Tag Archives: women cyclists

Itchy feet

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Back in November we saw a call for submissions on the theme of ‘wanderlust’ for the online journal Severine. It struck a chord. We’ve both experienced wanderlust ourselves – having migrated individually to London many years ago from Australia and Reading (one, further than the other!). And we had a couple of London Undercurrents poems we felt sure would fit the bill, featuring women driven by wanderlust too – one travelling physically around the world at a time by herself when this was unheard of, and the other woman travelling away emotionally from her lot in life as a tea girl serving others.

And now you can meet these women in the digital pages of Severine’s third issue, along with a feast of other travel inspired poems and tales.

Joolz’s poem Where is your Husband? Mary Kingsley replies is based on the pioneering life of former north London resident Mary Kingsley, who was born in Islington in 1862. Rendered an orphan when her parents died one after the other, Mary seized the opportunity to travel the world with her new found freedom, which was unheard of for a woman to do at this time unless she was a missionary’s wife. Adventure and exploration was seen as ‘unfitting’ for women. But Mary didn’t let current opinion or the stultifying layers of Victorian clothing get in her way, and she even paddled a canoe up the Ogooué River in the Gabon discovering three new types of fish as she went. She didn’t however see herself as a feminist, and passionately declaimed the idea, which I found interesting. So I chose the form of a villanelle for her poem, to show the conflicting elements of freedom and adherence to a rigid structure that Mary seems to represent.

By contrast, the young woman in Hilaire’s poem Tea Girl in Battersea Park can only dream of escape. In the summer of 1895 there was a cycling craze amongst middle and upper class women, and Battersea Park was one of their favourite places to practise what was regarded as quite a risqué activity. This was the inspiration for the poem Lady Cyclist, published in Brittle Star issue 36. But Hilaire, a keen cyclist herself, felt there was another voice longing to tell a different side of this story. The cycling craze was a very social activity, with the ‘lady cyclists’ gathering  for breakfast or lunch at refreshment stalls in between bouts of riding around the carriageways. Who was serving them tea? Working class women couldn’t afford bicycles at that time – so the new freedom their wealthier sisters were experiencing was still beyond their reach. The ‘tea girl’ in Battersea Park covets a bicycle of her own but also dreams of travelling way beyond her immediate surroundings – not for her a few tame circuits of Battersea Park.