Elizabeth Martha Brown


Elizabeth Martha Brown (c. 1811–9 August 1856), née Clark, was the last woman to be hanged in public in Dorset, England. She was executed outside Dorchester Prison after being convicted of the murder of her second husband, John Brown, on 22 July, just 13 days earlier. The prosecution said she had attacked him with an axe after he had taken a whip to her.


Among the crowd of 3,000–4,000 who watched the hanging of Brown was the English novelist, Thomas Hardy, 16 years old at the time, standing close to the gallows. He wrote 70 years later that he was ashamed to have been there. Brown was dressed in a long, black, silk dress. A cloth was placed over her head, but as it began to rain, her face became visible again. Hardy wrote, “I saw—they had put a cloth over the face—how, as the cloth got wet, her features came through it. That was extraordinary.” “I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain,” he wrote elsewhere, “and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half-round and back.” Blake Morrison writes that the hanging of Tess in Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) reflected his experience of watching Brown’s death.

A local newspaper recorded that she was counselled just before her death by the Rev. D Clementson, the prison chaplain, and that she remained composed:

This morning (Saturday) a few minutes after 8 o’clock, Elizabeth Martha Brown, convicted of the wilful murder of her husband was executed on a scaffold erected over the gateway of the new entrance leading to Dorset County Goal from North Square. The culpret did not up to the last moment, appear to shed a tear. She on leaving her cell, shook hands with the chief warder and other officers. On her way to the scaffold her demeanour was extraordinary. The attendants on either side were entirely overcome, whilst she bore her awful position with the greatest resignation and composure. The Chaplain the Rev. D Clementson, conversed with her on spiritual subjects, and she appeared to engage in fervant devotion and prayer, with her hands clasped firmly together and upturned eyes. On arriving at the place of execution she walked with firmness up the first flight of eleven steps. On this spot the ceremony of pinioning was proceeded with. Her female attendants here left her in the care of the executioner.

A Dorset-based company, Angel Exit Theatre, produced a play called The Ballad of Martha Brown based on the life and times of Martha Brown. The play premiered at Deverills Festival in Wiltshire on 3 May 2014 and is currently touring the UK.

In 1995, Australian band The Lucksmiths released the track Thomas & Martha based on Thomas Hardy’s recollections of the event.

In 2016, it was reported that remains unearthed at the site of Dorchester prison in Dorset may belong to Brown.


Dorothea Lynde Dix


Dorothea Lynde Dix (April 4, 1802 – July 17, 1887) was an activist on behalf of the indigent insane. She created the first generation of American mental asylums, now called mental hospitals, through her vigorous program of lobbying state legislatures and the United States Congress. She traveled the world, and her work changed the way we treat the mentally ill. She had a long and varied career, as an author of children’s books, starting schools, and creating a volunteer female nursing corps, all in addition to her main calling—as advocate for better treatment for the mentally ill. Her efforts revolutionized society’s attitude toward such suffering people, giving them a place in the family of humankind.

Dorothea Lynde Dix was born in the tiny frontier village of Hampden, Maine, on April 4, 1802, to a family in constant distress. Somehow, from there she managed to become a woman whose epitaph read that the United States had not produced a more productive or useful woman. Her father, Joseph Dix, was an itinerant Methodist preacher who was an alcoholic. Her mother, Mary Bigeloe Dix, was four years her father’s senior and constantly had headaches, literally and figuratively, struggling with depression and the family’s lack of finances. Dorothea took care of the other children.

Dorothea was forced to stitch words on religious tracts for her father to sell. She never liked to talk about her childhood, and even said that she never had a childhood. She did, however, learn to read and write from her father, and subsequently taught her siblings to read and write.

When she was twelve, the fighting between her parents became too much, and she went to her paternal grandmother’s house in Worcester, Massachusetts. She had been named after her grandmother, and had always loved her grandfather, Dr. Elijah Dix. She especially loved reading his books from when he was a student at Harvard University. Her grandmother wanted her to become a lady, and as she was rich, she paid for Dorothea to have tennis lessons, a seamstress to make her clothes, and everything a young society lady would want. She was very upset when Dorothea gave away those clothes to the poor who stood outside the gate. After a few years, Dorothea went to her aunt, as her grandmother felt she could help Dorothea more. Dorothea wanted to return and help her siblings, but it was four more years before she could do so.

At one of the society events, Dorothea met Edward Bangs, her second cousin. He was fourteen years her senior, and an attorney. He helped her start a school in a small shop on the main street, as he appreciated her knowledge and desire to help others. At the age of fifteen, she taught twenty pupils aged six to eight, and her school was quite successful. She ran this school for three years, with much support from Bangs, for which she was very grateful. Meanwhile, Bangs grew quite fond of her, and eventually proposed. She was afraid to accept, fearing a marriage like her parents. She closed the school and returned to her grandmother’s house. Bangs pursued her, and she finally agreed to marry him but would not set a date. Eventually, she realized her school was more important to her, and returned his ring.

Dix was not religiously satisfied by the Methodism of her father, and by the early 1820s had found her religious home among Unitarians. She appreciated the Unitarian emphasis on the goodness of God, purity of heart, openness to new knowledge, and responsibility for the good of all society. She became a close friend of William Ellery Channing, the famous pastor of the Federal Street Church in Boston. She acted as governess to his family upon occasion, traveling with the family on vacations. During this time, she read many printed Unitarian sermons appreciatively and critically.

In the 1830s she had a physical breakdown, probably suffering from tuberculosis. The treatment for this was not well known at the time. In hopes of a cure, in 1836 she traveled to England, where she had a letter of introduction from Channing, and stayed with the Rathbone family for a year at Greenbank, their ancestral mansion in Liverpool. The Rathbones were Quakers and prominent social reformers. At Greenbank, Dix met men and women who believed that government should play a direct, active role in social welfare. She was also exposed to the British lunacy reform movement, whose methods involved detailed investigations of madhouses and asylums, the results of which were published in reports to the House of Commons.

She returned to the United States in 1941. On March 28, 1841, Dix went to the East Cambridge jail to teach a Sunday School class for women. She was shocked by what she saw. The mentally ill, the criminals, and the debt-ridden were all together in an unheated place, with a stone floor for their bed. One man was naked, chained and whipped to make him to behave better. She was told that the insane do not feel things like heat or cold. She could not tolerate this. From that point on, this was Dix’s calling.

She began to prepare herself for her new mission—to create decent conditions for the mentally ill. She read extensively and interviewed physicians about the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. She acquainted herself with the work of reformers Philipe Pinel, Benjamin Rush and William Tuke. She became as educated as anyone of the day about the various aspects of mental illness.

Dix conducted a thorough statewide investigation of how her home state of Massachusetts cared for the insane poor. She toured many facilities in Massachusetts and started to document their conditions of incarceration. Her society years had helped her gain many admiring friends with great influence, Bangs among them, who helped her win time lobbying legislature and gaining further contacts. She published the results in a fiery pamphlet, a Memorial, to the state legislature.

I proceed, Gentlemen, briefly to call your attention to the present state of Insane Persons confined within this Commonwealth, in cages, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience.

The outcome of her lobbying was a bill to create, expand, and develop state mental hospitals. Dix then traveled from New Hampshire to Louisiana, documenting the condition of pauper lunatics, publishing memorials to state legislatures, and devoting enormous personal energy to working with committees to draft the appropriations bills needed to build asylums.

Dix’s views about the treatment of the mentally ill were radical for her time. It was commonly believed that the insane could never be cured, and it was sufficient to provide minimal care for them. Dix could see that simply bettering the conditions of the inmates helped them. One example she gave involved young woman who was for years a “raging maniac,” chained in a cage, and whipped to control her acts and words. She slowly recovered her senses simply by the kind treatment of a couple who had agreed to take care of her in their home.

