Approaching 50, Sara Wheeler followed in the footsteps of 6 English women when went to America over the course of the 19th century – decades which saw the United States’ Frontier lurch relentlessly across a continent and, in time, the railway connect the coasts.
Some stayed, others were visitors / travellers / tourists. All wrote about their experiences of the New World, and the new lives they found they embarked on there.
1827 – Fanny Trollope, whose husband’s “financial misfortune” forced her family to seek a new life in the New World. After five years mainly in the frontier town of Cincinnati, the family, still in financial straits, returned to England where she wrote about her experiences in Domestic Manners of the Americans. The book proved a money spinner and a succès de scandale.
1832 – Fanny Kemble, an acclaimed London actress whose marriage to an American plantation owner proved unhappy, as she struggled with the reality of being a slaver-owner’s wife in Georgia. Separated and subsequently divorced in 1849, Fanny Kemble returned to the stage and to London society.
1834 – Harriet Martineau, who stayed with a former president on her visit to Massachusetts, and wrote up her assessment of America from a social, political and economic perspective.
1831 – Rebecca Burlend, an improverished tenant farmer’s wife who sought a better life in the New World. A fascinating first hand account of a settler’s life in Illinois.
1873 – Isabella Bird – an intrepid Victorian Lady Traveller, whose health took a turn for the worse every time she had to return “home”, and whose friendship with “Rocky Mountain Jim” would not have been possible “at home”.
1870 – Catherine Hubback, a novelist like her aunt, Jane Austen, who emigrated to California a year after the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
Publisher’s page: Oh My America!: Second Acts in a New World – Sara Wheeler