HODGSON, Barbara

Author Tags: Art, Fiction, Travel, Women

As a book designer, photographer and novelist, Barbara Hodgson is a founding partner of Byzantium Books with Nick Bantock. Since 1995, her works of illustrated fiction have included The Tattooed Map, The Sensualist, Hippolyte's Island and The Lives of Shadows. These works combine text, ephemera, maps and handwritten notations, usually with exotic locales, in keeping with her series of non-fiction titles.

Set in Morocco, The Tattooed Map merges a modern-day murder with the travels of a woman named Lydia who is horrified to discover a detailed map is spreading on her hand and onto her wrist. In a similar vein, or veins, the heroine of The Sensualist, a woman named Helen, discovers she is losing her five senses while riding on a train to Vienna. Hippolyte’s Island (Raincoast, 2001) is a novel in which Hippolyte Webb sets out for the South Atlantic on a weather-beaten sailboat to find a mysterious group of lost islands. Financed with an advance for a new novel, she brings back a story about the mysterious group of islands--and has to face her editor. Set in Damascus after World War II, The Lives of Shadows (Chronicle, 2004) is the story of an Englishman, Julian, who becomes enthralled with a beautiful house he has inherited. He tries to unravel its history while being threatened with eviction for false ownership. Hodgson went global again with a non-fiction collection about adventurous female travellers from the past 300 years in No Place for a Lady (Greystone 2003) in which she re-introduces the likes of Isabella Bird, who explored Japan on horseback, and Lady Ann Fanshawe, who disguised herself as a cabin boy. Her other non-fiction books include The Rat: A Perverse Miscellany (Greystone, 1997) a compendium of rat facts, fiction, lore and art; and In the Arms of Morpheus (Greystone), her history of laudanum, morphine and patent medicines. Hodgson has also collaborated on a fictional guidebook, Paris Out of Hand and provided the text for a limited edition work with artist Shinsuke Minegishi entitled Good and Evil in the Garden (2004), published by Rollin Milroy. In 2005, she produced Italy Out of Hand: A Capricious History and Dreaming of East: Western Women and the Exotic Allure of the Orient (Greystone). [See profile below]

In Trading in Memories: Travels Through a Scavenger’s Favorite Places (2007), Hodgson takes her readers on a trip to markets and antique shops from Brussels to Marrakech, Damascus to Portland. Greystone Books sold the English-language rights in Australia and New Zealand to Hardie Grant, the German rights (world) to Gerstenberg Buchverlag, and the Spanish rights (world) to Editorial Océano, S.L.

[Photo by Chick Rice]

The Tattoed Map (Raincoast, 1995)
Paris Out of Hand (Chronicle, 1996). By Karen Elizabeth Gordon; contributors: Barbara Hodgson and Nick Bantock.
The Sensualist (Raincoast, 1998)
The Rat: A Perverse Miscellany (Greystone, 1997)
Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon (Greystone, 1999)
Hippolyte’s Island (Raincoast, 2001)
In the Arms of Morpheus: The Tragic History of Laudanum, Morphine and Patent Medicines (Greystone, 2001)
No Place for a Lady (Greystone 2003)
The Lives of Shadows (Chronicle, 2004)
Evil in the Garden (Milroy, 2004)
Italy Out of Hand: A Capricious History (Greystone, 2005)
Dreaming of East: Western Women and the Exotic Allure of the Orient (Greystone, 2005)
Trading in Memories: Travels Through a Scavenger’s Favorite Places (Greystone, 2007)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2007] "Fiction" "Art" "Women" "Travel"

Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon (Greystone $22.94 pb $29.95 hc)

Opium has been prescribed for cholera, coughs, dysentry, bedwetting, measles, earaches, brochitis, piles and morning sickness. To eliminate crying due to teething, hunger or weaning, British and American babies were routinely raised on opium-laced soothing syrups until around 1910. In the late 1800s, when approximately half of Victoria’s population were Chinese, there were 14 licensed opium manufacturing factories in Victoria’s Chinatown, processing raw opium that came from India for sale in the United States. The principal active ingredient of opium is morphine, named for the Greek god of dreams and sleep, Morpheus. Today opium is officially classified as a narcotic, a drug that dulls the senses.

