Studies- Miss Kingsley's travel to finish her father's work on Fetish, African religious rites, rituals and ceremonies. There are so many aspects to this book to go into, but, frankly, I don't want to. She is a good writer, painstakingly so-I did doze off a few time, my apologies Miss Kingsley. Her humor* and personality in various situations were enjoyable. This book is ideally suited for those with interests in anthropological exploration, biography and travel diaries; perhaps not the novel reader.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    (From my Amazon.com review): A most remarkable woman If you enjoyed Katherine Hepburn's spunky performance in "The African Queen" or delight when Elizabeth Peters' fictional Amelia Peabody prods a villain with her trusty umbrella, you will undoubtedly enjoy the real adventures of Mary Kingsley in Africa. At thirty years of age, her parents having both died, the sheltered Miss Kingsley set off for the continent that had for so long ruled her imagination. Setting herself up as a trader in West Afric (From my Amazon.com review): A most remarkable woman If you enjoyed Katherine Hepburn's spunky performance in "The African Queen" or delight when Elizabeth Peters' fictional Amelia Peabody prods a villain with her trusty umbrella, you will undoubtedly enjoy the real adventures of Mary Kingsley in Africa. At thirty years of age, her parents having both died, the sheltered Miss Kingsley set off for the continent that had for so long ruled her imagination. Setting herself up as a trader in West Africa, she set out across treacherous swamps and uncharted regions, going where few white men - let alone women - had ever been. Kingsley wrote of her travels with a self-deprecating wit, impaling many of the racial and cultural prejudices of her day. She vastly preferred, for example, the uncoverted "cannibal Fans" to the tribes influenced by missionaries. She distrusted the motives of the "civilizing" European forces, with good reason. My copy of this affordable Everyman edition, ably edited and introduced by Elspeth Huxley, is thick with favorite underlined passages. She writes of harrowing experiences as if she were recounting events at an ice cream social. Indeed, invariably dressed in proper Victorian garb throughout all her travels, she once escaped impalement in a game trap set with spikes - her voluminous skirts saved her. Of an eight-foot crocodile attempting to climb into her canoe, whom Kingsley dealt a repelling blow with a paddle, she remarked, "This was only a pushing young creature who had not learnt manners." Travelling without the vast entourage that other explorers, such as Stanley, seemed to find necessary, she possessed an independence which bordered on eccentricity. She was, as Elspeth Huxley notes, at heart a lone wolf, always preferring to go her own way and make her own judgements about those she encountered. The character of this indomitable, fascinating woman shines through her account of her travels. Discussed this book, along with One Dry Season by Caroline Alexander at a Reading Genres book club meeting in Jun 2017 devoted to the theme "A Love Story: With a twist." My take on the theme was that Kingsley was in love with Africa -- and the freedom it afforded her after a life of miserable servitude and confinement."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jazzy Lemon

    Kingsley loved Africa, this is the tale of her first excursion on a scientific expedition as a young, single woman. She rallied against popular English belief and Christian missionaries and fell in love with the people.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Hesselbach

    A remarkably fearless explorer and scientist, Mary Kingsley traveled to areas where the mortality rate among Europeans was extremely high, to cannibal villages, and to rivers full of crocodiles. One of her amazing feats was to climb Mount Cameroon (13,255') by a new route through constant rain. When her native guides gave out, she made the final ascent by herself in heavy, cumbersome Victorian dress. Her writing style is a bit uneven. At her best she can be enormously witty and entertaining, as A remarkably fearless explorer and scientist, Mary Kingsley traveled to areas where the mortality rate among Europeans was extremely high, to cannibal villages, and to rivers full of crocodiles. One of her amazing feats was to climb Mount Cameroon (13,255') by a new route through constant rain. When her native guides gave out, she made the final ascent by herself in heavy, cumbersome Victorian dress. Her writing style is a bit uneven. At her best she can be enormously witty and entertaining, as in her luminous description of a tea in swarms of mosquitos, or her tale of the sudden emergence of Ikun. She found the African belief in fetishes to be fascinating and she made a special effort to study them and penetrate the midset that perpetuated them, not in a condescending way, but with a scientist's interest in understanding what made primitive societies tick. At other times, when she lapses into conventional description, her style could stand a little editorial tightening. I cannot help but feel that if she had been less modest she would have written a more exciting book, but the reader will be grateful for the book that she did write.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura McDonald

