Katherine Franks novel A Voyager Out tells the life story of Mary Kingsley.She talks of her childhood, her young adult life, and her traveling life. She
wanted to tell the world what this woman explorer did for Africa. Mary Kingsley
had a famous family, many of whom were writers.
Mary herself wrote two books. In
her books however, she leaves out a lot about her life. A lot of what Katherine
Frank had discovered came from Marys letters to friends while traveling. Some
people who were the recipients of her letters found it odd that she put so much
into her correspondences. In one case, she wrote a ten-page letter to a friend.
His response to her was that she was wasting many of her good stories that could
be published on a letter. Her response was to write him a six-page letter. She
loved writing. She also loved her voyages to Africa.
Part of Mary Kingsleys
reason for loving her travel abroad came from her childhood life. Mary was born
the daughter of a high-class man and his cook. George Kingsley was a writer and
came from a family of writers. He did not produce much however. He left a lot of
his works unfinished, and many others unstarted. Because he did not do much in
his lifetime, it has been said that his greatest gift to the world was his
Her mother, Mary Bailey, was the innkeepers daughter. Four days
after her father and mother were married, Mary Kingsley was born. If her father
had not married her mother, Mary would have been bastard child of a destitute
domestic. Mary would have only been able to lead a life of servitude herself.Oddly enough though, most of her young life was lead in servitude.
Mary lived a
long life of isolation. During her adolescent years, her mother was her only
female role model of what a woman is supposed to be. Her mother was sick most of
the time and therefore Mary had to take care of her and the household chores.While her father was off on one of his many voyages, Mary Bailey had the front
windows of the house bricked closed.
The house was kept dark and stuffy. Growing
up like this made a normal childhood almost impossible for Mary Kingsley. Part
of her mothers illnesses came from constant worry about George. He went on
many trips overseas and partook in many heroic adventures. He would write home
to his family about his adventures and this caused his mother great grief.
Because of the grief this caused Mary Bailey, George stopped writing of his
heroics to her, and instead wrote of them to his daughter. Mary Kingsley had to
become a self-sufficient person. With her mother being bedridden and her father
being overseas, Mary grew up on her own. Being a girl, Mary was not given many
opportunities at an education.
The only education she had paid for her was a
class in German. Most of her education came from reading her fathers books.She taught herself Latin, Physics, and Chemistry, which was an unusual
curriculum for even the most erudite governess (24). Mary and her father had
similar reading interests and were therefore constantly fighting over books to
read. They were both interested in reading the same book at the same time.
George had a volcanic temper (27) so he was usually the victor of the
fights. There was one instance when Mary decided to leave home for a small
vacation. Mary had never been away from her home so this was a new experience
for her. Only a short time into her trip, her mother became ill and Mary had to
return to take care of her mother. After staying at her mothers bedside for
quite some time, Mary Baileys health improved so Mary decided to finish her
vacation. While gone this second time, Mary Bailey had a stroke and Mary stayed
home with her mother from then on.
Mary was never able to leave the home for a
long period of time without her mothers condition worsening. Her father
became ill and was bedridden for a while as well so Mary was taking care of both
of them. George did eventually recover and so Mary was back to only having to
take care of her mother. One night that George was feeling particularly well, he
went to bed never to awaken. A month and a half later, Mary Bailey died as well.
Mary felt her mother died because she no longer had anything to hold on to. The
death of her parents was somewhat a relief to Mary. She was finally free to be
on her own. For the rest of Marys life, she dressed in black from head to
toe. Part of this was out of mourning.
After a while, however, the black clothes
became accustomed to her. The hardest part of her parents death was having to
sort through their personal things. She had to go through their old letters and
personal papers and decide which things to keep and which things to throw away.While sorting through her parents belongings, she found her parents marriage
license and her birth certificate.
This is when Mary realized just how close to
being a bastard child she was. She already felt like an outsider in her family,
and this only added to that feeling in her heart. Mary knew she had to get away.She wanted to travel to some of the places that she read about. A family friend
suggested that she travel to the Canary Islands. The idea thrilled her.
Unfortunately, Mary still had to look after her brother Charley. She felt that
it was her womanly duty to look after her brother. She did not mind it actually.The only thing that bothered her was that her travel plans centered around his
travel plans. Every time Mary was ready to leave and thought that Charley was
too, his plans would somehow change or get put off. This gave Mary plenty of
time to get ready for her voyage to Africa.
She was told many times by many
people of all the diseases that were awaiting her. This did not deter Mary
though. She felt that she was ready for anything. She did, however, realize the
risk that was involved, and therefore wrote a will before she left for her
travels. On her journey, Mary brought with her two diaries, one for scientific
information, and the other for her own personal thoughts and psychological
She did not have a lot of money so she traveled light. Most white
people who traveled to Africa brought with them an entire entourage and hired
African porters to carry their luggage. Mary did not want to set herself that
far apart from the Africans. She traveled by trading goods and this helped her
immensely while traveling.