“Novelists and poets elevated opium in all of its incarnations to the status of muse,” writes Barbara Hodgson in Opium: A Portrait of the Heavenly Demon (Greystone $22.94 pb $29.95 hc). While providing information about poppy cultivation and the two Opium Wars in China, Hodgson’s historical overview chiefly emphasizes images and writing that celebrates or condemns opium’s use. In A Compleat History of Druggs (1694), Pierre Pomet claimed that Turkish soldiers took opium prior to battle to make them insensible to danger. Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) describes his 17-year descent into depression as a laudanum addict. “O just, subtle, and all-conquering opium!” he wrote.

Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) opens with an opium addict waking up in a bed with ‘a Chinaman, a Lascar, and a haggard woman.’ Addicted to laudanum, Charles Baudelaire translated De Quincey’s Confessions and likened opium to a female friend, “an old and terrible friend, and, alas!, like them all, full of caresses and deceptions.” Oscar Wilde smoked opium-laced cigarettes. In Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian Gray smokes opium as his life falls apart. “As long as one has this stuff,” he remarks, “one doesn’t want friends. I think I have had too many friends.” More than the English, French writers embraced experimentation with drugs. Describing opium’s effect, the French poet Maurice Magre wrote, “The spirit of dead Buddhas inhabits my brain.” Jean Cocteau made numerous overblown statements about opium and claimed Pablo Picasso once said to him, “The smell of opium is the least stupid smell in the world.” In Opium: The Diary of a Cure, Cocteau wrote, “Smoking á deux is already crowded. Smoking á trois is difficult. Smoking á quatre is impossible.”

“Opium teaches only one thing,” wrote André Malraux in Man’s Fate, “which is that aside from physical suffering, there is nothing real.”

The use of opium (and laudanum), cocaine, ether, hashish, chloroform and absinthe were mostly legal until the early 20th century. In 1906 the
U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act specified that medicines must state narcotic contents. (Heroin is a semi-synthetic substance derived from morphine, the principal active ingredient in opium.) Hollywood and American pulp fiction frequently exploited opium and opium dens for commercial impact. A Chinese hero falls in love with a 12-year-old white girl in an opium den in D.W. Griffith’s silent film Broken Blossoms (1919). Starring Lillian Gish, it was adapted from the short story, ‘The Chink and the Child’. A Berkley reprint of Claude Farrere’s infamous Black Opium (1904) was reprinted in 1958 with a naked woman on the cover, misleadingly linking opium to sexual ecstasy. 1-55054-505-1


Estranged in Strange Lands
profile (2005)

by Carla Lucchetta

A walk around Barbara Hodgson’s office in an old bank building on West Pender in Vancouver quickly reveals her penchant for mining the flea markets of the world. She literally draws her inspiration from her collection of antique, yellowed photographs, 19th century travel clothing and painting kits that women like her once used to document their travels in bygone eras. By luck or design Hodgson has created a life for herself that allows her to follow her many ideas for books and projects. An avid traveler, archaeologist, archivist and photographer, she has written, illustrated and designed four novels and seven non-fiction books in as many years. This year Hodgson’s work includes Italy Out of Hand: A Capricious History (Greystone $26.95) and the newly released Dreaming of East: Western Women and the Exotic Allure of the Orient (Greystone $34.95).

Although her books have settings outside North America, Hodgson maintains most of her ideas don’t depend on travel experiences. “I find displacement intriguing,” she says. “I’m mostly interested in how people cope outside of their milieu and how it stretches their characters.”

Born in Edmonton, Barbara Hodgson had her first experience of displacement at the age eighteen when she moved to Vancouver. She earned an archaeology degree from SFU and attended Emily Carr Art Institute for training in graphic arts. After working for a time at Douglas and McIntyre as a book designer, Hodgson struck out on her own as a freelance book designer. She also teamed up with Nick Bantock designing books and working on ideas for illustrated novels.