    What a long book, but Kingsley's excellent sense of humor makes the dry parts bearable. She's at her best when writing in travel journal style. Can you believe this woman went alone, in 1893, to remote areas in West Africa crawling with cannibal tribes? Some areas had never been visited by a white man, much less a white woman. Her views on African problems and issues at the time are very sensible and logical to the modern reader; she never falls into the trap of basing her opinions on prejudice. What a long book, but Kingsley's excellent sense of humor makes the dry parts bearable. She's at her best when writing in travel journal style. Can you believe this woman went alone, in 1893, to remote areas in West Africa crawling with cannibal tribes? Some areas had never been visited by a white man, much less a white woman. Her views on African problems and issues at the time are very sensible and logical to the modern reader; she never falls into the trap of basing her opinions on prejudice. This is evidenced by the fact that she esteems the most feared cannibal tribe, the Fans, as her preferred hosts and traveling companions. The rest of the book that is not travel narrative is her thoughts and research on Africa and its "fetishes", which is what seems to be her word for the religious and traditional customs of the natives. This fetish talk is interesting in some parts, especially when she is talking about her favorites, the Fans. But it gets tedious toward the end. In the Preface she notes that this book was originally published in a much longer version that had since been cut down substantially. She probably should have cut more. Also, it would have made more sense to put some of the meatier chapters on fetish toward the beginning to give the reader a suitable introduction to her interests and the tribes with which she comes in contact. As a historical piece, this book is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in the history of West Africa, particularly at this period of encroaching European influence. As a travel book, it is amazing for the fact that this woman did what she did. I have read a little history on Mary Kingsley and found that she was initially driven to West Africa with not only curiosity but also suicidal tendencies. Several members of her family had just died, and she felt little sympathy with the conservative, late Victorian English society that surrounded her. So she fled abroad, knowing full well that over 70% of white men who went to West Africa succumbed to fever or other maladies. Turns out that West Africa treated her well, and she went on to travel for several more years. She eventually succumbed to typhoid in South Africa in 1900.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tania

    Interesting in places, but largely rather dry and a bit of a struggle to get through. Also, considering what she did, I thought she might be a bit more progressive in her views, which were jarring to reading.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amerynth

    What Mary Kingsley did was pretty incredible.... in 1893, she decided -- skirts and all-- to travel to West Africa to explore, collect fish and learn more about the religion of native people. Her account "Travels in West Africa" follows her adventures as she traipses through the jungle, paddles down rivers in canoes, and hikes up a mountain in the Cameroons in a storm. Her spirit of adventure and pluck is incredibly admirable and pulls together a wide ranging story, as she travels across the cou What Mary Kingsley did was pretty incredible.... in 1893, she decided -- skirts and all-- to travel to West Africa to explore, collect fish and learn more about the religion of native people. Her account "Travels in West Africa" follows her adventures as she traipses through the jungle, paddles down rivers in canoes, and hikes up a mountain in the Cameroons in a storm. Her spirit of adventure and pluck is incredibly admirable and pulls together a wide ranging story, as she travels across the country and battles mosquitoes and leeches, is stalked by wild animals and meets with tribes who are shocked to see a white woman emerge from the forest. Sometimes the book gets a little bogged down in detail (...it could use a bit of an edit...) but otherwise it's an amazing tale of the adventures of an amazing woman.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    Kingsley is possibly unique in her perspective as a single white woman traveling alone in Africa in the late 19th century. While her views on race and culture are more narrow than ours, I think she conveys considerably more respect for the Africans she works with and considerably less Victorian judgmentalism than most of her contemporaries. Her style is witty and often self-deprecating.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Raphael

    This is one of my all time favorite books. It was written in the 1890s, so it takes a few pages to get into the period English, but I was fascinated right away. This is a hilarious, well written, thought provoking autobiography filled with adventure and touching accounts of humanity at it's finest. This is one of my all time favorite books. It was written in the 1890s, so it takes a few pages to get into the period English, but I was fascinated right away. This is a hilarious, well written, thought provoking autobiography filled with adventure and touching accounts of humanity at it's finest.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    I can honestly and truly say that there are only two things I am proud of -one is that Doctor Günter has approved of my fishes, and the other is that I can paddle an Ogowé canoe. Pace, style, steering and all, 'All same for one' as if I were an Ogowé African. A strange, incongrous pair of things: but I often wonder what are the things other people are really most proud of; it would be a quaint and repaying subject for investigation. I can honestly and truly say that there are only two things I am proud of -one is that Doctor Günter has approved of my fishes, and the other is that I can paddle an Ogowé canoe. Pace, style, steering and all, 'All same for one' as if I were an Ogowé African. A strange, incongrous pair of things: but I often wonder what are the things other people are really most proud of; it would be a quaint and repaying subject for investigation.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