Dix visited every state east of the Mississippi River, which was most of the United States at that time. Her process was always the same. She first made careful documentation of the conditions in the various institutions, and then prepared a document to report these to the State Legislature. Her first “child” was the New Jersey State Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey. This was the first to be set up with state funds, thus establishing that social service was within the scope of government.

She was instrumental in the founding of the first public mental hospital in Pennsylvania, the Harrisburg State Hospital, and later in establishing its library and reading room in 1853. Many other states followed suit, and the word began to spread how many former inmates could improve.

In the twentieth century, some unjustly blamed Dix for custodialism in the hospitals she had helped found. Her writings are clear on how she hated custodialism, believing that those suffering mental illness should be encouraged to take as much responsibility in their daily life as possible. She argued strongly that the mentally ill should be provided therapy, books, music, recreation, and, above all, meaningful work. She embraced a holistic approach to care and treatment.

Her dream was that legislation be enacted to set aside federal land to be sold, with proceeds from its sale distributed to the states to build and maintain asylums. Dix’s land bill passed both houses, but in 1854 President Franklin Pierce vetoed it, arguing that the federal government should not involve itself in social welfare.

Stung by the defeat of her land bill, in 1854-55 Dix traveled to England and Europe, where she reconnected with the Rathbones and conducted investigations of Scotland’s madhouses. Her work precipitated the Scottish Lunacy Commission. Throughout the 1850s she carried on her work in the British Isles, France, Greece, Russia, Canada, and Japan with hospitals for the mentally ill being established in those locations.

During the Civil War, at fifty-nine years old, Dix volunteered for service in the Army for the Union. She was appointed Superintendent of Army Nurses. She worked tirelessly throughout the war without pay to benefit the conditions of both the nurses and patients. She battled many prejudices and effectively promoted the use of female nurses. As supervisor to 3,000 nurses, she insisted that they be respected by the officials and patients, and that they not be distracted by the men. To this end, she allowed only less attractive women over thirty to serve. She also ordered court-martialled every doctor she found drunk or disorderly. Her volunteer corps were wildly popular and readily accepted by civilian authorities, although scorned by the army. She would often bring in supplies from private sources when there were not enough rations, medicines, and supplies from the military. However, she was not prepared for the bureaucracy of the army, and her administration skills were not the best, and finally she left her position. Nevertheless, the nursing corps was undoubtedly better due to her efforts.

As a teacher, she wrote many books and had success helping parents learn to work with their own children. Conversations on Common Things, published in 1824 and much reprinted, helped parents appreciate and answer their children’s questions such as: “Why do we call this day Monday? Why do we call this month January? What is tin? Does cinnamon grow on trees?” The answers given demonstrated Dix’s extensive knowledge of the natural world and understanding of children and teaching.

Dix fought ill-health all her life, yet was probably the greatest humanitarian in nineteenth-century America. She was instrumental in founding 32 mental hospitals, 15 schools for the feeble minded, a school for the blind, and numerous training facilities for nurses. Her efforts were an indirect inspiration for the building of many additional institutions for the mentally ill. She also helped establish libraries in prisons, mental hospitals and other institutions.

When Dorothea Dix was 73, she watched the first class of nurses especially trained to care for the insane graduate from “her” hospital, the New Jersey State Hospital at Trenton New Jersey. She spent her last years living in a private apartment there, writing letters from her bed defending those who could not defend themselves. She died in 1887, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her epitaph read, “She was the most useful and distinguished woman America has yet produced.”

Rani Padmin


Rani Padmini (Padmavati) (died 1303 CE), was the queen of Chittor , the wife of King Rawal Ratan Singh and the daughter of the contemporary Sinhala king.

She features in Padmavat, an epic poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540 CE.

Early life

Padmini or Padmavati spent her life in Singhal under the care of her father Gandharvsen and mother Champavati. Padmini had a talking parrot named “Hiramani”. Her father arranged a swayamvara and invited all the Hindu kings and Rajputs to ask for her hand (request to marry her by showing their eligibility). Malkhan Singh, a king from a small state came to her swayamvara to marry her. King Rawal Ratan Singh of Chittor who had another queen Nagmati, also went to Singhal, defeated Malkhan Singh and married Padmini as the winner of the swayamvara. He returned to Chittor with his beautiful second queen Padmini.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Sultanate of Delhi – the kingdom set up by invaders – was growing in power. The Sultans made repeated attack on Mewar. The reason for one of attacks on Chittor by Alauddin Khilji was to obtain beautiful Rani Padmini by force. The story is based on the book written by the Alauddin’s historian to justify their attacks on Rajput kingdoms and much to frustrate the bravery and heroism which was present in the males and females of Rajputs warlords. Some historians do not agree with the story which is based on Muslim sources to inflame the Rajput chivalry. The story uses all such tactics and tricks which are required to make it seem true. It goes as follows.

In those days Chittor was under the rule of Rajput King Rawal Ratan Singh, a brave and noble warrior. Apart from being a loving husband and a just ruler, Rawal Ratan Singh was also a patron of the arts. In his court were many talented people, one of whom was a musician named Raghav Chetan. But unknown to anybody, Raghav Chetan was also a sorcerer. He used his evil talents to run down his rivals and, unfortunately for him, was caught red-handed in his dirty act of arousing evil spirits. Some other sources quote that Raghav Chetan was actually called in by Ratan Singh for some dirty work.

On hearing this, King Rawal Ratan Singh was furious and he banished Raghav Chetan from his kingdom after blackening his face and making him ride a donkey. This harsh punishment earned Ratan Singh an uncompromising enemy. Sulking after his humiliation, Raghav Chetan made his way towards Delhi with the aim of trying to incite the Sultan of Delhi, Alauddin Khilji, to attack Chittor.

On approaching Delhi, Raghav Chetan settled down in one of the forests near Delhi which the Sultan used to frequent for hunting deer. One day, on hearing the Sultan’s hunt party entering the forest, Raghav Chetan started playing a melodious tone on his flute. When the alluring notes of Raghav Chetan’s flute reached the Sultan’s party, they were surprised as to who could be playing a flute with such mastery in a forest. The Sultan despatched his soldiers to fetch the person and, when Raghav Chetan was brought before him, Sultan Alauddin Khilji asked him to come to his court at Delhi. The cunning Raghav Chetan asked the king as to why he wants to have an ordinary musician like himself when there were many other beautiful objects to be had. Wondering what Raghav Chetan meant, Alauddin asked him to clarify. Upon being told of Rani Padmini’s beauty, Alauddin’s lust was aroused. Immediately on returning to his capital, he ordered his army to march to Chittor as he thought that so beautiful a lady deserved to be in his harem.

But to his dismay, on reaching Chittor, Alauddin found the fort to be heavily defended. Desperate to have a look at the legendary beauty of Padmini, he sent word to King Ratan Singh that he looked upon Padmini as his sister and wanted to meet her. On hearing this, desperate Ratan Singh saw a chance to escape the fury of the emperor and retain his kingdom. Therefore he agreed to show his wife to the emperor, though it was considered a highly shameful and dishonourable act in those times.

On being persuaded by her husband, Rani Padmini consented to allow Alauddin to see her reflection in a mirror. On word being sent to Alauddin that Padmini would show herself to him, he came to the fort with his selected best warriors who secretly made a careful examination of the fort’s defences on their way to the palace.

On seeing Padmini’s reflection image in the mirror, Alauddin Khilji decided that he should secure Padmini for himself. While returning to his camp, Alauddin was accompanied for some way by King Ratan Singh. Alauddin Khilji saw this as an opportunity and got Ratan Singh arrested, and asked for Padmini.

