Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach

Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia

byJanet Wallach

Paperback | July 12, 2005

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This “richly textured biography” (Chicago Tribune) inspired the mesmerizing documentary, Letters from Baghdad, soon to air on public television.

Here is the story of Gertrude Bell, who explored, mapped, and excavated the Arab world throughout the early twentieth century. Recruited by British intelligence during World War I, she played a crucial role in obtaining the loyalty of Arab leaders, and her connections and information provided the brains to match T. E. Lawrence''s brawn. After the war, she played a major role in creating the modern Middle East and was, at the time, considered the most powerful woman in the British Empire.
 
In this masterful biography, Janet Wallach shows us the woman behind these achievements–a woman whose passion and defiant independence were at odds with the confined and custom-bound England she left behind. Too long eclipsed by Lawrence, Gertrude Bell emerges at last in her own right as a vital player on the stage of modern history, and as a woman whose life was both a heartbreaking story and a grand adventure.

Janet Wallach is the author of The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age, as well as Seraglio and Chanel: Her Style and Her Life. She is also coauthor, with her husband John Wallach, of three previous books on the Middle East: The New Palestinians; Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder; and Still Small Voices:...
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Title:Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawren...Format:PaperbackProduct dimensions:464 pages, 7.98 X 5.21 X 0.9 inShipping dimensions:464 pages, 7.98 X 5.21 X 0.9 inPublished:July 12, 2005Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1400096197

