“The Wanderess,” Roman Payne’s latest novel, is experiencing a boom in viral activity. The subject of the book resonates with our internet culture, which allows and encourages women to brave the world on their own.
Roman Payne on the bank of the Seine in Paris, December 2013. Photo credit: Mimi Bildstein Photography.
In the world of literature, it is extremely difficult to find novels with titles like: “The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Woman.” And even if a woman comes of age in a novel, she may be an artist, but seldom an adventuress. Writers of coming-of-age novels about young adventurous men have a well-worn, established path to follow through the centuries-old genre of the: “Bildungsroman.” This German word, made popular by writers such as Goethe, refers to a “tale of initiation” where a boy, through worldly experience (usually involving solitary travel), becomes a mature man who is successful in the world. Female initiation tales in novels are much more rare, and when we do see them, they almost never involve solitary travel. Up until now, it was a social taboo for a woman to travel alone. Beyond concerns for their safety, there was the general opinion that “women just don’t do that.” Fortunately, times have changed.
“A girl travelling alone” is the subject and setting of Roman Payne’s new novel “The Wanderess” (Aesthete Press, November 2013). Payne coined the term: “wanderess,” which before the novel’s release was not found in Google or the dictionary. Now, a popular quote from Payne’s novel containing this word is found in Google on over 200,000 webpages. The quote reads:
“She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city.”
“This quote especially resonates with young women,” says Payne’s publisher, “They post this quote on their WordPress and Tumblr blogs. Many are even titling their blogs ‘The Wanderess now.” The infatuation with this quote is partly due to the envy women feel towards men who travel alone. Editor of Salon Magazine, Sarah Hepola, described her jealousy in an article in Salon titled “Every Woman should Travel Alone.” In it, she recounts a scene in a movie that inspired her to travel the world: A dying mother tells her daughter, “I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life […] I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone else’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.” Later, after traveling the world, Hepola wrote that it was “the best thing she had ever done.”
Besides literary and magazine claims supporting this lifestyle, our culture and society as a whole has changed in a way that urges women to go alone on the road… “Women have never experienced the freedom they do today,” says social anthropologist, Sophie Reynolds, “As menopause onset and marriage customs have changed, women are no longer expected to get married and have babies at a young age. And due to workplace globalization, corporations have begun to put high value on world travel in candidates for positions within their firms.” In addition to those points, women have more financial independence than they used to, airplane fares are now cheaper than ever, and safety concerns for woman travelling alone have relaxed because there is more emphasis now on women’s quality of life than before. As Payne argues, “An increase in safety risk is a small price to pay where it concerns depriving women of their right to experience a life that is as beautiful and meaningful as the lives we men experience.”
Critical reception to Payne’s novel has been entirely positive. The average Amazon review gives it five stars, and claims it is his best novel ever. Like any great novel, “The Wanderess” has a great romance. It begins when the life of the book’s heroine, Saskia (the “wanderess” in the novel) gets tangled up with the life of an adventurer named Saul, whose pursuit of pleasure and fortune is abandoned to help Saskia’s quest for her long-lost friend and her own “fortune.”
The back cover description reads: “The two find themselves on a picaresque path that leads them through Spain, France, Italy and beyond; their adventures weaving them deeper and deeper into a web of jealous passion, intrigue, betrayal, and finally, murder.”
Writer, photographer, and adventurer, Lauren Metzler writes on the subject: “If I had let the fact that I was a woman keep me from traveling, I would’ve never lived in Thailand for nearly three years or traveled toAustralia on my own, backpacked around Europe, wandered Southeast Asia, motorcycled across Italy or trekked across the Great Wall in China! I would have missed out on the most incredible adventures of my life! I believe that everyone can and should travel alone, at least once in their lifetime. Rewards from traveling are such that you will never be the same, and you will never view the world in the same way again.”
Payne receives numerous fan letters every day from readers, mostly women, who say that “The Wanderess” has been an enormous inspiration in their lives. Many say that they take the book with them on their travels and read and re-read the novel several times, each time they need to refuel their inspiration.
“The Wanderess” is available in many bookstores worldwide, as well as on Amazon in either paperback or Kindle formats.