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Review: Letters From Egypt, by Lucie Duff Gordon


Pages: 383
Original date of publication: 1865
My copy: 1986 (Virago)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, February 2011

A friend to George Meredith, Thackeray, and other notables of that time, Lucie Duff Gordon (1821-1969) was raised in a radical, intellectual family and imbued with a sense of adventure; her imagination roamed father than the usual Grand Tour. In 1862, she took a tour to South Africa, attempting to recover from tuberculosis; when that didn’t succeed, she went to Egypt, where her son-in-law was a banker. Although her daughter and son-in-law lived in Alexandria, Gordon spent much of her time in Luxor, living in a ruined house above a temple. Her letters were alternately written to her husband, Sir Alexander Duff Gordon; her mother; and her daughter.

Gordon’s letters reveal someone with a high amount of inquisitiveness and cultural sensitivity; Gordon frees herself from the usual ways that other Europeans stereotyped Egyptians at the time. She was there just as the Europeans were modernizing Egypt, represented by the construction of the Suez Canal, which opened in 1869, the year Gordon passed away. Her letters reflect the changes to rural Egypt that were occurring, as well as observing social systems that were in place (especially criticizing the corvee, which was a system of forced labor that was used to build the Canal), and she was dismayed by the poverty that she witnessed while in Luxor.

Gordon’s tone is lively; perceptive; she had a keen interest in the Egyptian people and their history, and she interacted with the often, especially as an amateur doctor (Hakeemah). “I am in love with the Arabs’ ways, and I have contrived to see and know more of family life than many Europeans who have lived here for years,” she wrote. So we meet a wide variety of people, including Omar, her faithful servant. In all, a lively, entertaining collection of letters.

Comments

A do like these memoir pieces from those amazing Alpha-females who went off to quite extraordinary places. I don't read a lot of letters, but this does sound like a fascinating collection.

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5. Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
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February:
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