The Songara Chauhan Rajput generals Gora and Badal decided to beat the Sultan at his own game and sent back a word that Padmini would be given to Alauddin the next morning. On the following day at the crack of dawn, one hundred and fifty palanquin (covered seat enclosed in curtains on which royal ladies were carried in mediaeval times on poles held parallel to the ground on the shoulders of two or four people) left the fort and made their way towards Alauddin’s camps The palanquins stopped before the tent where king Ratan Singh was being held prisoner. Seeing that the palanquins had come from Chittor; and thinking that they had brought along with them his queen, King Ratan Singh was mortified. But to his surprise from the palanquins came out, not his queen and her maid servants, but fully armed soldiers who quickly freed Ratan Singh and galloped away towards Chittor on horses grabbed from Alauddin’s stables. Gora fought bravely during the skirmish and laid down his life while Badal was able to take the Rana safely to the fort in the same fort after some time rani padmawati makes jauhar.

On hearing that his designs had been frustrated, the Sultan was furious and ordered his army to storm Chittor. However, hard as they tried the Sultan’s army could not break into the fort. Then Alauddin decided to lay siege to the fort. The siege was a long drawn one and gradually supplies within the fort were depleted. Finally King Ratan Singh gave orders that the Rajputs would open the gates and fight to death with the besieging troops. On hearing of this decision, Padmini decided that with their men-folk going into the unequal struggle with the Sultan’s army in which they were sure to perish, the women of Chittor had either to commit the divine suicide jauhar or face dishonour at the hands of the victorious enemy.

The choice was in favour of suicide through jauhar. A huge pyre was lit and all the women of Chittor jumped into the flames after their queen, thus depriving the enemy waiting outside. With their womenfolk dead, the men of Chittor had nothing to live for. They decided to perform saka. Each soldier got dressed in kesari robes and turbans. They charged out of the fort and fought with the array of the Sultan until all of them perished. After this pyrrhic victory, the Sultan’s troops entered the fort only to be confronted with ashes and burnt bones.

The women who performed jauhar perished but their memory has been kept alive till today by bards and songs which glorify their act, which was right in those days and circumstances. A halo of honour is given to their sacrifice.


Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem records yet another account of the events.

When Ratan Singh refuses Alauddin Khilji’s demand for Padmavati for his harem, war ensues and the king is taken prisoner. Meanwhile the king of neighbouring Kambhalner makes an indecent proposal to the queen. Ratan Singh escapes and kills the king of Kambhalner, but is himself fatally wounded. His two queens, Padmavati and Nagmati perform Jauhar, and Alauddin’s army arrives when their ashes are still warm. Chittor falls to the emperor.

Sei Shōnagon


Sei Shōnagon (清少納言), (c. 965 C.E. – c. 1010 C.E.) was a Japanese author and a court lady who is known as the author of The Pillow Book (枕草子 makura no sōshi). She was just fourteen when she entered the service of the Empress Consort Teishi, sometime around the year 1000, where she remained for ten years. The Pillow Book is not a personal diary of the author’s life, but a record of interesting events in court, lists of all kinds, personal thoughts, poetry, and some opinions on her contemporaries. Sei Shōnagon reports the troubles of Empress (Sadako) Teishi after her father died and the Emperor was persuaded to take her young cousin as a second consort.

Japanese scholars regard The Pillow Book as a model of linguistic purity because it uses concise language and few Chinese words. Sei Shōnagon’s literary ability and skill as a poet make The Pillow Book a classic work of literature. It is also a valuable historical document, recording many details of Heian court life and references to political events. Her writings also include poetic evocations of scene and atmosphere that capture the characteristic mood or essential beauty of each of the four seasons. More than one thousand years later, The Pillow Book continues to delight readers all over the world.


Sei Shōnagon’s actual given name is not known. It was the custom among aristocrats in those days to call a court lady (女房 nyōbō) by a combined appellative taken from her clan name and some court office belonging either to her or a close relative. “Sei” (清) is the Sinitic reading of the first character used to write Kiyohara (清原), while “Shōnagon” was a government post. It is unknown which of her relatives held the post of shōnagon. Sei Shōnagon’s birth name has been a topic of debate among scholars, who generally favor Kiyohara Nagiko (清原 諾子) as a likely possibility.

Little is known about her life except what is said in her writings. She was the daughter of Kiyohara no Motosuke, a scholar and one of the compilers of the Gosenshū anthology of waka poetry. Her grandfather Kiyohara no Fukayabu was also a well-known waka poet. They were middle-ranking courtiers and had financial difficulties, since they were never granted a revenue-producing court office.

She married once, by all indications, and had at least one daughter. When she entered the service of the Empress Teishi, consort of Emperor Ichijō, around 990, she was supposedly divorced. She was just fourteen when she went to the court and was fascinated by the young and beautiful twenty year old Empress. She was known for her clever wit and her cheerfulness, and for her familiarity with the Chinese classics, an unusual accomplishment for a woman of that period.

Shōnagon achieved fame through her work, The Pillow Book. The Pillow Book is a collection of lists, gossip, poetry, observations, complaints, and anything else she found of interest during her years in the court, during the middle Heian Period. In The Pillow Book Shōnagon reports the troubles of Empress (Sadako) Teishi after her father, Fujiwara no Michitaka died. Because of the risk of fire, the Imperial family did not, at that time, live in the Grand Palace. Empress Teishi resided in a part of Chugushiki, the Bureau of Serving the Empress. For five years, the Empress Teishi’s apartments were the center of cultural activity at the court. After her father’s death, his brother, Michinaga, brought his own daughter, Shoshi (Akiko), to the Emperor’s attention. The Emperor broke the tradition of having a single wife, and took Shoshi as his second consort. Sei Shōnagon was devoted to the Empress Teishi, and proud of understanding her feelings. Sei Shōnagon refers to the death of her patroness, who died in childbirth, with refined lightheartedness, and implies it was not difficult. To do otherwise would have been considered unstylish. Her writing depicts the court of the young Empress as full of an elegant and merry atmosphere.

When I first went into waiting at Her Majesty’s Court, so many different things embarrassed me that I could not even reckon them up and I was always on the verge of tears. As a result, I tried to avoid appearing before the Empress except at night, and even then I stayed behind a three-foot curtain of state.

On one occasion Her Majesty brought out some pictures and showed them to me, but I was so ill at ease that I could hardly stretch out my hand to take them. She pointed to one picture after another, explaining what each represented….

It was a very cold time of the year and when Her Majesty gave me the paintings I could hardly see her hands, but, from what I made out, they were of a light pink hue that I found extraordinarily attractive. I gazed at the Empress with amazement. Simple as I was and unaccustomed to such wonderful sights, I did not understand how a being like this could possibly exist in our world (The pillow book of Sei Shonagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris, p. 186).

There are no details about Shōnagon’s life after the Empress died in 1000, though The Pillow Book is thought to have been finished sometime between 1001 and 1010. One story has Sei Shonagon living out her twilight years in poverty, but this is probably a legend spread by those who disapproved of her. Other accounts say that Sei Shonagon left the court and married a provincial governor, becoming a Buddhist nun upon his death. She is also known for her rivalry with her contemporary Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote The Tale of Genji and served the Empress Shoshi, second consort of the Emperor Ichijō. Murasaki Shikibu described her in her diary as a person who liked to show off her knowledge:

Sei Shonagon has the most extraordinary air of self-satisfaction. Yet, if we stop to examine those Chinese writings of hers that she so pretentiously scatters about the place, we find that they are full of imperfections. Someone who makes such an effort to be different from others is bound to fall in people’s esteem, and I can only think that her future will be a hard one. She is a gifted woman, to be sure. Yet, if one gives free rein to one’s emotions even under the most inappropriate circumstances, if one has to sample each interesting thing that comes along, people are bound to regard one as frivolous. And how can things turn out well for such a woman (Jonathon Delacour. Ladies in Rivalry, Sunday 31 March 2002. Retrieved May 18, 2007.).

