The journals of Maria Graham (1785-1842)
Maria Graham is known as a travel writer, but she also translated works from French and German into English, wrote on history, painting, stories for children, and kept personal journals. My thesis centres on her travel journals and memoirs, published and unpublished. Graham is one of the first female travel writers to acquire fame as a writer shortly after publication, or to provoke controversy; in the cases of Brazil and Chile she actually is the first woman to write about those emerging states. She is outstanding as well for the authority of her narrative voice, her disregard of restrictions imposed on women’s text during her time, her complex approach to gender issues and for the changes experienced by her narrating persona. She begins by constructing a well informed but detached observer who reports her visit to India and the first visit to Brazil in a cold and distant voice, but who later allows another voice to filter through her text, an event that turns the narrator into a mere shadow in parts of the journal on Chile. It is in this journal that Graham begins to build up a contradictory persona who can be superior, ironic, and scathing when describing other women, but who can portray herself as a helpless heroine in a traditional romance when her script so demands it. In the second visit to Brazil this complex narrator becomes warmly eulogising of the country and its ruler, but this attitude does not last. The position is reversed in the third journal, which has elements of a spy thriller at times. The last chapter concerns the journals written in and about Europe regardless of chronology; they illustrate one of the main postulates of the thesis: that Graham evolved as narrator from detached observer to heroine up to the journals written at the end of her life, which become explorations into the narrator’s inner self.
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