Anne Hultzsch is an architect and leader of the ERC-funded group ‘Women Writing Architecture: Female Experiences of the Built, 1700-1900’ at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture of ETH Zurich.
Commonly regarded as a (more or less) personal account of a journey written in the first person, travel writing is often considered as sitting between genres, between fact and fiction, and has in the past served a variety of purposes. Trailing the history of travel itself, in the West it has undergone a transformation from those accounts reporting on justifiable travel up to around the French Revolution – religious pilgrimage, mercantile journeys, and variations of the educational Grand Tour – to more subjective descriptions of journeys openly undertaken for pleasure since around 1800. It was this subjective mode that, in many ways, opened the doors for female authorship. Often taking the form of letters or diaries, travel accounts written by women exploited the frequent male admission that the female mind was particularly suited for sentimental descriptions based on the emotional response to the foreign. There were indeed critics who ascribed women with a special sensibility (otherwise seen as weakness) rendering their descriptions of buildings and landscapes particularly vivid and captivating. Travelogues also sold well – so this was a good means to earn a living for a middle-class woman who would have struggled to take most other types of paid work while keeping her social and moral standing in society.