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Travels in West Africa

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Mary Henrietta Kingsley was an English ethnographic and scientific writer and explorer whose travels throughout West Africa and resulting work helped shape European perceptions of African cultures and British imperialism.

After a preliminary visit to the Canary Islands, Kingsley decided to travel to the west coast of Africa. The only non-African women who regularly embarked on (often dangerous) journeys to Africa were usually the wives of missionaries, government officials, or explorers. Exploration and adventure were not seen as fitting roles for women in the Victorian era. Yet, when Mary Kingsley's invalid parents died within six weeks of each other, she followed in her explorer father's footsteps and traveled to Africa against her society's every convention. Here is her lively and witty account of that journey, an immediate bestseller when it first came out in 1897 and every bit as gripping today. Kingsley's complicated and indomitable character shines through in each sentence, as she describes hacking, marching, and climbing her way through the continent. After more than a century, she remains a feminist icon and a most remarkable woman.

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