ISBN - 13:9781400096190

Appropriate for ages: All ages

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Read from the Book

CHAPTER ONE Of Great and Honored Stock -- Great persons, like great empires, leave their mark on history. The greatest empire of all time, the one that stretched over a greater amount of ocean, covered a greater amount of land, contained a greater number of people than any before it, was the British Empire of Queen Victoria. Her superpower left its mark on continents and subcontinents, from Europe to Australia to India to America to Africa to Asia, from Adelaide to Wellington, Bombay to Rangoon, Ottawa to the Virgin Islands, Alexandria to Zanzibar, Aden to Singapore. The British navy ruled the seas, British coal fueled the ships and industries, British bankers financed the businesses, British merchants ran the trade, British food fed the stomachs and British factories clothed the bodies of one fourth of all human beings who lived and worked and played in every corner of the world. Nothing better exemplified Britain''s place at the center of the universe than the very first world''s fair, the Great Exhibition of 1851, held in London. Along with Queen Victoria (who visited it forty times), half a million people--entrepreneurs, industrialists, landed aristocrats, diplomats, professionals, tradesmen and workers----came on opening day to see the ''''Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations'''' at the new Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. Six million more people followed, most of them arriving by railway, to walk under the domed glass and along the carpeted hallways, to see goods from countries as nearby as France, Germany, Italy and Spain and from as far away as Russia, Persia, Turkey and China. They saw every imaginable product and some that were unimaginable: fabrics, raw hides, machine looms, jewelry, china, chocolates, coffee, tea, carpets, automatic revolvers, hydraulic presses, mechanical wood saws, wheat--grinding machines, gold quartz mills, high--pressure steam engines, a twenty--four--ton chunk of coal and a machine that sent messages by telegraph. The point of the exhibition, said Prince Albert, who had conceived it, was to show how far mankind had come and to give a direction for future development. No nation had come farther than Britain, the pioneer of the Industrial Revolution, ''''the workshop of the world.'''' Its citizens had the highest per capita income and its workers contributed more than half of the fourteen thousand exhibitions at the Crystal Palace. In addition to the products of its colonies, the British booths displayed English cottons from Lancashire, sturdy woolens from Yorkshire, linens from Scotland, edged tools and fancy silver from Birmingham, glass and cutlery from Sheffield and huge machinery from Northumbria. Nowhere did Britain''s workshops toil harder than in Northumbria. In this remote region of northeast England, gray clouds still hover like withering ghosts, reminders of the black smoke of the furnaces that once choked its air and filled its skies. Northumbria. Its very name rumbles with the grimness of murky towns, desolate moors and dark seas. From its plants and factories came ships and railroads and enough iron and steel to help Britain fill forty percent of the world''s supply. From beneath its surface came vast amounts of salt, lead, alum and iron ore and enough coal to help Britain provide two thirds of the world''s needs. To and from its coastline came and went massive steamships carrying goods and keeping Northumbrians in touch with every outpost of the Empire. If Northumbria was England''s industrial country, Middlesbrough was its model town. Built out of bleak salt marshes, it began in 1801 with twenty--five people, but after railway lines were laid and ironworks started, it exploded into a booming town with a population of 7,431 in 1851, 19,416 in 1861 and more than 90,000 at the end of the nineteenth century. Its collieries that mined coal and converted it into coke (by 1840 Middlesbrough was mining one and a half million tons of coal annually), its blast factories that smelted iron ore into iron (by 1873 it was producing five and a half million tons of iron ore), its foundries that combined the silvery iron with the refined coke to manufacture steel (by 1879 it was producing over 85,000 tons of steel), its railroad lines, its factories, its potteries, its mills, its ships, its docks and its warehouses drew workers from all over Britain. Young men and women eager for jobs in the miserable pits or the hellish foundries came from the West Midlands, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the East Indies, even the United States, and stared in awe at the night sky lit up with the brilliant flames of the steel furnaces or watched in amazement as locomotives steamed out of town hauling railroad cars filled with coal, iron, steel and pottery for every major city in England. The people who came for jobs crammed into the sooty rows of brown brick houses