The Pillow Book

The Pillow Book, along with Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji and the Kagerô Diary (954-974 C.E.) by the woman known as “Michitsuna’s Mother,” are among the earliest important works of Japanese literature. During the Heian Period, Japan assimilated Chinese influences and developed a distinctly native literature. Men tended to write using formal Chinese characters, and most of their works were written in an official capacity, either as historical records or poetry for court occasions. The women of the court wrote in hiragana, known as onnade, or “letters of women,” a simplified and stylized cursive version of Chinese phonograms. The women of the Heian court were cultured and well-educated, and they wrote for their own pleasure and the entertainment of the court, producing works of literature that continue to delight and surprise readers more than one thousand years later.


The most widely accepted theory is that the first draft of The Pillow Book (枕草子, Makura no sōshi) was in existence around 996, a second draft was produced around 1000, and that it was completed in 1002, with additions continuing to be made to the final draft until about 1021, at the latest. In its final form, The Pillow Book is composed of about three-hundred-and-twenty sections of varying lengths, grouped into three categories according to content: classified lists of items; diary entries describing Sei Shonagon’s daily life in the palace; and musings and poetry on the beauty of nature, the meaning of life, and other reflections. The sections of the manuscript which can be dated are not in chronological order, and since the earliest extant manuscript dates from the 1500s, there is no way of knowing if the current order of the sections reflects Shonagon’s original arrangement. There are numerous textual variants, owing to its extreme age and the way in which it was propagated through hand-written copies. Two main textual traditions are associated with The Pillow Book. The ruisan-bon tradition arranges the manuscript according to the three categories of content, and is further divided into Sakai-bon and Maeda-bon manuscripts, named for the owners of the manuscripts. The zassan-bon tradition forgoes any attempt to arrange the content and is divided into Nōin-bon (named for the manuscript owner) and sankan-bon (a descriptive term referring to a three-volume version of the manuscript) manuscripts.


Numerous explanations have been proposed for the meaning of the title, The Pillow Book. One theory is that the title refers to a notebook kept nearby for jotting down observations and impressions, particularly at the end of the day before going to sleep. Some suggest that the book may actually have been used as a pillow, or kept in the drawer of the author’s wooden pillow. “Pillow” may also be a reference to “pillow words” (makurakotoba), conventional modifications of words used in waka poetry. Indexes of such words were widely circulated in Sei Shōnagon’s day, and the lists in her notebook may originally have been intended for the same purpose. Another suggestion is that the title is an allusion to a poem in the Chinese anthology Hakushi monjū, which describes an old man with white hair who had nothing to do all day long, so he slept with a book for a pillow.

I wrote these notes at home, when I had a good deal of time to myself and thought no one would notice what I was doing. Everything that I have seen and felt is included. Since much of it might appear malicious and even harmful to other people, I was careful to keep my book hidden. But now it has become public, which is the last thing I expected.

One day Lord Korechika, the Minister of the Centre, brought the Empress a bundle of notebooks.

“What shall we do with them?” Her Majesty asked me. “The Emperor has already made arrangements for copying the Records of the Historian” [the Chinese work, Shih chi]

“Let me make them into a pillow,” I said.

“Very well,” said Her Majesty. “You may have them.”

I now had a vast quantity of paper at my disposal, and I set about filling the notebooks with odd facts, stories from the past, and all sorts of other things, often including the most trivial material….

I was sure that when people saw my book they would say, “It’s even worse that I expected. Now one can tell what she is really like” (The pillow book of Sei Shonagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris, p.263-264).

The Pillow Book

Sei Shonagon wrote The Pillow Book in the genre known as zuihitsu, a random collection of vignettes and impressions, anecdotes of people and events, descriptions of seasonal rituals and festivals, critical commentaries, and simple poetry. The Pillow Book is not a personal diary of the author’s life, but a record of interesting events in court, lists of all kinds, personal thoughts, poetry and some opinions on her contemporaries. As Ivan Morris notes, there are 164 lists in the book’s “1098 closely printed pages.”

Sei Shōnagon’s literary ability and skill as a poet make The Pillow Book a classic work of literature. It is also a valuable historical document, recording many details of Heian court life and references to political events. Her writings also include poetic evocations of scene and atmosphere that capture the characteristic mood or essential beauty of each of the four seasons. Part of the book was revealed to the Court by accident while Shōnagon was writing it.

Japanese scholars regard The Pillow Book as a model of linguistic purity because it uses few Chinese words, and some consider it a greater work than Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji monogatari, because of its variety and its concise language. The book has been translated into English by Ivan Morris. In spring, it is the dawn. The sky at the edge of the mountains slowly starts to brighten with the approach of day, and the thinly trailing clouds nearby are tinted purple.

In summer, it is the night. It is of course delightful when the moon is out, but no less so on dark nights when countless fireflies can be seen mingling in flight. One even feels charmed when just one or two pass by, giving off a gentle glow. Rainy nights, too, are delightful.

In autumn, it is the evening. As the setting sun draws closer to the mountains, the crows hastily fly back to their nests in threes and fours and twos. Even more delightful is the sight of a line of geese flying far overhead. Then, after the sun has set, the crying of insects and the sound of the wind have a charm that goes without saying.

In winter, it is the early morning. Of course it is delightful when snow is falling, but even when there is a pure-white frost—or in the freezing cold without either snow or frost—the way the fire is hurriedly stirred up and coals carried to all the rooms seems most suited to the season. As the day wears on and the cold gradually loses its bite, the braziers go untended and the coals become disagreeably coated with white ash (Sei Shonagon, opening lines of The Pillow Book).

I remember a clear morning in the Ninth Month when it had been raining all night. Despite the bright sun, the dew was still dripping from the chrysanthemums in the garden. On the bamboo fences and crisscross hedges I saw tatters of spider webs; and where the threads were broken the raindrops hung on them like strings of white pearls. I was greatly moved and delighted.

As it became sunnier, the dew gradually vanished from the clover and the other plants where it had lain so heavily; the branches began to stir, then suddenly sprang up of their own accord. Later I described to people how beautiful it all was. What most impressed me was that they were not at all impressed (#84, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris).

Elegant Things: A white coat worn over a violet waistcoat. Duck Eggs. Shaved Ice mixed with liana syrup and put in a new silver bowl. A rosary of rock crystal. Snow on wistaria or plum blossoms. A pretty child eating strawberries (Ibid.).

Things That fall from the Sky: Snow. Hail. I do not like sleet, but when it’s mixed with pure white snow it is very pretty. Snow looks wonderful when it has fallen on a roof of cypress bark. When Snow begins to melt a little, or when only a small amount has fallen, it enters into all the cracks between the bricks, so that the roof is black in some places, pure white in others-most attractive. I like drizzle and hail when they come down on a shingle roof. I also like frost on a shingle roof or in a garden (Ibid.).

Mairead Corrigan

by Keystone Press Agency Ltd, vintage print, 1970s

Mairead Corrigan (January 27, 1944 – ), also known as Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, was the co-founder, with Betty Williams, of the Community of Peace People, an organization which attempts to encourage a peaceful resolution of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Peace People consisted of women from both sides of the Northern Ireland religious divide who were unwilling to lose more children, husbands, or brothers in the continued violence. Corrigan and Williams believe that women’s “soul-force” has a special role to play in peace making around the world. Corrigan had no political experience when she and Williams started to organize their demonstrations and gather support for their non-violent peace initiative. Most of the women who joined the movement were mothers and home-makers.