    I didn’t read all of this, but I’m taking it as a read to account for all of the other reading I do for uni that can’t be counted towards my Goodreads goal! Mary Kingsley was a fascinating woman and her travels through colonial Africa as a white, Victorian woman throw up some interesting discussions. Plus, she’s funny.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    Kingsley's book covers her travels to West Africa in the 1890s. She describes her adventures canoeing up ravines and rapids, walking through swamps and mangroves, climbing a 13 000 ft mountain and dealing with missionaries, traders and the locals who include cannibals. All this by herself with just a small band of native carriers that she has to manage, coerce and trick into doing what she wants. And all to collect samples of fish. Initially she did not seem enamoured by the locals but gradually Kingsley's book covers her travels to West Africa in the 1890s. She describes her adventures canoeing up ravines and rapids, walking through swamps and mangroves, climbing a 13 000 ft mountain and dealing with missionaries, traders and the locals who include cannibals. All this by herself with just a small band of native carriers that she has to manage, coerce and trick into doing what she wants. And all to collect samples of fish. Initially she did not seem enamoured by the locals but gradually she saw their human sides and enjoyed their company, traditions, religions and culture (what she called fetishes). An awe inspiring adventurer who unfortunately died a few years later during the Boer War.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Websterdavid3

    Mary tells an incredible story of a 19th century brit woman freed to explore w. africa by confluence of money and male relative's deaths. Distaff stiff upper lip-- how did she portage canoes while holding up her long dress? It is written in Victorian (?) language; first third of the book i hardly could keep reading; then my mind transformed and i clicked in, the language gap disappeared. Curious about your experience of that. Mary tells an incredible story of a 19th century brit woman freed to explore w. africa by confluence of money and male relative's deaths. Distaff stiff upper lip-- how did she portage canoes while holding up her long dress? It is written in Victorian (?) language; first third of the book i hardly could keep reading; then my mind transformed and i clicked in, the language gap disappeared. Curious about your experience of that.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Mary Kingsley is a 30 something late-Victorian woman who inherits money on her parent's death and decides to head off to West Africa. There, never changing out of her petticoats, but without an English escort, she tells a witty tale of her adventures. Mary Kingsley is a 30 something late-Victorian woman who inherits money on her parent's death and decides to head off to West Africa. There, never changing out of her petticoats, but without an English escort, she tells a witty tale of her adventures.

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

    Not interesting enough to be an adventure. Not descriptive enough to be a travel book. Not funny or witty enough to be a good read. meh.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peter Ellwood

