A Woman In Arabia: The Writings Of The Queen Of The Desert by Gertrude BellA Woman In Arabia: The Writings Of The Queen Of The Desert by Gertrude Bell

A Woman In Arabia: The Writings Of The Queen Of The Desert

byGertrude BellEditorGeorgina HowellIntroduction byGeorgina Howell

Paperback | August 11, 2015

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A portrait in her own words of the female Lawrence of Arabia, the subject of the documentary Letters from Baghdad, voiced by Tilda Swinton and soon to air on PBS, and the major motion picture Queen of the Desert, starring Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis, and Robert Pattinson and directed by Werner Herzog

Gertrude Bell was leaning in 100 years before Sheryl Sandberg. One of the great woman adventurers of the twentieth century, she turned her back on Victorian society to study at Oxford and travel the world, and became the chief architect of British policy in the Middle East after World War I. Mountaineer, archaeologist, Arabist, writer, poet, linguist, and spy, she dedicated her life to championing the Arab cause and was instrumental in drawing the borders that define today’s Middle East.
As she wrote in one of her letters, “It’s a bore being a woman when you are in Arabia.” Forthright and spirited, opinionated and playful, and deeply instructive about the Arab world, this volume brings together Bell’s letters, military dispatches, diary entries, and travel writings to offer an intimate look at a woman who shaped nations.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,800 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Gertrude Bell (1868–1926) was one of the first women to be made a Commander of the British Empire. Her statesmanship paved the way for the creation of an independent Iraq.Georgina Howell (editor) wrote the acclaimed biography Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.
Title:A Woman In Arabia: The Writings Of The Queen Of The DesertFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 7.72 × 5.1 × 0.57 inPublished:August 11, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0143107372

ISBN - 13:9780143107378

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IntroductionThe phenomenal Gertrude Lowthian Bell came from a family of wealthy British industrialists in the north of England in the mid-nineteenth century. From sheep farmers and blacksmiths they had become the sixth-richest family in Britain. The Bells at their most powerful employed some forty-five thousand workers at their steel and chemical works and mines. They made the steel components, weighing fifty thousand tons, for the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the track for hundreds of thousands of miles of railways all over the world. They were intellectuals, Liberal voters, and anti-aristocracy, although they had begun to marry into the nobility. In childhood, Gertrude met the scientists, writers, and statesmen of the day as they visited her grandfather and her father in Yorkshire: men such as Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Robert Louis Stevenson, and William Morris. Even as a child, Gertrude was intimidated by no one, telling a divinity teacher that she “didn’t believe a word of it.” She began her adult life at twenty, in 1888, by becoming the first woman to gain first-class honors in Modern History at Oxford University. After a life full of adventure and rule-breaking and exploration, she did something of unique importance: she founded a nation, the nation of Iraq.Her father, Hugh Bell, was married at twenty-three to Mary Shield. A beautiful local girl, she was the daughter of a Newcastle merchant. Gertrude was their first child, born in 1868. Tragically, Mary Bell survived only three weeks after the birth of their second child, Gertrude’s brother Maurice.Hugh became for a time a poignant figure, working six days a week at the Clarence steelworks in Middlesbrough. His sister Ada moved in to run the house and look after the children. Hugh had to share his Sundays with his sister, a wet nurse, and some half-dozen servants. Through the matchmaking of his two sisters, he met and then married Florence Eveleen Eleanore Olliffe. She had been born and brought up in Paris, where her father was physician to the British Embassy. The good-hearted Florence, who now became “Mother” to Gertrude, adored children and domestic life. She wrote plays and novels, and became heavily involved in social work into which she would co-opt Gertrude whenever she was at home for long enough. Florence wrote a groundbreaking factual book, At the Works, the result of thirty years of interviews with the families of steelworkers, exposing the suffering they endured.The bond between Hugh and the eight-year-old Gertrude was extraordinary. They were everything to each other and would remain so even when living on opposite sides of the