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Corrigan gained recognition as a promoter of peace and justice that has inspired other ordinary citizens to use civil society as a platform to say “enough is enough.” As well as campaigning for peace around the world since she received the Nobel Peace Prize, Corrigan committed herself to working for the ecological health of the planet. She was particularly motivated to work for peace because she saw that it was the men who turned to violence who were seen as heroes in her community. “I think,” she said, “one of the things the peace movement has to do is to persuade the members of the different paramilitary organizations that there is a way other than pistols and rifles. Aware that violence could beget only additional violence, The Peace People seek the answer to this seemingly endless downward spiral.”


Corrigan was born into a Roman Catholic family in Belfast, Ireland, the second child of seven. She attended Catholic schools until the age of 14, then found a job as a secretary. Almost every aspect of life was overshadowed by the violence in Ireland and by the divide between the Catholic and Protestant communities. Physical barricades had been constructed by the British forces to help prevent “trouble.” Since its establishment as a self-governing province within the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland had been dominated politically and economically by its Protestant majority. The electoral system was rigged to prevent Catholics from gaining many seats. Employment, social housing, and entry into the civil service and the police all favored Protestants. In the late 1960s, inspired by the civil rights movement in the United States, future Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and others led a non-violent civil rights movement in the province. Others, however, turned to violence, supporting such organizations as the Irish Republican Army.

She had been beaten by police for speaking up, Corrigan recalled, “when she saw British soldiers searching young girls.” On another occasion, a republican funeral was interrupted when soldiers threw tear-gas through the Church window (Buscher and Ling: 35). Máiread, a devout Catholic, was a volunteer with the Legion of Mary. She helped Catholics whose homes were torched by Loyalists. She was convinced that Jesus was non-violent, and that as a good Christian she should love, not hate, her enemies. Friends criticized her for her pacifism, saying it was the easy way out.

Corrigan became active with the peace movement after three children of her sister, Anne Maguire, were run over and killed by a car driven by Danny Lennon, an IRA man who was fatally shot by British troops while trying to make a getaway. Anne Maguire later committed suicide.

Betty Williams, a baptized Roman Catholic, despite a Protestant father and a Protestant husband, had witnessed the event, and soon after, the two co-founded Women for Peace, which later became the Community for Peace People.

The peace movement

Within two days of the tragic event, she had obtained 6,000 signatures on a petition for peace and gained media attention. Together with Mairead Corrigan, Anne Maguire’s sister, she co-founded the Women for Peace which later, with co-founder Ciaran McKeown, became The Community for Peace People.

The two organized a peace march to the graves of the children, which was attended by 10,000 Protestant and Catholic women—the peaceful march was disrupted by members of the Irish Republican Army, who accused them of being “dupes of the British.” The following week, Williams and Corrigan again led a march—this time with 35,000 participants. By the end of the month, Williams and Corrigan brought 35,000 people to the streets of Belfast, petitioning for peace between the republican and loyalist factions. She believed the most effective way to end the violence was not through more violence, but re-education.

On August 13, the day of the Maguire children’s funeral, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan were to appear with journalist Ciaran McKeown, on a current affairs television program, and although they arrived too late, they met McKeown, who joined the two women in founding the Peace People. McKeown wrote the original Declaration and organized the rally supporting it.

The first demonstration, on August 14, 1976, attracted 10,000 people, mostly women. Protestant participants (each group carried the name of their neighborhood on placards) encountered jostles and angry shouts from some Irish Republican Army supporters in the crowd, shouting, “Brits Out! Provos Rule.” But when the Catholic and Protestant groups met, they embraced while other protesters successfully drove off the IRA activists. Catholics later escorted Protestants back to their buses, to ensure “there was no more trouble from the … IRA.” Other successful demonstrations followed, with Catholics and Protestants crossing boundaries into each other’s zones, something that people did not do lightly. At one rally, the Protestant leader of Women Together, Sadie Paterson, sang a hymn, churches rang their bells and “people wept tears of joy.” With more signatures, more rallies, including Trafalgar Square in London, and their Peace Declaration, the movement generated a ground swell of anti-violence sentiment.

Despite criticism that the Peace People concentrated entirely on republican violence and ignored loyalist and state violence by the British security forces, Williams and Corrigan and their women’s movement are credited with helping to create the climate that eventually resulted in the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and in the subsequent peace process. The peace process in the province gained momentum as members of the para-military organizations themselves became disgusted with their own violence, and decided to support the political process instead (Collins and McGovern, 1997).

She received the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Betty Williams, in 1977 (the prize for 1976), for their efforts. They were criticized for deciding to keep the prize money for themselves. They had intended to donate the money to their movement, but due to the strain in her personal live caused by her involvement in the peace campaign, Williams initially decided to keep the money. Corrigan then decided to do the same, since if she donated her half to the movement, this would “make Betty look bad.” Both women, however, ceased to draw a salary from the organization, but by 1980, they had both resigned. The Peace People continue to “coordinate summer camps in Ireland and Europe to bring Protestant and Catholic children together” and maintain a “lobbying effort through a petition for peace, their Citizen’s Campaign and Campaign for a Gun Free Northern Irleand.”

After the prize

In 1981, she married Jackie Maguire, who was the widower of her late sister, Anne. She has three stepchildren and two of her own, John and Luke.

In 1990, Corrigan was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award. It was named after a 1963 encyclical letter by Pope John XXIII that calls upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations. Pacem in Terris is Latin for “Peace on Earth.”

She is a member of the Honorary board of the International Coalition for the Decade of the culture of Peace and Nonviolence.

In 2004, she went to Israel and welcomed Mordechai Vanunu upon his release from prison, where he had served an 18-year sentence for disclosing Israel’s nuclear secrets.

She is a member of the pro-life group, Consistent Life, which is against abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia.

In April 2007, while participating in a protest against the construction of the West Bank barrier outside the Palestinian village of Bil’in, Israeli, security forces intervened and Ms. Corrigan was hit by a rubber-coated steel bullet and inhaled tear gas. Although not lethal, she required medical attention.

Marie Taglioni


Marie Taglioni (April 23, 1804 – April 24, 1884) was a famous Italian ballerina of the Romantic ballet era, a central figure in the history of European dance. Despite the fact that she was not a great beauty, her combination of strength and delicacy brought her fame and great acclaim as a dancer. In 1822, Taglioni made her debut in Vienna. However, it was not until her starring role in La Sylphide, a romantic ballet choreographed by her father, that she became famous throughout Europe. Although she wasn’t the first to dance en pointe, she was the first ballerina to do so for the full length of a work.

Taglioni spent her mature years in St. Petersberg, where she captivated Russian audiences and became a guiding light of the famous Kirov Ballet. Her pioneering style set the standard for female dancers for decades to come, as ballerinas throughout Europe sought to emulate her grace and delicacy, both of which belied a tremendous strength and discipline. Even her style of dress has exerted a lasting influence. She remains an inspiring example of what can be accomplished against the odds by a young artist of vision and determination.


Marie Taglioni was born into a well-known dancing family in Stockholm, Sweden. The family history in dance dates back to the 1700s, when Carlo Talgioni and his wife, Maria, had two sons, Filippo and Salvatore, both of whom became choreographers. Filippo and his Swedish wife, Sophia, had two children, Marie and Paul. Marie began studying ballet under a Parisian ballet instructor at a young age. Labeling her an “ugly duckling,” Marie’s teacher discarded her at the age of six. In mockery, he asked, “will that little hunchback ever learn to dance?”