and breathed in the smutty air, cheering their mayor when he told the Prince of Wales that Middlesbrough took pride in its smoke. ''''The smoke is an indication of plenty of work...an indication of prosperous times, an indication that all classes of workpeople are being employed....Therefore we are proud of our smoke.'''' The men and women who prospered most--industrialists, merchants, barristers, physicians, and their wives--would sometimes celebrate a special birthday or an anniversary by traveling the thirty miles north to Newcastle. The big city on the River Tyne was the capital of northern England, a commercial center, a bustling port, the place to go for an evening of theater, a day of shopping, a fine meal at a fancy inn. If Middlesbrough was a booming town without a past, Newcastle was an ancient city rich with history. Residents of Newcastle who yearned for a bit of fresh country air could ride out to Wallsend and examine remnants of the Emperor Hadrian''s Wall, built to defend Roman soldiers against Celtic warriors; or they could explore the moors and coastline where Englishmen once battled Scotsmen from the north, Anglo--Saxons from Germany, Vikings from Denmark and Normans from France. Back in town, a nineteenth--century man could still climb the castle keep built by William the Conqueror''s son in 1080 or wander through the Guildhall, where craftsmen once met to set the wages of young apprentices. Men who disagreed over land or debts no longer argued at the Moot Hall, but they still held meetings at the County Hall, celebrated special occasions in the Merchant Adventurers'' Court and prayed together at the five-hundred-year-old Saint Nicho--las''s Church. Their work, too, was part of Newcastle''s long history. As far back as the sixteenth century, its collieries had supplied 163,000 tons of coal to London, and its shipbuilding industry had built seafaring vessels-- first, sailboats of wood, then, after 1838, steamships of iron and, later, massive ships of steel. Its old dock had been turned into a bustling quayside, harboring cargo ships bound for ports throughout the Empire. Twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, British vessels that had set off from Newcastle plunged into the great North Sea to places like Eskimo Point or Cape Town or Karachi, bringing out finished goods from Britain and bringing home food and raw materials. Racing across the distant waters, they carried coal to fuel the navy, iron to lay the railroads, machine tools for the factories, armaments to defend the lands, carriages to transport the people and clothing to dress them; and they brought back, to name just a few things, silk, cotton, rubber, rice and tea from India; fish and furs from Canada; cocoa and ivory from Africa; gold and mutton from Australia; diamonds, pineapples and bananas from South Africa; tea from Ceylon; spices from Arabia; sugar, lime and turtles (for turtle soup) from the Caribbean. If Middlesbrough was cramped and grimy, cosmopolitan Newcastle was the pride of its city planners, a spacious, orderly town with busy thoroughfares, open squares and an elegant avenue called Grey Street, considered one of the most graceful in all of Europe. The city was hailed for its Classical-style buildings, its stately houses, its first-class Theatre Royal. Its lively commercial center offered an enterprising fellow the chance to borrow money from a bank or try to make his fortune on the local stock market housed in the domed Central Exchange. Its shops boasted goods from around the world: shawls from Kashmir and sealskin muffs from the Yukon; diamonds from South Africa and rubies from India; tea from China, wine from France; and its bookstores sold guides to, among other places, Syria, Egypt and India. India, of course, was where everyone had a family member or a friend or a friend of a friend. Almost twenty thousand British controlled the lives of two hundred and fifty million Indians, mostly Hindus and Muslims, whose exports of agriculture and raw materials and whose imports of nearly everything else from British soil made India the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Back and forth the British traveled, a grueling four--month trip by ship around the Cape of Good Hope, until the year 1869, when the great opening of the Suez Canal shortened the sea voyage to only three weeks, making it even easier to bring more goods to the shops in Newcastle. The city''s merchants prospered from millionaires who came to buy. One of those who came regularly to cosmopolitan Newcastle to purchase shirts of imported Egyptian cotton or to surprise his wife with a necklace of African ivory beads was the grandfather of Gertrude Bell, the prominent industrialist Isaac Lowthian Bell. ***Lowthian Bell, as he liked to be called, was a perfect man for his time, possessing a rare combination of scientific learning and manufacturing genius. Born in 1816, he had studied physics, chemistry and metallurgy in Germany, Denmark, at the University of Edinburgh, at the Sorbonne and i