world. Florence was to write a novel concerning the second wife of a man whose bond with his daughter was so strong as almost to exclude his wife. The deep mutual affection was “to both the very foundation of existence until the day she died.” Florence never tried to divide them, but she had difficulty with Gertrude, who was used to bossing the household and running rings around her unfortunate governesses. She was domineering and willful. She would climb on the greenhouse roof, she played the garden hose down the laundry chimney and flooded the fire, and she galloped about the countryside and beaches on her ponies while her small brother tried to follow her, coming home covered with cuts and bruises.It was not long before Florence had her own children: Hugo, Elsa, and Molly. Gentle and forbearing as Florence was, she found the teenage Gertrude too much for her: scowling, noisy, argumentative, opinionated, bursting with energy, and thirsty for knowledge. And so, most unusually for a girl of her wealth and class, Gertrude was sent to school in London: to Queen’s College in Harley Street, and from there to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Having done that with brilliance, Gertrude came back to a Florence determined to get rid of her “Oxfordy manner” and turn her into a marriageable prospect. For a while, before becoming a debutante presented to the Queen at court, she was entrusted with housekeeping, care of her sisters and brothers, and bookkeeping. As a reward, she was given a wardrobe of wonderful clothes and sent on holiday to embassies in Bucharest, Tehran, and Berlin, where her uncle was British ambassador. She went around the world twice, once with her brother Maurice and the second time with her half-brother Hugo.She must be one of the best-documented women of all time. There are seventy-five feet of shelving in the Bell archive, with its sixteen thousand letters, sixteen diaries, seven archaeological field books, dozens of small leather notebooks, and the three thousand items collected under the heading “Miscellaneous.” Then there are her eight published books and hundreds of political position papers. There are also seven thousand glass plates of the photographs she took of archaeological sites now ransacked or crumbled away, and images of Middle Eastern life as it had been lived for thousands of years. Those are the papers and photographs in Newcastle University alone.As a highly skilled photographer and a member of the Royal Photographic Society, she carried two cameras into the desert: one that took glass plates 6.5 inches high by 4.25 inches wide, the other designed for panoramic views. To scan an entire archaeological site she would combine carefully angled shots to give exact panoramas, which are prized by Newcastle’s School of Historical Studies for their depiction of monuments and churches before they were further eroded and damaged.Her first book in print was Persian Pictures, a collection of essays written about her stay in Tehran and her introduction to the desert. She thought this book to be too slight but was persuaded to publish nonetheless. Poems from the Divan of Hafiz was a collection of work of the fourteenth-century Sufi master who is Persia’s most famous poet. Gertrude became fluent in the language to make the translations and then rendered them in lyrical English. The Desert and the Sown was the account of her 1905 trip across the Syrian Desert from Jericho to Antioch. The Thousand and One Churches, written with scholar Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, was an investigation of the Hittite and Byzantine site of Binbirkilise in Turkey in 1907; the book led to Gertrude’s election as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. The private diaries she wrote for her lover Dick Doughty-Wylie, containing the account of her incarceration in Hayyil, were edited by Rosemary O’Brien and published in 2000 under the title The Arabian Diaries, 1913–1914. Amurath to Amurath came from her 1909 six-month journey through Syria and along the unexplored banks of the Euphrates. The Palace and Mosque at Ukhaidir and The Vaulting System at Ukhaidir contained her meticulous drawings and measurements of the enormous ruined palace she discovered in the desert near Karbala. The Churches and Monasteries of the Tur Abdin took her back to Ukhaidir and north to Turkey in 1911. Gertrude’s handbook The Arab of Mesopotamia, written by request as an introduction to the region for the military officers and civil servants who were posted there after World War I, is a collection of essays. Some of these are rigorously informative and some are eccentric and amusing. A book-length white paper for the British government, Review of the Civil Administration of Mesopotamia, explained the problems and solutions that confronted the High Commission when it arrived in Basra, and then in