After this unfortunate rejection, Filippo decided to train his daughter himself. He put her through six hours of rigorous practice each day. Using a method much like the Cecchetti method that was to develop many years later, Filippo instructed Marie in a modest, light, delicate style, placing emphasis on elevation and pointe technique. At night, Marie was reportedly so exhausted that someone had to assist her in undressing and climbing into bed.

Surviving the trying years of her father’s pitiless but determined training, Marie made her first public appearance in Vienna at the age of 18 in a ballet choreographed by her father—La Reception d’une jeune nymphe a la tour de Terpsichore. Her success was immediate and was repeated in the chief towns of Germany. On July 23, 1827, she made her Paris debut at the Paris Opera Ballet, in the Ballet de Sicilien and aroused great enthusiasm from her audience.

La Sylphide

Her true rise to fame, however, came when Filippo created the ballet La Sylphide (1832) for her. Designed as a showcase for Marie’s talent, it was the first ballet where the ballerina danced en pointe for the work’s entirety. Marie is attributed with perfecting this technique using ballet slippers—not pointe shoes—a particularly difficult feat without reinforcement in the block of the shoes.

Marked by her stand-out performance in La Sylphide, Marie Taglioni is considered the first star of the Romantic ballet era. Set in Scotland, La Sylphide’s entrancing story about forest fairies and witches appealed greatly to audiences in this Romantic age of Keats and Byron. It originated the style of the Romantic ballet, of which Filippo Taglioni was later named the father. Marie in her long, white tutu dancing lightly on her pointe shoes became the new image and fashion of the Romantic ballerina, replacing the classical style. Marie’s fragility when performing, coupled with her ethereal quality of dancing, enraptured her audiences even more. While women of the day copied her hairstyle, little girls went out and bought La Sylphide dolls to emulate the iconic Marie.

Around this time, a contender rose in the ranks at the King’s Theatre in London. While Marie was sylphlike, her rival Fanny Ellesler was unapologetically human, earthbound and voluptuous. The director of the Paris Opera was convinced that the French audiences would love Ellesler and offered her a contract. In 1834, Ellesler made her debut at the Opera in Coralli’s ballet La Tempete. Her first performance divided Paris into two camps, pro-Marie, the other, pro-Fanny.

Furious at Ellesler’s engagement by the director of the theatre, Marie must have been very pleased when Ellesler’s style failed to reflect the true spirit of La Sylphide. Painfully aware of her failure as a replacement for Marie, Ellesler fled to America to continue her career. Marie, on the other hand, sensed that her glorious reign had nevertheless received a setback. She married Count Gelbeit de Voisins in 1835, but after three years the marriage ended in divorce.

Career In Russia

In 1837, Marie left the Paris Opera Ballet to take up a three-year contract in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Ballet, also known as the Kirov Ballet, where she would remain for the better part of the nineteenth century.

Eagerly awaiting Marie’s arrival in Russia, a special brochure called The Biography of Marie Taglioni was distributed in St. Petersburg, and the literary supplement to the gazette, Russian Veteran published a biographical article about her. For her first appearance in La Sylphide at the St. Petersburg Bolshoi Theatre, the hall was filled beyond capacity. It didn’t take long for Russians to espouse her as their own. Critics referred to her as “our” Taglioni, as did the public. More than anything, it was the essence of her art that captivated Marie’s Russian audiences. Ballet’s dreamy quality reflected the mood, pervasive in Russian society during those years. The ballerina reminded them of their romantic spirit, fraught with passion and longing.

Well-known Soviet ballet critic Lubov Blok in the 1930s wrote, “All that romantic poetry, painting and music could express, Taglioni could express in her dancing.” It was in Russia, after her last performance in the country in 1842 (and at the height of the cult of the ballerina), that a pair of her pointe shoes were sold for two hundred rubles, reportedly to be cooked, served with a sauce and eaten by a group of balletomanes.

Later Years and Legacy

Marie retired from performing in 1847. For a time she took up residence at the Ca d’Oro on the Grand Canal in Venice, but because of her father’s misuse of money, she became bankrupt. When the Paris Opera Ballet was reorganized on stricter, more professional lines, she was its guiding spirit. With the director of the new Conservatoire de danse, Lucien Petipa and Petipa’s former pupil the choreographer Louis Mérante she figured on the six-member select jury of the first annual competition for the Corps de ballet, held April 13, 1860. Her only choreographic work was Le Papillon (1860) for her student Emma Livry, who is infamous for dying in 1863 when her costume was set alight by a gas lamp (limelight) used for stage lighting.

Later, she taught social dance to children and society ladies; she also took a limited number of ballet pupils. She found it difficult to make much money from this, so she had to teach almost until the day she died at 80 in 1884.

Johann Strauss II composed the Marie Taglioni Polka (Op. 173) in her honor using music from ballets in which she had appeared.

The art of perfecting ballet en pointe is Marie’s most significant legacy. She created a delicate new style, marked by floating leaps and balanced poses such as the arabesque, that typified the early nineteenth-century Romantic style. Even her fine-textured, transluscent white skirts would evolve into the tutu worn by most classical ballerinas. In short, Marie Taglioni—pioneer of the Romantic ballet—created a new style and fashion that would leave a lasting impression on dance culture in Europe and, subsequently, everywhere else in the world.

Mary Henrietta Kingsley


Mary Henrietta Kingsley (October 13, 1862 – June 3, 1900) was an English writer and explorer whose writing on her travels and observations in Africa challenged attitudes of racial superiority and provoked considerably hostility towards her ideas. She was the first Englishwomen to climb Mount Cameroon and to follow the particular route she took to the summit and the first European to enter parts of the Gabon. Although not a trained anthropologist, her writing represents a significant contribution to the ethnography of Africa. She is recognized by the Royal Africa Society as the inspiration behind its formation. She is of special interest as someone who bridged or transcended gender in the later nineteenth century by combining masculine and feminine characteristics. Announcing her death while serving as a war-time Nurse in South Africa, one obituary stated that, “she died at last a woman’s death in a center of civilization, but perhaps that will only strengthen people’s memories to recall that she had lived like a man in strange countries where civilization had not gained the mastery.” Kingsley was courageous to challenge the imperial order and to cross gender frontiers at a time when women were thought incapable of doing what men did. Her achievements earned her a unique place in the European exploration of Africa and her championship of the equality of races was a pioneering contribution to combating the type of prejudice that results in the exploitation and dehumanizing of Others.


Kingsley was born in Islington. She was the daughter of George Henry Kingsley (himself a travel writer) and Mary Bailey, and the niece of Charles Kingsley. Her father was a doctor and worked for George Herbert, 13th Earl of Pembroke. Her mother (her father’s former cook, whom he married just four days before Mary’s birth) was an invalid and Mary was expected to stay at home and look after her. Mary had little formal schooling but she did have access to her father’s large library and loved to hear her father’s stories of foreign countries. She began to act as his research assistant. George traveled widely, and wrote such books as South Sea Bubbles (with the Earl of Pembroke; NY: D. Appleton & Co, 1872) and Notes on Sport and Travel (1900, with a Memoir by Mary; London: Macmillan) and a book on Geoffrey Chaucer. Kingsley traveled to Paris when she was 26, and also taught herself Arabic and Syrian. She also benefited from living in Cambridge, where her family moved in 1894 to be close to her brother Charley while he studied there. Mary was not allowed to enter ‘the gates of any of the Colleges’ but found the social and intellectual atmosphere of great interest and enjoyed the house visits of her father’s and brother’s scientific friends. One of these, Henry Guillemard, with ‘whom she had a devoted but sometimes troubled friendship’ was later her editor. She later pointed out how only a few pounds was spent on her education to pay for some tuition in German to assist her father with translation, while her brother’s education cost thousands.

