For the past few months, I’ve thought about Janet Schaw and her travelogue almost every day. It’s strange to think that almost 250 years after her journey, I am delving into her experience of the West Indies, trying to decode what her text reveals about her and her surroundings. I’ve imagined her standing on the deck of the Jamaica Packet, the ship that took her across the Atlantic, scanning the horizon for land after weeks on the open sea. I’ve read about her ordeals as the ship was thrown about by harsh weather conditions, almost capsizing at one point. Despite the uncomfortable, frightening journey and the disagreeable captain, she managed to keep her spirit up which undoubtedly helped her travel companions to adapt to life at sea. It’s easy to start wondering what it would’ve been like to sit down with this humorous woman with a knack for biting remarks. Indeed, she admits herself her tongue was not always under her command. An unmarried woman in her early thirties, traveling to the New World, Janet Schaw is an interesting person. She was, however, a product of her time, race and nationality. Reading her travelogue, I’ve discovered numerous contradictions in her statements, her endorsement of the imperial order, her patriotic feelings, her racist attitude, but also her self-realizing and proto-feminist moments. My main interest is how she sees the West Indies as a kind of paradise, but her text reveals that this Garden of Eden has two faces whether she wants to admit or not. At first, her contradictory statements caused me problems and frustrated me more than once, but eventually I managed to make sense of them.
So far the most difficult bit has been gathering all my thoughts into a somewhat coherent whole which I aim to convert into an even more logical piece of writing during the next few months. My method has gotten the seal of approval so I’m optimistic although sometimes all I want to do is throw Janet Schaw’s travelogue out the window with Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes following close behind. Will my project cost me more than a chunk of time and butt muscles? Like my sanity? It remains to be seen.