Baghdad, after the Turkish retreat.From the time she took up her post as “Major Miss Bell” in the Intelligence Bureau in Cairo in 1915, and no longer had time to keep a diary, she told her father that her letters to the family would in future be her diary and asked him to keep them. Her work at the bureau was secret, and there was much she omitted to tell, but she continued to write home two or three times a week. The letters were so regular over so many years that their rare cessation signaled an interval of a few days during which she was doing something secret. There are three missing days and nights in November 1915, which give the clue to a mystery that has perplexed historians for a hundred years (see “The Lover”). The second time, during the period in which she was an intelligence officer in Basra, was April 16–27, 1916. Those were exactly the days in which her friends T. E. Lawrence and Aubrey Herbert—with whom she had discussed “vast schemes for the government of the universe” the previous week—were entrusted with the attempt to break the Turkish siege of Kut, in which starving British soldiers and townspeople were reduced to eating rats and dogs. According to Gertrude’s letters home, she went “up the Shatt al’ Arab to check the maps.” After her death, King Faisal referred to further unrecorded adventures in which she nearly lost her life, saying, “She could play a man’s part in the action. . . . She ventured alone and disguised into the remotest districts . . . Death held no fear for her. Her personal safety was her last consideration.” In the same interview he added the extraordinary assertion that she had on one occasion led some tribesmen in an attack on the Turks and on another been taken prisoner by the Turks but had managed to escape. Even in her midfifties, when she and Haji Naji, a gardener and great friend, were harassed by a mad dervish with an iron staff, she snatched it up and struck him with it. He left.During her lifetime she made seven expeditions into the vast regions of the Middle East and Turkey, first as a wealthy tourist but soon as an archaeologist, explorer, and information gatherer for the British government. They were possibly the happiest times of her life. Once she was based in an office, whether engaged on war work or administration, she worked harder and longer than anyone but occasionally yearned for adventure again. “It’s sometimes exasperating to be obliged to sit in an office when I long to be out in the desert, seeing the plans I hear of and finding out about them for myself . . . one can’t do much more than sit and record if one is of my sex, devil take it,” she wrote from Basra. And, in 1924 when she was fifty-six, “I’m planning a two days’ jaunt by myself in the desert. I want to feel savage and independent again instead of being [Oriental] Secretary in a High Commissioner’s office. The truth is I wonder how I bear being so civilised and respectable after the life I’ve led.”The wisdom of establishing a nation as conflicted as Iraq is often questioned. Gertrude soldiered on, year after year, as political officer and then Oriental secretary with her self-imposed mission to grant as complete a measure of autonomy to her beloved Arabs as was compatible with some temporary British guidance and support. Her dream was that Iraq should gain ultimate independence. She dedicated her life in Baghdad to the championing of the Arab cause, reaching the very limits of her purview as a loyal administrator employed and paid by Britain. She placed little faith in politicians: the British who betrayed the promise to give the Arabs self-determination; the French who bombed their way to control of Syria; and the Americans who proposed a benevolent world order, including a League of Nations, and then did nothing to support it.She had to fight her corner every inch of the way, and she often had to fight her own side. There were objections to her as a woman alongside the military, objections to her rank, objections to her being in the front line. She had to fight when an interim boss tried to have her sacked, when Winston Churchill wanted to pull out of Iraq altogether, and again when political machinations brought all her achievements to the brink of disaster. Her lifelong creed was to seek out and engage with the opposition in order to understand their point of view. This was regarded with the deepest suspicion by some of her colonialist colleagues, who knew that her Baghdad house was frequented by dangerous nationalists subversive to the British administration.In guiding the new British administration of Iraq, she was doing the most important work she had ever undertaken. To the people queuing up outside the secretariat in Baghdad, she was more than an administrator; she was someone they could trust. She spoke their language and had never lied to them. She respected them and their ways to the point of