The Tattooed Map, her first illustrated novel, came to life in 1995 after she was encouraged by an editor at Chronicle Books of San Francisco. It’s the story of a woman who wanders around Morocco with her partner with such open curiosity that she falls victim to the country’s mysterious past and ends up disappearing into it. “I tried to travel as Lydia,” Hodgson says, speaking of the main character in The Tattooed Map. “I talked to people I never normally would have. It gave me so much more material.”

To confirm details for The Sensualist (Raincoast, 1998), her story about one woman’s gradual loss of her senses, Hodgson travelled to Vienna, Budapest and Munich. “I had written about an accident in Munich and I wanted to make sure it could actually happen that way,” she says. “One day I was walking down the street while visiting the city and all of a sudden I saw cars stop and heard sirens. What I had written was happening right in front of me.”

For Hippolyte’s Island (Raincoast 2001), Hodgson visited the Falkland Islands where she spent her afternoons watching penguins and photographing her surroundings for illustrations. It’s the story of an intrepid traveller who runs out of foreign lands to conquer so he sets out to rediscover the elusive Auroras in the South Atlantic. Hippolyte’s meticulous documents about his findings on the islands – the the flora and fauna – become the marginalia that grounds Hodgson’s story in reality and also serve as the necessary proof, upon his return, of the existence of the Auroras.

Hodgson’s most recent illustrated novel, Lives of Shadows (Raincoast 2004), took her to Damascus, to bring to life the tale of a young Englishman who becomes possessed by his new house and its history written on the walls. As with much of her fiction, Hodgson continually blurs the lines between that which actually exists and that which her characters believe to exist.

There’s a fine line of demarcation between Hodgson’s fiction and non-fiction. Both are an end result of her wanderlust and inquiring mind. Her fiction has so many real geographical, historical and environmental elements that the stories begin to feel as though they may well have happened. Not only does she create characters but at times she deliberately sets out to live their lives in order to lend a deeper sense of reality to their sketches.

Hodgson writes her stories in tandem with creating the illustrations; each one spurs the other on. That fact is most evident in Lives of Shadows where her artwork and design are at their best, adding context and beauty to a story that is nothing short of page-turning.

Illustrated novels (not including graphic novels, which are growing in popularity) are still fairly rare in publishing and one reason is that they are expensive to make. To keep herself in form she pours her creative energy into non-fiction, creating illustrated histories on opium, morphine, rats, women travellers, and the recent Italy Out of Hand, a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction account of the evolution of Italian culture. When asked to define her career trajectory Hodgson says, “I call myself a writer because it’s a short cut. It’s just too complicated to draw in all the other aspects of it.”

As long as she can travel and collect artefacts, Hodgson will never be short of ideas for marrying words and pictures.

Next stop, India.

Dreaming 1-55365-118-9
Italy 1-55365-093-X

Carla Lucchetta is a Vancouver writer who also works as a television producer.

No Place for a Lady

from Sara Cassidy 2006
Travellers, by nature peripatetic and ephemeral, are easily forgotten; women travellers, in a world where women’s stories are under-recorded, are doubly lost. For the Vancouver Museum exhibit about women travellers of the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most of them British and American, Barbara Hodgson invited local, contemporary women to send in their expired passports. These are displayed on a wall, most of them open at the passport holder’s photograph. In her gorgeous books No Place for a Lady: Tales of Adventurous Women Travellers (2002), and the recently published, Dreaming of East: Western Women and the Exotic Allure of the Orient, Hodgson in essence proves, through a wealth of photographs and first-person accounts, that hundreds of women travelled widely and independently in an era when they also clamped their bodies into corsets and were not permitted to vote.

While Dreaming of East is primarily documentary, Hodgson considers the curious liberation western women experienced in the Middle East. Many women wrote, sketched, and studied there, and a few engaged in politics. There was an enormous audience for their experiences: Hodgson has read 800 books by women who travelled to the Middle East before the early 1900s.

In person, Hodgson, book designer and author of four novels and an acclaimed non-fiction book about opium, as well as her books about travellers, is both open and intent. She laughs easily and speaks fondly about the women whose lives she has uncovered, enjoying their foibles and their exploits.

