Because prior studies of American women’s travel writing have focused exclusively on middle-class and wealthy travelers, it has been difficult to assess the genre and its participants in a holistic fashion. One of the very few surviving working-class travel diaries, Lorenza Stevens Berbineau’s account provides readers with a unique perspective of a domestic servant in the wealthy Lowell family in Boston. Staying in luxurious hotels and caring for her young charge Eddie during her six-month grand tour, Berbineau wrote detailed and insightful entries about the people and places she saw.
Contributing to the traditions of women’s, diary, and travel literature from the perspective of a domestic servant, Berbineau's narrative reveals an arresting and intimate outlook on both her own life and the activities, places, and people she encounters. For example, she carefully records Europeans’ religious practices, working people and their behavior, and each region’s aesthetic qualities. Clearly writing in haste and with a pleasing freedom from the constraints of orthographic and stylistic convention, Berbineau offers a distinctive voice and a discerning perspective. Alert to nuances of social class, her narrative is as appealing and informative to today's readers as it no doubt was to her fellow domestics in the Lowell household.
Unobtrusively edited to retain as much as possible the individuality and texture of the author’s original manuscript, From Beacon Hill to the Crystal Palace offers readers brief framing summaries, informative endnotes, and a valuable introduction that analyzes Berbineau’s narrative in relation to gender and class issues and compares it to the published travel writing of her famous contemporary, Harriet Beecher Stowe.