Spinsters Abroad

Spinsters Abroad: Victorian Lady Explorers
1989, this edition 1991

Submitter: I’m at the beginning of a massive weeding project at my public library and found this gem in the early 900s. While the topic is one that is appropriate for our collection, the title and cover are major detractors. In addition, the paperback copy is starting to yellow around the edges due to age. As awesome as these ladies are, this one is a definite discard for us.

Holly: I love the pun of the title. Spinsters A”broad”? Get it? This book could be cool: Victorian ladies shun convention in favor of adventure. According to one reviewer on GoodReads, it reads like a doctoral dissertation with percentages and facts but not enough well-developed story telling. Pure facts date a book much quicker than stories would. Bummer! Cool idea, bad delivery.

If submitter’s copy has yellow edges, they probably should weed it. If it has sat untouched for a few years, I can’t see a lot of reason to keep this one around in most public libraries. I think the cover is actually kind of appealing, but only after you read the sub-title. At first glance and out of context it’s just funny.

Spinsters back cover

Spinsters Abroad contents

Spinsters Abroad

Spinsters Abroad

Spinsters Abroad



  1. How exactly would pure facts date the book faster? It’s Victorian, so the stats aren’t likely to change (though later historians may disagree on interpretation though).
    That said, yes, this does look disappointingly drab.

  2. The subtitle ends with “Explorers” not “Travelers.” I think this is a cool subject! Too bad the book is dull.

  3. I agree with the first two comments — I would think that facts should make the book stronger and less subject to the whims of fashion in publishing/reading. And, given that it leans toward research and not entertainment, why should it be colorful and fluffy? I also noticed the error in the title, which frankly made it seem less serious than it is. Women explorers is a legitimate topic for study. Can’t you imagine a high-school term paper on the subject that drew on this book as a resource?

  4. The subject of intrepid Victorian women setting off on adventures is a fascinating one, but there are better books on the subject eg The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt: Women Travellers and Their World by Mary Russell

    1. I would love to read this book. It looks like just the kind of history I enjoy most. I’m glad “g” enjoyed it.

  5. A similar title I liked is “Tiger lilies : women adventurers in the South Pacific” / Shirley Fenton Huie. Brief biographies of Ysabel Barreto de Mendana, Jeanne Bare, Rose de Freycinet, Ida Pfeiffer, Mary Taylor, Mary Muller, Agnes Watt, Constance Cumming, Louise Michel, Beatrice Grimshaw, Fanny Stevenson, Emma Coe, Charmian London, Evelyn Cheesman and Katherine Scoresby Routledge. (1990)

  6. I’m an academic who specializes in this topic, and this book isn’t nearly as dull as a lot of the monographs out there! I think a motivated general reader would enjoy this book, which is well-researched. It’s a work of history; it should contain “facts.”

    I agree about the cover, though. Hilarious.

  7. This seems to have come out – presumably under this title – a couple of years before Terry Pratchett added “Witches Abroad” to his “Discworld” series, following up “Equal Rites” and “Wyrd Sisters” by sending his witch cast to foreign but not unexplored parts of his unreal world. But he didn’t get it here, either. He’d used the common phrase previously. “On nights such as this, witches are abroad. Well not actually abroad. They don’t like the food and shamens always hog the deckchairs.”

    So it seems rather an unkind choice of title for the book about brave Victorian virgins. Is there another pun that I’m missing? (I don’t think that “A Broad” knocks off the socks. If that’s what a pun is supposed to do.)

  8. It looks like a pretty good book on the subject, let down by bad cover design. The cover makes it look like a novel, and probably a whimsical one. Anyone attracted by that would be disappointed by the contents, and anyone potentially interested in the contents wouldn’t look beyond the cover.

    The GoodReads reviewer might have been misled, since they slate the book for “too many facts and not enough storytelling” — a strange criticism for a work of non-fiction.

    And no, there’s no pun in the title.

  9. I got this for my niece once, but wound up donating it to the library since I couldn’t even get through it and I was not going to inflict it on a child.

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