A marvelous tale of an adventurous life of great historical import
She has been called the female Lawrence of Arabia, which, while not inaccurate, fails to give Gertrude Bell her due. She was at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire: a nation builder, the driving force behind the creation of modern-day Iraq. Born in 1868 into a world of privilege, Bell turned her back on Victorian society, choosing to read history at Oxford and going on to become an archaeologist, spy, Arabist, linguist, author (of Persian Pictures, The Desert and the Sown, and many other collections), poet, photographer, and legendary mountaineer (she took off her skirt and climbed the Alps in her underclothes).
She traveled the globe several times, but her passion was the desert, where she traveled with only her guns and her servants. Her vast knowledge of the region made her indispensable to the Cairo Intelligence Office of the British government during World War I. She advised the Viceroy of India; then, as an army major, she traveled to the front lines in Mesopotamia. There, she supported the creation of an autonomous Arab nation for Iraq, promoting and manipulating the election of King Faisal to the throne and helping to draw the borders of the fledgling state.
Gertrude Bell, vividly told and impeccably researched by Georgina Howell, is a richly compelling portrait of a woman who transcended the restrictions of her class and times, and in so doing, created a remarkable and enduring legacy.
" … there’s never a dull moment in the peerless life of this trailblazing character." - Kirkus Reviews
In this hefty, thoroughly enjoyable biography of Gertrude Bell (1868 1926), English journalist Howell describes her subject as not only "the most famous British traveler of her day, male or female" but as a "poet, scholar, historian, mountaineer, photographer, archaeologist, gardener, cartographer, linguist and distinguished servant of the state." As Howell observes, "Gertrude always had to have a project," and she manages to bring those multitudinous projects, studies and adventures to life on the page. "I decided," Howell writes, "to use many more of her own words than would appear in a conventional biography": a felicitous decision when the subject's letters, diaries and publications are as seamlessly incorporated in Howell's engaging text as they are. Bell's role in the creation of Iraq and the placement of Faisal upon the throne, is fully detailed, both to honor her power and to haunt us today. But the strength and delight of Howell's superb biography is in the fullness with which Bell's character is drawn. Having clearly fallen in love with her subject (though not blind to her warts), Howell leaves no stone unturned family history, school days, Bell's clothes, sometimes her meals, her friendships, her servants, her thousands of miles traveled, her fluency in languages (Persian, Turkish, Arabic) and, yes, her romances. 16 pages of b&w illus.