She felt that the Africans related better to her as a
trader than they would have if she had come in empty handed. When the Africans
saw that she had something they wanted, they would welcome her into their home.She lived off of food that the villages provided for her. Marys mode of
transportation for this first voyage was the ship The Lagos. While aboard The
Lagos the issue of death came up many times.
Many of the people aboard had
stories of many white people who died making similar trips. The diseases that
caused many of the deaths affected the white people so greatly because of the
fact that the whites immune systems just were not able to handle the new
climate and bacteria that the Africans had grown accustomed to. While aboard the
ship some of the passengers died. At each new place that The Lagos stopped more
and more deaths occurred. Still, Mary was not discouraged. While on this first
voyage Mary discovered the sickening prejudice of miscegenation.
Mary was a
strong defender of polygamy as well. Another unusual thing that Mary did was
noting in her two books the physical beauty of the African. Because the African
wore little or no clothing, it was probably the first time Mary had seen a naked
body other than her own. She was probably the first white person many of these
Africans had seen so it was a trade off of firsts. Mary had to deal with a lot
of new issues in Africa that she had not even dreamt of while she was back in
England, but she used this to learn and grow. When Mary did finally return to
England, she found it dull and lifeless.
She was bored in England and missed
Africa. To help ease her homesickness Mary redecorated her flat. She hung
many African paintings and other artwork that she brought home with her. To add
to the pseudo-Africa, she kept the temperature in her flat turned up so that the
heat was like that of Africa. While in England helping her brother, she decided
to write. It was through her writing that her imagination was able to return to
She wrote of the people she met while in Africa and the various tribes
she came across. Most of her writings were about the scientific aspect of the
tribe. There was also a personal touch that she put in her writings. Mary did
not like being back in England and was excited to be able to return again two
She spent the remainder of her time in England preparing for her
next voyage. For this next voyage, she had more money available to her because
her publisher really wanted her to write about these people. Even though she had
the extra money, she decided not to travel any more luxuriously than she had the
first time. She felt that traveling as a trader really helped her to connect
with the people. She did not want to set herself above the people she was there
to get to know.
Even though she could afford it, she did not bring tinned food
and other travel aids. She thusly decided to travel light. When others heard
that she was traveling light they asked her to bring things to their loved ones
for them. Mary, the nice woman that she is, could not say no. She ended up
having a lot of luggage because of the many care packages she was bringing to
various parts of Africa. While in Christianborg Mary discovered just how bad the
white mans death toll was.
She was being given a tour of the Christianborg
cemetery and she noted two wooden hoods covering empty graves. When she asked
what these were for, she was told that they always had two graves dug ready for
the white man to die. She was rather shocked at this revelation, and did not at
first believe the necessity for these graves. The tour guide told her that just
a few days past two men died before noon and then two more died later on in the
Mary wrote about this in her books. She wrote a lot about death in her
books. As a matter of fact, most of everything Mary wrote about had a motif of
death or beauty. Part of Marys interest in death had to do with the fact that
she was largely responsible for taking care of the ill that she came across. She
never went anywhere without her medical bag. In one case she volunteered to take
the night shift of sitting up with an ill man.
She was used to sitting up at
night with her mother so it was no big deal to her. She made sure though that no
matter what time she was up to, she took an eight-mile walk. Sometimes she even
took the walks while the person was asleep. She took the walk in order to keep
in shape as well as to discover new parts of the land. Helping to cure others
was her skill in life.
She worked so hard to make the diseases she was told
about before her first journey into something that the people could overcome.She never put her health into her mind. She was always more concerned with the
wellbeing of others. She loved doing the good deeds that she did, even when they
were not the best condition. Marys finally voyage was to South Africa. When
she arrived there she was told that her job would be to help the Boer prisoners
Although the task was not pleasing, Mary accepted the duty. The
conditions that she worked in were deplorable. The hospital was filled
with about 200 wounded men in need of care, and only one doctor and three
nurses. Mary was rather busy with this task, and fortunately for her, over time
the hospital got a few more doctors and nurses, and even a few male orderlies.
Mary wrote letters to friends describing the conditions at the hospital. Typical
Mary always added humor to even the saddest of letters. One of Marys final
letters never got mailed to its recipient. The letter told of the stench, the
washings, the enemas, the bedpans, and blood (295) that she had to deal with
every day. Those were the things that Marys entire life consisted of. She
began her life by taking care of her ill mother, crusaded all of her life by
helping Africans and British who were overcome by sicknesses found in Africa,
and then later died from being surrounded by diseases all of her life.
always took care of others, never worrying about herself. One day she began to
feel the same symptoms that she had for so many years treated. She tried to keep
silent, not wanting anyone to see her weakness. Finally, it was impossible to
hide the fact that she was sick. Marys final days were spent in bed.
up one day with an intense stomach pain. She was rushed into surgery performed
by one of the doctors she worked with and had become close to. He was convinced
that the surgery had fixed her problem, but Mary knew better. She knew herself
well enough to know she was dying.