First Tour

Her father died in February 1892. Her mother also died just five weeks later. Freed from her family responsibilities, and with an income of £500 a year, Mary was now able to travel. She first visited the Canary Islands, where contact with West African traders pointed her in the direction of Africa as her destination of choice. She also moved to London to keep house for her brother Charley, who that year himself set off for the Far East. She continued to keep house for him when they were both at home. Her father had started a book on African culture which he had not finished, so she decided to visit Africa to collect the material she would need to finish the book for him. Her father had been especially interested in primitive religion and law.


She sailed to Sierra Leone in August 1893. Sailing along the coast, she then walked inland, reaching what is today part of Nigeria. She lived with local people who taught her necessary skills for surviving in the African jungles, and often went into dangerous areas alone. In her writing, she drew on ethnographic work and while she did not make any formal claim to be an anthropologist, she used participant observation and was methodological in her work. Certainly, says Frank ‘today she would be called an anthropologist or enthnographer’. She never relied on a single account or on a single observation, but always looked for repetition before she took a belief, custom or practice as standard. She had read widely on anthropology and the physical sciences, says Blunt having set out to master the ‘new science of anthropology’ as early as 1894 in ‘her capacity as her father’s research assistant’ preferring Edward Burnett Tylor to James Frazer, commenting that despite her Cambridge pedigree (almost as if she were a graduate) she was inclined towards the ideas of Oxford’s first professor of anthropology. She did not think that people owed their notion of the soul to dreams, as Frazer. Calling Tylor her ‘great juju’ she recommended that any visitor to West Africa learn his Primitive Culture off by heart. For Tylor, belief in the soul, and in spirits, began as a type of rational process whereby in the absence of a ‘sensible’ explanation for such life-crises as death, dreams, illness, primitive people concluded ‘that they are to be accounted for by the presence, or absence, of some immaterial entity, the soul’ In fact, at a time when most anthropology took place in ‘the cloistered libraries of Oxford or Cambridge’ Kingsley ‘was one of the few early ethnographers actually to go out into the field.’ Blunt says that she was constantly ‘anxious to establish credibility as a scientific observer,’ a task that her gender made more difficult, hence she ‘attempted to be identified as an objective, masculine observer while maintaining more feminine characteristics of subjective observation.’ However, in order to be taken seriously, she located herself ‘within the masculine tradition of scientific observation’ When her publisher wrote to her that he had assumed her book to be written by a man because of the masculine tone, she was somewhat offended, replying that she had never said that the book was by a man. Her interests were those of a cultural anthropologist but not typically so since she was not so much concerned with the ‘social fabric of the culture or even how the people got on practically in every day life’ than with ‘what they lived for, what they believed in – their conception of and accommodation to the universe and the mystery of human existence’. Frank suggests that this stemmed from her own background in which religion played an important role. She was never really an ‘impartial scientist’ because she began with an a priori belief in the reality of the spiritual dimension and also was disposed towards she finding ‘kindred spirits’. She found, Frank suggests, a ‘kindred spirit’ among amimist peoples. She traveled, in fact, in ‘search of herself’. She often traveled alone, or in small groups and ‘traded to pay her way’, in contrast to some explorers who left home with a large financial grant.

Second Tour

She returned to Africa in 1895. This time, she was equipped with a ‘collector’s outfit’ by the British Museum and ‘claimed to be studying fish and fetish’ but appears to have been more interested in cannibalism. She had spent a lot of time in the British Museum under the tutelage of Albert Charles Günther, keeper of the Zoological Department and author of An Introduction to the Study of Fishes and an old friend of her famous uncle, whose daughter wrote her a letter of introduction. Günther arranged for her to be equipped by the Museum when he heard of her plan to return to Africa.

She again traveled first to Sierra Leone, then along the Cape and Gold Coasts to Calabar, in company of Lady MacDonald, wife of the British Governor of what was then called the Niger Coast Protectorate. Reaching Glass by ship, she set off from there by canoe up the Ogowe, or Ogooué River in the Gabon, having taught herself how to steer, where she collected specimens of previously unknown fish and became the first European to enter some of the territory through which she passed. It would be the Ogowe that she ‘appropriated for herself.’ After meeting the Fang or Fans tribe – known for their cannibalism – with whom she spent some time, she climbed the 13,760 feet Mount Cameroon by a route unconquered by any other European. Several of her male companions collapsed from exhaustion before reaching the summit. Characteristically, she made them comfortable before continuing on to the summit. Africa for her was a continent of great beauty and endless interest. She wrote in the preface to Travels in West Africa that, ‘Your superior culture-instincts may militate against your enjoying West Africa, but if you go there you will find things as I have said’. Her sheer enjoyment of much of what she did is evidenced in a passage such as this, in which she described canoeing along the Rembwe, having marched overland from the Ogowe through territory notorious for the ferocity of its population:

On the other nights we spent on this voyage I had no need to offer to steer; he handed over charge to me as a matter of course, and as I prefer night to day in Africa, I enjoyed it. Indeed, much as I have enjoyed life in Africa, I do not think I ever enjoyed it to the full as I did on those nights dropping down the Rembwe. The great, black, winding river with a pathway in its midst of frosted silver where the moonlight struck it: on each side the ink-black mangrove walls, and above them the band of star and moonlit heavens that the walls of mangrove allowed one to see.

News of her adventures reached England and when she returned home in October 1895 she was greeted by journalists who were eager to interview her. She was now famous and over the next three years she toured the country, giving lectures about life in Africa. After this tour, she took 65 specimens of fish and 18 of reptiles back to England. Three newly ‘discovered’ species were named after her, the Brycinus kingsleyae, the Brienomyrus kingsleyae and the Ctenopoma kingsleyae She once said that she was most proud of having learned to paddle a canoe, and that her mentor liked the specimens she collected.

View of missionaries

Mary Kingsley upset the Church of England when she criticized missionaries for attempting to change the people of Africa. A ‘good deal of Travels in West Africa, says Frank, ‘consists of an attack on West African missions’ although she did form a close friend ship with Mary Slessor, whom she “admired enormously.” Slessor was a Scottish missionary for 20 years in West Africa – a remarkable term for what was literally a missionary graveyard – who shocked many by ‘going native’ as it was called, that is, by adapting local customs and practices and because of her staunch defense of women’s rights. Kingsley once confided in Slessor that she thought Islam ‘less disruptive of African society’ and that she would very much like to ‘study and live among the Muslims’. She had already studied Arabic. Frank thinks, too, that Kingsley may have admired David Livingstone, for whom Africa had become – as it became for her – ‘a desperately needed psychological and spiritual resting place’ and also a place from which there was no return. Frank thinks that Kingsley may have attended Livingstone’s funeral in 1874 Kingsley appears to have thought that, like Livingstone, she would die in Africa. Livingstone, too, had been ‘keenly interested in the African peoples among whom he traveled and lived’.

On religion

Kingsley, who used the word ‘Allah’s as often as she did ‘God’ told another missionary, Robert Nassau, however, that she was ‘not a Christian, telling him that ‘we see the God we are capable of seeing, according to the capacity and nature of our vision’. At other times, she described herself as worshiping the ‘Great God of Science’ and, says Frank, she appears to have been raised ‘without any sort of religious training whatsoever’ by her atheist father. On another occasion, she spoke of possessing, beneath the sense of ‘melancholy’ which she admitted feeling , ‘an utter faith in God’, though she was not certain this was of any use to anyone other than herself because it was rather gloomy. Her ‘faith’ remains an extremely ‘vexed and confusing issue’ because she was ‘reluctant to put herself on the line’. She appears, though, to have self-identified as Christian while entertaining doubt as to whether Christianity was ‘for white and black alike – the only’ hope.