entrusting her life to them while traveling alone through their deserts. She understood Bedouin etiquette and the hereditary lines of Arab families. She also understood the priorities of the Bedouin nomads and those who had begun to farm, the traders and landowners, the Christian professionals, the clerks and teachers, and each of the explosive mixtures of races and religions in the unmapped territories the Arabs shared with the Armenians, Assyrians, Turks, Persians, and Kurds.Once face-to-face with Gertrude, the Oriental secretary, and Sir Percy Cox, the high commissioner, the sheikhs and Mesopotamian notables lodged their interests with the brand-new British administration of the summer of 1917. They were welcomed, listened to, their situations comprehended. They were assured that the British administration would be benevolent and was prepared for the huge expenditure in effort and money that would secure their various ways of life. Each one of the representatives had to be met with proper traditional courtesies, such as the giving of small presents, and lengthy discussions had to take place. In the meeting of the two agendas, those of the administration and the population, a good part of Gertrude’s day was spent in trading government favors to establish cooperation.If the American and British invaders of 2003, after ousting Saddam Hussein, had read and taken to heart what Gertrude had to say on establishing peace in Iraq, there might have been far fewer of the bombings and burnings that have continued to this day. She wrote of the importance on the part of the administration of “a just comprehension of the conflicting claims of different classes of the population” and its ability to “command the confidence of the people so as to secure the co-operation of public opinion.”One key to stability in Iraq is contained in a sweeping pronouncement she made in 1918 that “There is nothing easier to manage than tribes if you’ll take advantage of tribal organization and make it the basis of administrative organization . . . and establish familiar relations with sheikh and headman and charge them with their right share of work and responsibility.”Since civilization began, Mesopotamia had been a melting pot of races, with inevitable and frequent conflict. Of course she knew that Iraq would risk continual disruption. She was fulfilling the promise of self-determination, but it must not be forgotten that Gertrude had another urgent reason for wanting Iraq established. Had Britain evacuated Iraq after World War I, as Winston Churchill advocated, the Turks would have surged back from the north to exact revenge and reinstate the institutionalized corruption and the appropriation of taxes of their old Ottoman Empire. There was a very real threat from the Russian Bolshevik army, planning to drive the Communist revolution south to conquer the Middle East. In the south, Ibn Saud and his fearsome Wahhabis were already attacking the borders. Without western endorsement and British support, Iraq would have faced three powerful enemies without an army to defend it. The peoples of the Middle East who had failed to make their case for nationhood or political identity at the time of the Paris Peace Conference—for instance, the Kurdish people—remained at the mercy of massacres and incursions by their neighbors. The country needed to be inclusive enough and large enough to raise an army capable of repelling enemies.Her influence spread beyond the borders of Iraq, to Palestine and southern Arabia. There had been Jewish settlements in Palestine before World War I, and some of those had been attacked by the Arabs. In November 1917, Lord Arthur James Balfour, Prime Minister Lloyd George’s languid foreign secretary, issued a declaration sympathetic to the Zionist cause, stating that the British government approved “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” When the first draft of the Balfour Declaration had been put to the Cabinet, the secretary of state for India, Sir Edwin Montagu, mounted a violent opposition despite being Jewish himself. In support of his argument he read to the Cabinet a strongly argued letter from Gertrude against it, forecasting future trouble without end. This Document is the Property of His Britannic Majesty’s GovernmentCirculated by the Secretary of State for IndiaSECRETZionism1. I am sorry to bother the Cabinet with another Paper on this subject, but I have obtained some more information which I would like to lay before them.2. We have received at the India Office a series of valuable papers on Turkey in Asia from the pen of Miss Gertrude Lowthian Bell, the remarkable woman who, after years of knowledge gained by unique travel in these regions, is acting as Assistant Political Officer in Baghdad. She writes:—Not least among the denationalising forces is the fact that a part of Syria, though like the rest mainly