SARA CASSIDY: Why are you fascinated by intrepid women?

BARBARA HODGSON: I had read through all the men’s travel books and I always thought to myself, there’s more to it. Every so often. I would stumble across a woman’s travel book, like something by Isabella Bird (1831 – 1904), a very popular writer, and it seemed to me that there was something extra. I realised while I was reading, that although I would be aghast and appalled at some of the conditions the men got themselves into, it said so much more when women described it. I’d think, “Well, a guy can go and do that kind of thing, a guy can go and stay in a inn with a hundred other men he doesn’t know.” But then you read Isabella Bird going into an inn in Iraq where there are a hundred men and she’s the only woman. And you think, how did she do that?

The more I read, I realised there was a huge variation of women. There were women who got dragged along, you know, by their husbands or their brothers or they didn’t want to be left alone so they came. Then there were those who just set out on their own. Isabella Bird: she didn’t start travelling until she was 40, she had terrible health – an injured back, heart problems - yet when she went travelling, she’d get on donkeys and horses and ride for days and days and say, actually, I don’t feel so bad.

S: There’s a chapter in No Place for a Lady about the Middle East. Why did return to the subject, and give it an entire book?

BH: I didn’t feel I had done it justice. The moment where I really decided I had to do it was when I gave a lecture to a garden club in Vancouver and a woman came up to me after and said, “Well, have you ever been there?” And I said, “But the book (No Place for a Lady) is about the whole world - where are you talking about?” And she said, “Oh, come on, you know what I mean - the Middle East!” And I thought, you know, there are other people who are interested in that area. And there is a thesis you can develop about the Middle East that you can’t develop about other places. Other places, people end up there more by accident. And Europe, everyone travelled to Europe. (And in talking about that,) we can say, “We’ve misunderstood how much women were able to get out at that time. They did travel and they travelled consciously and let’s not forget about it.” But there was actually a kind of rationale to travel in the Middle East, special reasons for doing it, and consequences for doing it. Also, nowhere else had that sense of liberation – that ironic sense of liberation that the Middle East has.

S: You propose various reasons women travelled – a desire for escape, simple wanderlust, getting out from under the dark skies of industrialisation, health –

BH: Health was a very big reason. Largely, I think the reason women just wanted to travel but they had to have an excuse. It wasn’t good enough to just say, I feel like travelling. The Austrian Ida Pfeiffer (1797-1858), who went to the Holy Land in 1848, she was over 40 years old when she left. She separated from her husband and she said, my sons are all grown up, I’ve always wanted to travel, if I don’t do it now, I won’t. So she saved up a little money, and took off by herself. She didn’t pull any punches. But other people would say, I want to go to the Holy Land for a pilgrimage. Because it was socially acceptable to travel if you had a reason to travel.

S: You write that romanticisation, of the Middle East, however much it might have distorted the truth of the place, was an important invitation.

BH: The history was loaded – whether it was ancient or recent history: you have the pharoahs of Egypt, you have the Islamic history, the mosques. You had the appearance of The Thousand and One Nights, translated for the first time into French, in the early 1700s. You have authors like Montague and Racine who used as characters these exotic strangers who would come to Europe and criticise it – this was the way the authors were able to express their sense of corruption in Europe - you have social criticism from a foreigner dressed with the exoticism of this foreign place: they had multiple wives, they seemed to live in sin, they did everything that Europeans didn’t like yet they had this idea that Europe was very corrupt. Then you have Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) going to Constantinople and saying “We’ve all heard about harems, but we’ve only heard it from men, and since men aren’t allowed into harems, we’ve heard nothing but lies. Finally, here’s the truth”. So everyone galvanised this idea of the mysterious east, so near and so far, the lofty minarets, the saracen guards, the langurous harem, and it became a kind of el dorado for people and it was close enough for Europeans to actually consider going there. But it was also a wonderful place to go because it was so remote from their experience.

S: You raise this tension that it had this allure of freedom for women. Which seems ironic.