    A slightly flawed but still remarkable book. It consists of the account of an astonishing journey she made, by sea and on foot through the jungle, in 1895; some interesting observations of native beliefs (fetishes), and a few notes on travels elsewhere. The initial sequence on her travels in Gabon was the most interesting for me, albeit a bit verbose, but it’s all well worth reading anyway. I suppose what I really mean is, what a remarkable woman. Imagine a young Victorian spinster whose primary A slightly flawed but still remarkable book. It consists of the account of an astonishing journey she made, by sea and on foot through the jungle, in 1895; some interesting observations of native beliefs (fetishes), and a few notes on travels elsewhere. The initial sequence on her travels in Gabon was the most interesting for me, albeit a bit verbose, but it’s all well worth reading anyway. I suppose what I really mean is, what a remarkable woman. Imagine a young Victorian spinster whose primary claim to life theretofore was to care for her ailing mother in London, deciding “I think I fancy trading and exploring in West Africa for a few months”. It would be remarkable enough in the year 2020; in 1895 it must have been cataclysmic. From the very first chapter she witters on in a matter of fact, humorous way about the still-primitive and challenging places she visits, as though it were the most natural, normal thing in the world for a spinster to do. I lived in Cameroon for a while in the 1980s, and I’m telling you, they were still primitive and challenging one hundred years later. She brings a freshness of vision to everything she sees, but a simply amazing lack of recoil or of condescension towards the strange things she experiences. Against all the odds, she clearly loved everything about W. Africa. It’s a remarkable vignette of life in those times, and a glimpse of what it must have felt like. As she describes a customs house in French Africa you can almost imagine you are there with her, and her descriptions of the countryside wherever she goes is a truly valuable record of what it was like. Her descriptions of the flora and fauna are often quite poetic. Try this, of the humble mango tree: “mango trees are only pretty when you are close to them prettiest of all when you are walking through an avenue of them and you can see the richness of their colour; the deep myrtle-green leaves, with the young shoots a dull crimson, and the grey-brown stem and the luscious-looking but turpentiny-tasting fruit, a glory of gold and crimson, like an immense nectarine. It’s also quite hair-raising in its way. For example, many would baulk at the notion of drifting up Gabon’s river Ogowé (Ogooue) alone even today; but she cheerfully did so one hundred years ago. There she is, sailing calmly into the original White Man’s Grave, Conrad’s actual Heart of Darkness, without a second’s hesitation. Her descriptions of that journey are vivid and evocative, almost worthy of an adventure novel in themselves. Her cheerfulness is always fun too: speaking of a sally into the depths of French-speaking Talagouga (she spoke not a word of French naturally) she strays across her first road in weeks. A genuine road! “The road goes on into the valley, as pleasantly as ever and more so. How pleasant it would be now, if our government along the Coast had the enterprise and public spirit of the French, and made such roads just on the remote chance of stray travellers dropping in on a steamer once in ten years or so and wanting a walk.” The book does have certain shortcomings. That remorseless ‘captain of the school hockey team’ humour can jar a bit, and it is too long at 700 pages. I imagine too that her instinctive Victorian white person’s attitudes towards Africans will grate amongst more politically correct contemporaries; though the more discerning will note that she does not really seek to patronise; it’s more that her thinking is defined by the age she lived in, just as the PC brigade’s thinking is today. All the same, it’s a fascinating book, offering a precious and vivid glimpse of what life was like in those distant days. It’s also a fascinating work of feminism in action. There’s not a trace of the shrillness of contemporary feminists (apologies to any who might read this: but my point disappears without the comparison): she’s, as it were, a feminist’s feminist: she simply got in with it, without a whiff of self-absorption or self-publicity: and achieved her most demanding goal. I’d love to have met her.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Teri

    An unlikely adventurer, Mary Kingsley took off for research exploration in West Africa. Her love for good sailing vessels quickly draws the reader into a comfortable cojourner role and, now settled into that role, into the joys of her exquisite descriptions of both the horrid and beautiful views along the rivers and paths travelled. Her courage and strength of character lead to places most would fear, most notably the chief homes of notorious cannibal Fan tribes and to Mount Cameroon's summit. H An unlikely adventurer, Mary Kingsley took off for research exploration in West Africa. Her love for good sailing vessels quickly draws the reader into a comfortable cojourner role and, now settled into that role, into the joys of her exquisite descriptions of both the horrid and beautiful views along the rivers and paths travelled. Her courage and strength of character lead to places most would fear, most notably the chief homes of notorious cannibal Fan tribes and to Mount Cameroon's summit. Her sense of humor and enjoyment in the journey proved better than a hot cup of tea after a chilly rain. I enjoyed this book tremendously.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Eames

    Kingsley’s account has all the adventure of an H. Rider Haggard yarn coupled with the wit of Bernard Shaw, and outdoes them both. The indomitable lady plunges into the jungle in search of scientific specimens, all in her skirts, which incidentally save her life after a fall into a spike-pit, accompanied only by local guides, who she “chaperones” and whose customs she records with a genuine (if often satirical and Victorian) sympathy, and with her calling-cards, leaving one at the peak of a mount Kingsley’s account has all the adventure of an H. Rider Haggard yarn coupled with the wit of Bernard Shaw, and outdoes them both. The indomitable lady plunges into the jungle in search of scientific specimens, all in her skirts, which incidentally save her life after a fall into a spike-pit, accompanied only by local guides, who she “chaperones” and whose customs she records with a genuine (if often satirical and Victorian) sympathy, and with her calling-cards, leaving one at the peak of a mountain. Crocodiles, canoes capsizing, cannibals and, 'horror of horrors, there is no tea until the water comes'.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Travels in West Africa / Mary Kingsley. The term is extremely overused today, but Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) was truly amazing. A British adventurer/trader /author, she had a deep interest in Africa and Africans. This personal account of her 1894-1895 journey is considered a classic: it has never been out of print. Her fine sense of humor, her high tolerance of discomfort and risk, her intense curiosity, and her liberal appreciation of individuals and tribes are on display. She had a particular i Travels in West Africa / Mary Kingsley. The term is extremely overused today, but Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) was truly amazing. A British adventurer/trader /author, she had a deep interest in Africa and Africans. This personal account of her 1894-1895 journey is considered a classic: it has never been out of print. Her fine sense of humor, her high tolerance of discomfort and risk, her intense curiosity, and her liberal appreciation of individuals and tribes are on display. She had a particular interest in African spiritual life (fetishes), but her retelling of all her experiences is, I think, fascinating and very awe-inspiring--and jaw-dropping.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Linda Hartley