Bookclub Guide

This “richly textured biography” (Chicago Tribune) inspired the mesmerizing documentary, Letters from Baghdad, soon to air on public television.Here is the story of Gertrude Bell, who explored, mapped, and excavated the Arab world throughout the early twentieth century. Recruited by British intelligence during World War I, she played a crucial role in obtaining the loyalty of Arab leaders, and her connections and information provided the brains to match T. E. Lawrence''s brawn. After the war, she played a major role in creating the modern Middle East and was, at the time, considered the most powerful woman in the British Empire.   In this masterful biography, Janet Wallach shows us the woman behind these achievements–a woman whose passion and defiant independence were at odds with the confined and custom-bound England she left behind. Too long eclipsed by Lawrence, Gertrude Bell emerges at last in her own right as a vital player on the stage of modern history, and as a woman whose life was both a heartbreaking story and a grand adventure.1. Gertrude Bell was born in 1868 at the height of the British Empire, when the British navy ruled the seas and British merchants supplied food and clothing to half the world’s population. The Bell family lived in northern England and employed 40,000 workers in their coal and iron works. In addition to running their prosperous business, Gertrude’s father Hugh Bell and her grandfather Lowthian Bell were well-educated, intellectually curious, adventurous, and politically engaged. Hugh Bell’s motto was “obstacles are made to be overcome.” How did Gertrude Bell’s upbringing shape her? How did she apply her father’s philosophy to her life?2. Gertrude Bell was a difficult child: precocious, stubborn, and naughty enough to discourage her nannies from staying on the job. She prided herself on being better than the others around her, and as she grew up, her best friends were her brother Maurice and her cousin Billy Lascelles. In her adolescent years, she always seemed at odds with her stepmother; the one woman she seemed to care for was her aunt Florence, whose husband was the British ambassador to Bucharest and Tehran. What were Gertrude Bell’s relationships like with other women? Why did she have such disdain for the British wives in Baghdad? Were there any women she admired? Did her attitude toward women change over the years? If so, how did it manifest itself?3. Like most young women of her time, Gertrude Bell was expected to marry by the age of twenty. Although she was intellectually outstanding, from a marital point of view she was a failure, having found neither a husband nor a fiancé by that time. She was sent abroad to give her some sophistication and to prevent her from becoming a bluestocking. Yet when she fell in love with Henry Cadogan, her father told her he would not give her permission to marry. Why did her father object to the match? Why did she obey his wishes? Gertrude seemed unusually close to her father and continued to ask for his advice even after she became an important official. How would you characterize their relationship? How did it influence her relationships with other men?4. Although women were often treated as second-class citizens, Gertrude Bell received the finest education and was given many of the privileges of a man. She was sent to college in London, and then was able to attend Oxford University. She was given freedom to travel around the world, was a published writer while still in her twenties, and often discussed politics with members of Parliament and British diplomats. In light of this, how did she respond to the women’s suffrage movement? Why did she feel this way?5. The Bedouins gave Gertrude Bell the complimentary title of “an honorary male.” When she was in the desert, she was able to march into the tents of the sheikhs. The tribal leaders often hosted her for one or two nights, sharing their best food and enjoying conversations with her that ranged from local gossip to world politics. Yet in their own world, the Arabs kept their women in separate quarters, did not allow them to take their meals with the men, and had little regard for women’s opinions. Why did the sheikhs accept Gertrude Bell as an equal and even treat her as a dignitary? How similar were the attitudes of the Arab notables and the British male officers and officials?6. During World War I there were three different agreements the British made concerning the future of the Arab lands after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. When they were revealed, these agreements created anger and confusion among all three groups. What were the agreements and among whom were they made? What impact did they have on the Middle East?7. When the British decided on Emir Faisal to lead the new state of Iraq, they knew they would have problems. Faisal came from an important Sunni family yet he had never set foot in Mesopotamia. Why were they determined to put him on the throne? What were the political reasons? What sort of person was he? Why did the British believe he would be accepted by the Shiites? What was his role in the Arab revolt against the Turks? Gertrude Bell knew that the Arabs in Mesopotamia had a long, rich history. How did she teach Faisal this history? Faisal had to be approved by a referendum, yet he knew no one when he arrived in Iraq. What did Gertrude Bell do to make sure Faisal would be approved?8. When the British entered Baghdad after the defeat of the Turks, they declared themselves liberators and received a warm welcome from the Arabs. Shortly afterward, attitudes changed, and the British were considered the enemy. What happened to change opinions? How did the British treat the Arab unrest? What was the British opinion at home concerning Mesopotamia? Why did England turn to the League of Nations? What was Winston Churchill’s role?9. Today, it is often questioned why Iraq looks the way it does geographically and demographically. How were its borders decided? What was Gertrude Bell’s role in this process? Did the British know there was oil, and if so, was it the only consideration? Why are the Kurds included in the population? Why were the Sunnis given control? What were the Kurds’ allegiances?10. The Baghdad Museum has sometimes been in the news because of the destruction and theft of many of its antiquities. What was Gertrude Bell’s connection to this museum? Why was she interested in it? How did she become interested in archaeology? What discoveries did she make in her earlier travels? What did she do to prevent foreign archaeologists from removing antiquities from the country? Why are antiquities important to a country?11. In some ways, Gertrude Bell’s experiences paralleled that of Victorian England as a whole.[PE1]  In what ways did her experiences reflect the fortunes of the British Empire? At the end of her life, she took an overdose of sleeping pills. How did the end of her life reflect the decline of the empire?12. Gertrude Bell was concerned about the relationship between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. What was the relationship between the two groups? What were their major differences? How did each side view the British? The Turks? The Persians (now Iranians)?

Editorial Reviews

"A major figure in the creation of modern-day Iraq." –Los Angeles Times   "Desert Queen, as timely as today''s headlines, plucks Gertrude Bell out of the shadow of Lawrence of Arabia." –The Boston Globe   "Wallach has done an outstanding job of bringing Gertrude Bell to life." –The Dallas Morning News   "A richly textured biography of a . . . woman who devoted her life to knowing the desert Arabs better, perhaps, than any other European of her day. . . . Wallach comfortably commands the tangled political and diplomatic history of the Middle East." –Chicago Tribune