Long's Peak: Isabella Bird's Initiation Journey
Ruiz-de-Alegria Puig, Iratxe
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Contrary to what can be expected from a Victorian lady of the 19th century, which is mostly taking care of her offspring and loving spouse, the traveller and writer Isabella Bird was determined to deviate herself from conventional standards, and enjoy a life branded by transgression. Everything suggests that she sought, above all, pleasure. The aim of this dissertation is precisely to bring closer an account au féminin about the American West, as well as to shed some light on a particular kind of travel literature, that is, the initiation journey. To this end, I selected the collection of letters by Isabella Bird addressed to her sister Henrietta, later compiled in A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879). I then searched for instances where Bird’s allegoric narrative agrees with the mythic structure of an initiation journey. The results obtained certainly show that despite her initial intention of embarking on a long journey on health grounds as prescribed by her doctors, it eventually turned out to be a goal of a more transcendental nature. Should there be a place where, after almost forty-two years of domestic confinement, a Victorian lady felt free to solo travel, ride astride, adopt any attire, and to even indulge herself in an intimate experience out of the padlock, that would be the New World. Not surprisingly, Bird headed for the Rocky Mountains. On the basis of these findings, I suggest that, taking advantage of remoteness, Bird employed landscape descriptions as metaphors of her sexual encounter(s), which allowed her to gently write about a taboo subject, i.e., her alleged first intimate relationship. All things considered, it is not so much about whether Bird actually enjoyed her first intercourse, as it is about the fact that she dared to put it down on paper.