inhabited by Arabs, is regarded by a non-Arab people as its prescriptive inheritance. At a liberal estimate the Jews of Palestine may form a quarter of the population of the province, the Christians a fifth, while the remainder are Mohammedan Arabs. Jewish immigration has been artificially fostered by doles and subventions from millionaire co-religionists in Europe; the new colonies have now taken root and are more or less self-supporting. The pious hope that an independent Jewish state may some day be established in Palestine no doubt exists, though it may be questioned whether among local Jews there is any acute desire to see it realised, except as a means of escape from Turkish oppression; it is perhaps more lively in the breasts of those who live far from the rocky Palestinian hills and have no intention of changing their domicile. Lord Cromer took pleasure in relating a conversation which he had held on the subject with one of the best known English Jews, who observed: ‘If a Jewish Kingdom were to be established at Jerusalem I should lose no time in applying for the post of Ambassador in London’. Apart from the prevalence of such sentiments two considerations rule out the conception of an independent Jewish Palestine from practical politics. The first is that the province as we know it is not Jewish, and that neither Mohammedan nor Arab would accept Jewish authority; the second that the capital, Jerusalem, is equally sacred to three faiths, Jewish, Christian and Moslem, and should never, if it can be avoided, be put under the exclusive control of any one local faction, no matter how carefully the rights of the other two may be safeguarded.Sir Edwin went on to list some hundred prominent Jews who were anti-Zionist and to make the point that the bond that united Israel was not one of politics but of a common religion. This paper, headed by Gertrude’s contribution, achieved the change of a single word in the Balfour Declaration: Palestine would become a home for the Jews—not the home. Even this minimal change probably prevented both the slaughter of those Jews already living in Palestine and sympathetic Arab uprisings elsewhere. She continued to affirm: “Palestine for the Jews has always seemed . . . an impossible proposition. I don’t believe it can be carried out—personally I don’t want it to be carried out, and I’ve said so on every possible occasion . . . to gratify Jewish sentiment you would have to override every conceivable political consideration, including the wishes of the large majority of the population.” As early as 1922 the Arabs, refusing to accept the Balfour Declaration, massacred Jews in their settlements.Gertrude warned the British government of Ibn Saud’s growing power even before the war. In the east, it would have been next on his agenda to invade the Gulf states to control the flow of oil down the Persian Gulf. Britain provided the funds that persuaded him to keep his territorial ambitions in check. After the war he went on to take Mecca and the Hejaz.Lawrence said that he thought Gertrude was “born too gifted.” The extraordinary range of her talents and abilities highlighted in this book do not tell the whole story. As Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol wrote in her obituary, “With all the qualities which are usually described as virile, she combined in a high degree the charm of feminine refinement, and though only revealed to a few, even amongst her intimates, great depths of tender and even passionate affection.” She adored clothes, bought many dresses from Paris, and from Iraq would continually ask Florence and her sisters to send her the clothes she had no other way of buying. Other books of her quotes could be collected concerning her quest for perfect clothes and her love for flowers: she was enchanted by the sheets of wildflowers she discovered in the desert after the rains, by a rare iris hidden among the ruins of an Anatolian temple, or by a knot of violets under an Alpine rock. She sent home mandrakes and cedars of Lebanon to be planted on the lawns of Rounton Grange, the huge and splendid family house built by architect Philip Webb for Hugh’s father, the great ironmaster Isaac Lowthian Bell, at the height of the family fortunes. There, in a wood of beautiful old trees, Gertrude created a rockery of mountainous boulders surrounding a lake and a network of little streams. Once a showcase garden and now ruined and overgrown, it still produces unexpected plants in the spring. In Baghdad, she planted cottage garden flowers, ordering the seeds from England.Her legacy includes the Iraq Museum, from which fifteen thousand items were looted immediately before and during the invasion of 2003, and half recovered later. She had collected items from seven thousand years of Mesopotamian history, including clay tablets recording the invention of the written word. Through her position