O My America‪!‬

Six Women and Their Second Acts in a New World

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Publisher Description

In O My America!, the travel writer and biographer Sara Wheeler embarks on a journey across the United States, guided by the adventures of six women who reinvented themselves as they chased the frontier west.

Wheeler's career has propelled her from pole to pole—camping in Arctic igloos, tracking Indian elephants, contemplating East African swamps so hot that toads explode—but as she stared down the uncharted territory of middle age, she found herself in need of a guide. "Fifty is a tough age," she writes. "Role models are scarce for women contemplating a second act."

Scarce, that is, until she stumbled upon Fanny Trollope.

In 1827, forty-nine-year-old Trollope—mother of Victorian novelist Anthony—swapped England for Ohio and wrote one of the most sensational travel accounts of the nineteenth century. Domestic Manners of the Americans made an instant splash on both sides of the Atlantic: Mark Twain judged her the best foreign commentator of his country, and the last king of France threw a ball in her honor.

Fanny was living proof of life after fertility, and she led Wheeler to other trailblazing British travelers and transplants:

- the actress Fanny Kemble, who shocked the nation with her passionate firsthand indictment of slavery;
- the prolifically pamphleteering economist Harriet Martineau;
- the homesteader Rebecca Burlend, who had never been more than twelve miles from her Yorkshire village before she sailed to the New World;
- the traveler Isabella Bird, whose many ailments remained in check as long as she was scaling the Rockies;
- and the novelist Catherine Hubback, a niece of Jane Austen, who deposited her husband in a madhouse and rode the rails to San Francisco.

Tough-minded outsiders, these women's truest qualities emerged in a country as incomplete and tentative as their native land was staid and settled. And they discovered second acts for themselves at a time when the world expected them to politely disappear.

In O My America!, Wheeler tracks her subjects from the Mississippi to the cinder cones of the Mayacamas at the tail end of the Cascades, armed with two sets of maps for each adventure: one current and one the women before her would have used. Ambitious and full of life, O My America! is not only a great writer's reckoning with a young country, but also an exuberant tribute to fresh starts, second acts, and six unstoppable women.

Shortlisted for the Dolman Travel Book Award

Biographies & Memoirs
September 24
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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