(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Prompted by a desire “simply to get rich,” the Hessels journeyed thirteen months and four thousand miles up the Amazon to Orton, Bolivia, enduring treacherous conditions and hardships. Lizzie wrote: “I have had enough travelling in these uncivilized parts.... When we have finished with this country I don’t think I shall ever want to travel any more, I had more than I bargained for this time.”

Lizzie, naive from the start, experiences very little intellectual growth as a result of her travels. Her letters tend to be repetitive; her interest lies in pets, food, and social life, and she is not involved in her husband’s business. She accepts the things she witnesses and does not try to implement change. With the knowledge that their stay was to be limited, perhaps Lizzie resisted a desire to interact in a more responsive way. One would think that such an adventure--such an exotic life -- would prompt Lizzie to involve herself more than she did. Not surprisingly, she is lonely and mentions missing home often in her letters.

Her account gives a firsthand, yet distanced, view of South American life. Based on her letters home, either Lizzie was unaware of the real atrocities (as described in the final chapter), or she purposely withheld details in an effort not to worry her family. (Apparently, Lizzie also kept a diary, which may have revealed a truer picture of her experiences, but her diary was lost soon after her death in 1899.) The final chapter describes the events in the decade following Lizzie’s death, exposing the horrors which had been unknown to the outside world for many years: “Behind the scenes the rubber boom produced an orgy of terror unlike anything seen in South America since the conquistadores arrived.”

In its own right, Lizzie’s journey was an incredible feat, particularly for a Victorian woman in presuffrage society. It is a remarkable story for this reason alone. Morrison’s annotations place Lizzie’s story in a historical context, reminding the reader that the conditions she describes are not unlike those existing even today. A readable book of 160 pages, the story is illustrated with both period and modern-day photographs. The book concludes with a bibliography and index.