She only had two dying requests. The first
being buried at sea rather than in a cold tomb that was waiting for her back in
England. She felt that she should be buried in the Cape of Good Hope where she
spent a great deal of her time. Her second request was hard for her friends to
fulfill, but out of love for Mary, they did. Mary wanted to die alone. She
wanted to have her final peace.
She needed this. Her friends left her be. When
she slipped into a coma, they returned to her bedside and waited. In order to
fulfill Marys request to be buried at sea, her good friend and fellow doctor
also requested a military burial as well.
She would not have permitted this
because of how humble she was. Many people felt that this military burial was
the only thing appropriate for a woman who did as much as she did. Her funeral
was filled with many solemn speeches and final words. Mary would not go out that
way, however. She always had to add that bit of humor to everything she did.
When her casket was thrown overboard, it was not properly weighted and therefore
did not sink. Her coffin bobbed up and down in the water for a while as her
final goodbye. An anchor was eventually tied onto the casket and the body of the
great Mary Kingsley sunk into the water where she rested with the beauty of the
coral and pearls and other sea creatures surrounding her. Now for the opinion
part. The book was great.
Mary Kingsley was an extremely interesting woman. She
did many great things for those who not many wanted to help. However, the book
was not easy to read. The book was rather repetitive.
Mary was born, helped the
sick, went to Africa, helped the sick, people died, she left Africa, went back
to Africa, helped the sick, people died, left Africa, went back to Africa,
helped the sick you get the point. It was a little bit difficult for me to
pick out the important details to share with the class in this report. I did not
want to bore the class with the same thing over and over. Yes, I realize that
Mary led an extremely wonderful life, and therefore all of the details of her
life should be considered important.
However, some of them were rather boring.Mary did a great deal of thing that should be looked up to and respected. I do
respect this woman that I have never had the chance to meet. The things she did
were extremely courageous. She put other peoples lives ahead of hers.
once did she stop and say, This could be dangerous to me. She was always
willing to go above and beyond. It gives me a great example of a way to lead a
selfless life. I am not saying that I want to go to the extremes that Mary did,
but I think that I could definitely learn a lot about helping others by
following her lead. We all can. Mary crusaded to help those who did not get help
She was a strong woman who did what she believed was right, not
what others thought was right. She was a pilgrim of some sorts. She began what
others eventually followed. Because of her, many others were willing to help
those in need. I would recommend this book to any of those looking to find their
own inner strength. Reading of this womans adventures gives a great deal of
motivation to get out and do something.
If you are one of those who is thinking
of going out and helping others and crusading for justice, this book would do a
great deal for you. However, this book needs to be read in one sitting. If you
read bits and pieces of this book at a time, it takes too long and therefore
drones on. That is the trap that I fell into.
I read chapter by chapter and it
felt as if I was rereading the same part of the book over and over. Part of the
difficulty in the reading might come from the fact that the book was written
about someone from that someones own books. Confused? Mary wrote a few books
and lots of letters. She even wrote her fathers book for him.
that the author of The Voyager Out based her writings on was Marys own
writings. A lot of the book therefore was secondhand, and some was firsthand. At
times it was hard to tell whether the information was gotten from something Mary
herself said or from an assumption Katherine Frank got from reading Marys
writings. Another difficulty I found while reading the book was that most of
Mary Kingsleys family was named George, Charles, or Henry. Most of them also
had one of those three for middle names as well.
The females were named Mary and
Charlotte. In order to keep this tradition alive, many of the men married women
named Mary or Charlotte. Mary has a cousin Mary, her mother is Mary, and she is
Mary. Her Uncle Charles did a lot, but her brother Charley was lazy. While
reading I found myself having to reread in order to find out who was being
talked about at this time.
For a good portion of my reading I was reading about
Charley thinking that her uncle was the one being referred to. I had to reread
almost an entire chapter once I discovered it was her brother. The audience of
the book is most likely those who are already interested in doing similar deeds.The book is not so much a call to action as it is a remembrance of this great
woman, therefore most of the readers probably already have some knowledge of
what Mary did based on their own experiences.
I think if the book had been
written more to persuade others to get involved it would have been more
interesting. Because the audience is assumed to already be interested in what
Mary did, I am sure most of the readers did not get bored of the repetition of
what Mary did throughout her life. In general I am glad that I read this book,
although I am extremely glad that I am done with it. If anyone else would like
to read it, great! I would encourage you to go out and gain knowledge of what
this woman did to help the sick in Africa. It is a truly touching story. If, on
the other hand, you have other things to do, other tests to study for, or
parties to go to, I would suggest doing that first.