On Race

She talked about, and indeed defended, many aspects of African life that had shocked many English people, including polygamy. Subsequently, people found her ideas shocking, especially in the face of the common perception that Europeans were far superior to Africans at the exact time that the European Scramble for Africa was occupying so much attention in the capitals of Europe. In contrast, Kingsley wrote that the “seething mass of infamy, degradation and destruction going on among the Coast native… [was] the natural consequence of the breaking down of an ordered polygamy into a disordered monogamy.” She argued that a “black man is no more an undeveloped white man than a rabbit is an undeveloped hare” and that she did not regard “the native form as ‘low’ or ‘inferior’… but as a form of mind of a different sort to white men’s – a very good form of mind too, in its way.” She thought that Britain had the right to locate new markets and she did not oppose colonization per se but thought that while the Southern region should be colonized, West Africa should be left alone. She did not lack a sense of superiority but inclined to attribute this to cultural differences, not to inherently racial factors. Defending her Travels in West Africa against a critic, on the one hand she agreed that African had allegedly failed to produce great art but she vehemently disagreed that Africans were socially or morally inferior, possessing ‘both a sense of honor and justice’ while ‘in rhetoric’ the African ‘excels and for good temper and patience he compares favorably with any set of human beings’

Of the European men she encountered in Africa, she preferred traders to missionaries and colonial officers, arguing that the former should have more influence over policy. She enjoyed a friendship, too, with Sir George Goldie, head of the Royal Niger Company ‘a rebel, a wanderer and an atheist’. Imperialist though he was he was also a ‘humanitarian’ who ‘wished to preserve and protect the people’s who inhabited the territory under his company’s dominion.’

She was, however, fairly conservative on other issues and did not support the women’s suffrage movement. She rebutted accusation that she wore ‘trousers’ while on her travels, which was deemed to be very shocking. However, she has been described as deliberately assuming an asexual or male persona in order to pursue her interests in African exploration, which was a male preserve. Frequently asked where her husband was, she resorted to saying that she was on her way to meet him. Blunt (1994) writes that among the Fans, for example, she developed a ‘masculine camaraderie’. While many explorers suffered ill health, she apparently did not, until her final journey though oddly she did not enjoy such good health when in England. She almost never had to use’ her medical kit on herself, except perhaps for minor bruises.’ Both Blunt and Frank speculate that Kingsley’s afflictions when in England and apparent robust health in Africa was symptomatic of how much freer she felt to be herself in what she called the great Continent.

Literary Legacy

Kingsley wrote two books about her experiences: Travels in West Africa (1897), which was an immediate best-seller making three thousand pounds within a year of publication, and West African Studies (1899) in which she set out her political ideas, although she spoke of her ‘feminine hatred of politics’. Yet Kingsley’s major contribution as an ethnographer was, ‘her political role in colonial affairs: her overriding insistence that African culture be protected from the “smash” of British colonial policy.’She famously called the presence of Europeans in Africa the “black man’s burden,” mocking the characterization of the imperial project as the ‘white man’s burden’, that is, to civilize the non-white world and in her turn was labeled ‘the most dangerous women’ by the British Colonial Office. Just as she was critical of colonial policy, so she criticized the journalism establishment, which, she said, was dominated by people who are or had been in the Diplomatic Service and who did not really know Africa at all. But would die rather than admit this. Kingsley defended her writing in letters to the press. Her second book was more favorably reviewed by academics. One review commented on her ‘unladylike style’ but another described the book as a ‘weighty contribution’ praising her ‘painstaking research’ and ‘immense powers of observation’ Her writing was popular with general readers and was full of humor, even self-mockery as she related her encounters with such dangers as hippopotami, cannibals and crocodiles. With reference to the latter, she reports slapping one with her paddle when it decided to ‘improve their acquaintance.’ Speaking at Cheltenham Ladies College, she recounted how she and a hippopotamus had shared an island together. She wanted one of them to leave and ‘I preferred it should be myself, but the hippo was close to my canoe, and looked like staying, so I made cautious and timorous advances to him and finally scratched him behind the ear with my umbrella and we parted on good terms. But with the crocodile it was different….” She did not take herself too seriously and initially wanted her first book to be called Log of a Light Hearted Lunatic, but her publisher, Macmillan, did not approve.


In 1899, during the Second Boer War, Kingsley volunteered as a nurse. She had for some time supported, and spoke on behalf of, the Colonial Nursing Association urging the establishment of a regular Nursing corp. No one too surprised when she volunteered herself. She also explored the possibility of ‘covering the war as a correspond’ and planned to return to West Africa once the conflict was over. She has been trying to get back there over the last four years but had delayed this because she was enjoying her popularity on the lecture circuit. At the Cape, in a relatively short time she endeared herself to her fellow nurses and to the men whom she nursed. She died June 3, 1900 of typhoid at Simon’s Town, where she was treating Boer prisoners, including Typhoid patients. Expressing the desire to die alone, she asked her companions to leave the room so that she could make her own terms with death. She also said that she did not want her friends to see her in her weakness. In accordance with her wishes, she was buried at sea, receiving full military honors. A touch of comedy, which would ‘have amused’ Kingsley herself, was added when the coffin refused to sink and had to be hauled back on board then thrown over again weighed down this time with an anchor. She had died serving her country, however she had opposed its imperial policy. She asked to be buried in the sea, at the bottom of the Continent she loved, so that ‘the heart-shaped continent that had governed her life would … claim her as one of its own’.


In 1897, Kingsley suggested that a Learned Society was needed that would provide a meeting place especially for those who thought government, that is, imperial policy in Africa misguided and detrimental to African people. Although the African Society was not established until after her death, in 1900 (it received its Royal Charter in 1968) it acknowledges Kingsley’s suggestion as its founding vision. The Journal bore the words ‘founded in memory of Mary Kingsley’ and until 1923 also carried her image (being then replaced by an image of Africa). In 1998, a Centennial Exploration of Gabon’s Freshwater Biodiversity expedition named for Mary Kingsley, aided with a grant from the Geographical Society, followed her footsteps.

Her ideas on racial equality, that Africans and Europeans belonged to the same ‘section of the human race,’ were pioneering at a time when the superiority of the white race was almost universally taken for granted. Blunt (1994) describes Kingsley as ‘an outspoken figure in imperial debates of the 1890s’. She has been ‘described in fictionalized accounts in children’s books’ and in ‘virtually all accounts of women travel writers.’ Blunt suggests that Kingsley’s legacy is of special significance in terms of how a nineteenth century woman explorer negotiated her way through gender and race related issues. Blunt says that by traveling outside the home context, Kingsley was able to regender her ‘positionality’ as she wrote of her travels. However, concern, for example, for her appearance represents a feminine trait. In obituaries of her, she was ‘elevated to the status of Florence Nightingale’

She transcended ‘gender’, too, because her ‘wealth of adventurous experience which’ belonged ‘to few men, and to no other woman’ of her generation.. Did Kingsley ‘recognize’, asks Frank, ‘the essential pattern of male exploration in Africa, a pattern of masculine penetration, conquest and ultimately self-aggrandizement, if not outright plunder’, pointing out that there were no ‘female role models in African exploration’ for her to emulate and that even the men whom she did admire entirely escaped enacting the above. Blunt points out that the way in which she planned her journeys, mapping out the route, had a lot in common with those Orientalists who saw Africa and the East as territory to be ‘possessed’, as places that ‘shimmered with possibility’ for travel and adventure. Imperialism made her travel a possibility, even if she did not fully share imperialist convictions.