BH: You have Isabel Brooke saying “the desert is freedom”. Why? Because she could sit on a horse and gallop? That doesn’t seem quite right. No, it was their ability to see how their lives were compared to the lives in the Middle East. And they had a rapport with the men in the Middle East. that middle eastern women seemed not to have. And it was also a rapport they didn’t have with their own men. They were treated like honorary men, which at the time was a great elevation in status. Right now, you’d say, that doesn’t sound like such a great thing, but at that time, it meant that people took you seriously.

S: You mention western women offered a kind of third gender.

BH: Yes, a sexless kind of gender, because although there were exceptions, Middle Eastern men had never seen such a creature before as a European woman. She was physically a woman, but she strutted about without her face covered, she demanded things, she had levels of education, she could give opinions. You have Princess Cristina di Belgiojoso (1808-71) who says, I’ve talked with the mafti about world affairs. And he obviously took her seriously. No western man would have asked her for her opinions.

S: Many were drawn by the romanticisation - how did they deal with the truth of it?

BH: Well, you have Cristina di Belgiojoso talking about the cobwebs, the cracked mirrors, the women plastering themselves with lots and lots of makeup and looking into their tarnished mirrors and she calls them hags. Yet her writing is full of romance. At practically every step, no matter how realistic she is, you say I wish I was on that trip with her.

S: So the romance endured -

BH: Isabel Burton (1831-96) wrote very realistically about many of the troubles – she went to many of the harems, and she thought when women took off their veils, it was a pretty shocking thing. A lot of them were bald or had dyed their hair so often it was falling out. Still, when she got home, she wrote I pine for Damascus. I must go back, I will go back.

S: Most of these women did not consider themselves feminist?

BH: No, they were individualists. They felt that women didn’t need to have a general helping hand, that everybody succeeded on their own regardless. And they were doing fine. As long as they were doing fine, what was the problem Why would they need all of these rights enshrined, because we know how to get them. And it’s almost kind of true – they had really brilliant lives if they were strong enough.

S: And they weren’t all wealthy –

BH: No, but they could establish a niche for themselves, establish themselves as writers or social activists in some ways. Plus a lot of them thought it would take away from their ability to do what they wanted, if they had to have the responsibilities of men, if they had to earn the money for the household, if they had to run as Member of Parliament, if they had to have jobs and go into the city every day. It was a case of – they wanted their cake and eat it too.

S: Was it easier for women to be scholars and writers in the middle east?

BH: They could do what they wanted. They could go out and collect their specimens, they could paint, they could write. They would attract attention of course, as a foreigner and as a woman. But there was nobody telling them they couldn’t do it.

S: Those strictures were gone. You write that what these women did influenced women back home.

BH: It was a really terrific influence from the point of view of yes, I can go and do that too. The stories they wrote about what they did were coming out fast and furious: you had someone like Harriet Martineau (1802 – 76) going to Egypt in 1843 and her book was published two years later. You have Isabella Bird who went to Persia in 1891 and her book was published in 1892. And these are huge two volume things. I suspect I’ve got 800 books listed by women who were travel writers.

S: What was one of your more exciting research moments?

BH: Largely, finding original materials. But little things: I just bought a rock collection (at a Vancouver auction house) that was put together in 1836 and each of the pieces of rock was wrapped in a piece of newspaper, some from the Times. the first I opened up I read, Born to Emeline Stewart Wartley,: a son. And that was one of my travellers. And I hadn’t known she had had a son.

S: You mentioned the consequences of travel in the Middle East. What did you mean?

BH: That sense of dissatisfaction with life after travelling, going back to the rigors of society and its constraints. Cristina di Belgiojoso said, “I can’t believe that this kind of life is good for young women, it makes them totally unfit for regular life.” And it did. But that meant that they would push the limits of their lives when they got back home.

S: Why is it important that we know about these women?

BH: Because too much of women’s history has been lost. Because people have not thought their lives are important. And just as it’s important to know about women painters and scientists, it’s important to know about travellers because they have influenced our lives.

S: Thank you.

BH: Thank you!

Vancouver Museum's exhibit, No Place for a Lady ran November 11, 2005 - October 1, 2006.