as honorary director of antiquities for Iraq she supervised the teams of foreign archaeologists who came to dig the precious sites of Ur and Babylon—the latter eventually bulldozed for an American military base. She kept the most interesting pieces for Iraq, allowing the world’s museums to take the pieces that they would better be able to reconstruct and conserve.In all, she traveled an unbelievable twenty thousand miles through the deserts on camel or horse, mapping terrain, photographing archaeological sites, and passing on intelligence to the government. Toward the end of her last, longest, and most dangerous journey, she questioned whether the adventure was worth it: “It is nothing, the journey to Nejd, so far as real advantage goes, or any real addition to knowledge.” She had no idea that in the years to follow, this expedition would open the way into the most exciting and rewarding part of her life.Gertrude would never know the happiness of having a husband and children, which she once said she would have preferred to all her triumphs and achievements. As her best woman friend, Janet Courtney, said of her: “She was, I think, the most brilliant creature who ever came amongst us; the most alive at every point, with her tireless energy, her splendid vitality, her unlimited capacity for work, for talk, for play. She was always an odd mixture of maturity and childishness, grown up in her judgement of men and affairs, child-like in her certainties, and most engaging in her entire belief in her father and the vivid intellectual world in which she had been brought up.”It is her own voice, so personal, visionary, and humorous, that this book has been designed to serve. The text is arranged by subject to highlight the diversity of her talents and abilities, and I have been led by her writings in deciding how to frame the chapters. In the case of some subjects, her observations over the years needed only a short headnote. In others, where history or her personal story developed in reaction to events, I have set her writings in an explanatory narration. The Chronology at the beginning of the book provides the time line necessarily missing from this approach.The majority of her quotes come from letters to her beloved father and stepmother, to whom as a sacred duty she wrote almost daily. In letters written to her great friend and mentor Sir Valentine Chirol, she often exposed her emotional state more clearly than to her parents, whom she always tried to protect from anxiety about her well-being. In addition to letters, there are extracts from her books, diaries and official papers, reports, reviews, and bulletins. I hope this volume will stand in for the autobiography she never wrote.Formidable as she could be as a stateswoman and figurehead, she was the most devoted family member, affectionate friend, and loyal aide. Her favorite sister, Elsa Richmond, wrote this of her:“Eternally young, she lived every moment to the full. The years went by, but they could not chill her warm heart. To the end of her life she remained what she was at the beginning: self-willed, impatient, infinitely loving, pouring herself out in devotion to those dear to her. And now all her brilliance, her waywardness, her sympathy, her affection lie buried in the sandy cemetery of Baghdad, the memory of that vital nature remains as a possession to those who knew and loved her.”GEORGINA HOWELLNote on the Text and AcknowledgmentsMost of Gertrude Bell’s letters, diaries, and papers are reproduced here by kind permission of the Robinson Library, University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Her appendix to “Self-Determination in Mesopotamia” and her letters to Valentine Chirol are reproduced by kind permission of Durham University Library. The majority of the letters are taken from The Letters of Gertrude Bell, selected by Lady Bell, DBE, first published by Ernest Benn Limited, London, in September 1927. Many letters not included in Lady Bell’s collection have been taken from Gertrude Bell: From her Personal Papers, Volume 1, 1889–1914, and Volume 2, 1914–1926, edited by Elizabeth Burgoyne. Both volumes were published by Ernest Benn Limited, London, in 1961. T. E. Lawrence’s letter of November 4, 1927, written to Sir Hugh Bell more than a year after Gertrude’s death, is included by kind permission of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust.Other works of great importance to this volume include a summary of Gertrude’s life compiled by the Robinson Library’s late archivist Lesley Gordon to accompany a 1994 exhibition based on Gertrude’s archaeological work, titled “Gertrude Bell 1868–1926”; Gertrude Bell: The Arabian Diaries, 1913–1914, edited by Rosemary O’Brien, published by Syracuse University Press in 2000; and A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence by John Mack, published by Harvard University Press in 