How to Disembark Completely: Annemarie Schwarzenbach’s and Ella Maillart’s Afghan Journey (1939)
Julia SzołtysekUniversity of Silesia in Katowice
In 1939, when the world was but a step away from the irreversible, Ella Maillart and Annemarie Schwarzenbach set out from Engadine, an Alpine valley region in the eastern Swiss Alps, heading for Kabul, Afghanistan. The journey was far from safe; the greatest dangers, though, lurked not so much in the curves and bends of the road as in the recesses of Schwarzenbach’s boyishly coiffed head. Through a close reading of Maillart’s and Schwarzenbach’s memoirs of the trip (The Cruel Way and All the Roads Are Open, respectively), this article endeavours to determine whether the journey was a means of escape from the impending doom of the war, especially given that they were both anti-fascists, or whether it was instead an attempt to cure Schwarzenbach of her addictions and help her recuperate after yet another stay at a mental hospital following a suicide attempt. Relying on Joseph Campbell’s mythologically-informed concepts of the hero quest and Maureen Murdock’s feminist rewriting of Campbell’s theory, the article’s analysis of the two women’s accounts of the journey also aims to probe the question of how they performed themselves and staged their travelling bodies in writing on the shaky scene offered by, on the one hand, the limited space of the speeding car and, on the other, by the seemingly boundless expanses of the route they followed.