I found no one to accompany me, and was determined to do; so I trusted to fate, and went alone.
In 1797 in Vienna, Ida Pfeiffer was born into a world that should have been too small for her dreams. The daughter of an Austrian merchant, she made clear from an early age that she would not be bound by convention, dressing in boys’ clothing and playing sports. After her tutor introduced her to stories of faraway lands, she became determined to see the world first-hand. This determination led to a lifetime of travel—much of it alone—and made her one of the most famous women of the nineteenth century.
Pfeiffer faced many obstacles, not least expectations of her gender. She was a typical nineteenth century housewife with a husband and two sons. She was not wealthy nor well connected. Yet after the death of her husband, and once her sons were grown and settled, at the age of forty-one she set off on her first journey, not telling anyone the true extent of her travel plans. Between that trip and her death in 1858, she would barely pause for breath, circling the globe twice—the first woman to do so—and publishing numerous popular books about her travels. Usually traveling solo, Pfeiffer faced storms at sea, trackless deserts, plague, malaria, earthquakes, robbers, murderers, and other risks.
In Wanderlust, John Van Wyhe tells Pfeiffer’s story, with generous excerpts from her published accounts, tell of her involvement with spies, international intrigue, and more. The result is a compelling portrait of the remarkable life of a pioneer unjustly forgotten.