    Racist, sexist and of its time. I found it an interesting read when I could get past her racist theorising. She has a fairly modern conversational style and a way of writing which makes it easy to accept her world view unthinkingly, only to find oneself suddenly reading the most outrageous racist slurs. I was interested in her story, a lone white woman surviving in Africa at the end of the 19th. by trading and living on her wits. I think I would rather have read a biography really but this was f Racist, sexist and of its time. I found it an interesting read when I could get past her racist theorising. She has a fairly modern conversational style and a way of writing which makes it easy to accept her world view unthinkingly, only to find oneself suddenly reading the most outrageous racist slurs. I was interested in her story, a lone white woman surviving in Africa at the end of the 19th. by trading and living on her wits. I think I would rather have read a biography really but this was for 19thC Book Group.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert R. Annand

    A 19th century author who had traveled extensively in the area she describes can give a reality to her descriptions that may not contain all the detail that a modern travel writer might include but her descriptions do include a sense of wonder. Something written in the 19th century does require that the reader can bring a sense of the history of the subject area to help us relate her story to the 21st century. Since i am researching the area Ms. Kingsley visited i found her book entrancing.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

    Really liked this classic of travel literature. I had put off reading it for some time as I expected it to be interesting but dry, but instead I found it very humorous as well as interesting. My only complaint was there was only 1 map & it only covered part of the travels she writes about in the book. So glad I finally got around to reading this book by a truly amazing woman

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    incredible so much detail underrated in history--

  27. 4 out of 5

    Iñaki Tofiño

    Kind of funny sometimes, extremely witty... One cannot expect her not to be racist, which she was, but somehow she departs from the common discourse of her time.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Helen

    Not sure how I feel about this book- some of her comments! But does provide an interesting account of English 19th century superiority

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dayla

    Brave girl!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    I had never heard of Mary Henrietta Kingsley before, and I'm really glad that I have now read her book and know about this courageous woman. It is a little slow at the beginning. The preface is a good introduction (so don't skip it!), which leads you to Mary's life and circumstances that leads her to start traveling in West Africa in the late 1800s at the age of 30. In those days, where no single woman traveled to West Africa for the sake of it, Mary was one of a kind and when you read this book I had never heard of Mary Henrietta Kingsley before, and I'm really glad that I have now read her book and know about this courageous woman. It is a little slow at the beginning. The preface is a good introduction (so don't skip it!), which leads you to Mary's life and circumstances that leads her to start traveling in West Africa in the late 1800s at the age of 30. In those days, where no single woman traveled to West Africa for the sake of it, Mary was one of a kind and when you read this book - you can't believe how nonchalant she can come across in the way she describes her journey. Initially, her journals were not intentionally written to become a book, which is why I feel it's hard to get quite into it in the beginning. There isn't as much of an explanation and you are thrown into this unknown territory in the middle of the jungle in West Africa (don't even know which countries) and you find yourself accompanying this woman in swampy rivers and carnivorous tribesman. She comes across that this is no big deal and she will just find a way to befriend strangers along the way, even though she can't speak their language. In any case, she seems to be on a quest to go to this British factory for some trade... to be honest, I've never understood what she was looking for. But in some ways, it doesn't matter, because it is all about the journey. After the third chapter, you start to learn her writing style as well as getting a bit of her whimsical nature. She does an excellent job of detailing every picture of her journey, in which you can literally imagine yourself on the canoe with her. But at the same time, you can still feel the mystery of the jungle and wonder how on Earth was she traveling with her big wide skirt that Victorian women would wear back in those days. How did she not get sick, after all she went through? And how was she not scared to be a female amongst stranger men at all times? It's quite an amazing story, and the more you read it, the more fascinating it becomes. So I recommend sticking to it to the end. I'm finding myself getting very interested in these books about the rainforest and unknown territory. It reminded me a lot of Lost City of the Z, but in this case, it's a woman traveler and it is her words that we are reading - that makes it more incredible!

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