1976.Unless otherwise stated, all letters quoted in this volume are addressed to Gertrude’s father and stepmother.Gertrude’s spelling was not her strongest point, and on desert journeys in unmapped areas, or guided by inadequate maps, her rendition of place names was inconsistent. This book maintains her spelling throughout, whether in English or when quoting Arabic. Similarly, she sometimes found it difficult to keep track of the date. After her death, her stepmother wrote: “Gertrude hardly ever dated her letters except by the day of the week, sometimes not even that.” The dates have been clarified where possible.Whenever Gertrude mentions monetary amounts, they are given in British pounds as she wrote them, followed in brackets by a figure adjusted first to the 2014 value for British pounds by the change in the Retail Price Index (RPI), then converted into U.S. dollars at a value of £1 = $1.60 (www.measuringwealth.com, 2014).There are many people to thank for making this book possible. I was fortunate that John Siciliano at Penguin Random House wanted to include the writings of Gertrude Bell among the eminent publications in the Penguin Classics. I want to thank him and Emily Hartley in his office for their enthusiasm, guidance, and patience throughout. Nancy Bernhaut’s meticulous copyediting has brought consistency to the book, which draws on Gertrude’s huge and varied output ranging from political papers to family letters. Thanks also to artist Paul X. Johnson for the cover image of Gertrude Bell; it evokes wonderfully the character of the young Gertrude. Cartography for the maps of Gertrude Bell’s journeys in the Middle East was done by Raymond Turvey.Chronology

Editorial Reviews

“A fascinating read . . . The story that emerges is thought-provoking. . . . Gertrude’s legacy makes easy parallels to the present, from world powers trying to determine the political shape of the Middle East to women’s struggles to be taken seriously by male colleagues. In A Woman in Arabia, she faces it all with humor, passion, and candor; even a century on, she’s a woman worth knowing.” —NPR.org“[A] well-chosen selection from [the] letters and memoirs [of] one of the most remarkable figures of the late 19th and early 20th century . . . Bell might be regarded as the much happier, female equivalent of T. E. Lawrence, who knew and admired her.” —The Washington Post“I hope this collection of Bell’s prose, more than the upcoming film by Werner Herzog, stirs up controversy about her time as an archaeologist and spy and spearhead of post-WWI British policy in the Middle East, the effects of which can still be felt today.” —Jonathan Sturgeon, Flavorwire’s “10 Must-Read Books for August”“Luckily for those of us who are unfamiliar with Gertrude Bell, there comes A Woman in Arabia . . . a collection of Bell in her own words, helpfully annotated.” —The Daily Beast“Bell’s letters . . . are as rich in ethnographic detail as any of the great nineteenth-century European travelogues, but chattier—devoid of the heroic rhetoric of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. . . . [They] capture both her charisma and the intensely social character of her time in the Middle East. Like the State Department cables released by WikiLeaks in recent years, Bell’s archive of correspondence is a reminder of the daily disorder obscured by other political documents: maps, treaties, bulletins.” —The New Yorker“A fascinating glimpse at [Bell’s] larger-than-life personality . . . Timely and timeless . . . The genius of this collection is letting Bell tell her story in her own words—just as her fiercely independent spirit would have wanted. Impossible to put down, the book reads a bit like a travelog, part humorous wit and part educational lecture, allowing the reader an in-depth look at the life of a true heroine and the time period she inhabited and conquered. . . . A must-have for every library.” —Library Journal, starred review“An impressive anthology . . . Howell brings the ‘female Lawrence of Arabia’ to life through judicious selections from Bell’s massive public writings and personal papers. . . . Bell comes across as a compassionate, erudite quasi-diplomat worthy of great admiration.” —Kirkus Reviews “Tantalizing . . . Fascinating . . . Bell’s own words showcase . . . a personality and intellect that glittered like the sun-drenched Arabian sands. . . . Readers will accompany her on some of her most daring exploits. . . . This is a nifty little volume that illuminates a remarkable life.” —Publishers Weekly“Her letters are exactly herself—eager, interested, almost excited. . . . She kept an everlasting freshness; or at least, however tired she was, she could always get up enough interest to match that of anyone who came to see her. I don’t think I ever met anyone more entirely civilized, in the sense of her width of intellectual sympathy.” —T. E. Lawrence